Weighing the Switch to LED Lighting

Reader Contribution by Sommer Poquette
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I live for those moments when saving money and making an Earth-friendly decision line up and walk hand-in-hand. Hence, my household’s recent conversion to LED light bulbs.

At first, I was skeptical of LEDs because they are so costly, in comparison to incandescent or CFL light bulbs. In fact, I wondered why they cost so much more, and if they really could save me money and help the environment.

I asked my friend Anna Hackman, the blogger behind Green-Talk, for her suggestions on where I could start. She suggested this easy money saving calculator to see exactly how I could save money with LEDs, followed by a visit to the Energy Star website for more information. Both are great resources that I recommend for evaluating your own household’s current lighting costs and the savings behind making a bulb switch.

Next, I wanted to learn more about the difference between LEDs and CFL light bulbs and really understand if making the switch was worth it for my family. Lynn Schwartz with LPS Green Technologiesgave me some great information explaining how using LED lights could have a long-term cost benefit. According to Schwartz, LEDs yield at least five times the return on investment of incandescents (and as she pointed out, I have less of a chance of injuring myself falling off of a ladder changing light bulbs all the time!). A high quality LED lamp or fixture will generally last 25,000 hours or more, and some LED lamps can go for 100,000 hours. Consider that the average household typically uses their lights for 2,000 hours or less each year, and the longevity of LEDs becomes clear.

The accompanying environmental benefit is easy to see: less waste, because you’re using fewer light bulbs, and greater energy efficiency. LEDs generate far less heat than incandescents, reducing strain on your home’s cooling system. And it gets even better: unlike CFL bulbs, LED bulbs do not have mercury in them. If CFLs are not properly disposed of, the mercury can leak out into landfills or into our water supply, but with an LED bulb, we don’t have that concern.

One final environmental benefit is the energy saved to make the LED bulb. Schwartz explains, “The amount of energy it takes to make one LED is less than the amount of energy they save, so they have a net gain of energy savings.”

It’s an upfront investment to switch to LED bulbs: the cost can be five times as high as a comparable incandescent, but the long-term cost and environmental benefits make them a worthy expenditure. Design Recycle Inc. has a good comparison chart that breaks down the watts used, cost and environmental impact between CFL and LED bulbs. If you’re still on the fence, the chart is a good way to visualize the money you’ll save.

Personally, when shopping for LED bulbs, I had to get over the sticker shock and remind myself of the benefits, as well as considering that LED bulbs are more expensive to make. As Schwartz points out, LED light bulbs use a semi-conductor chip, which is more expensive than a filament or gas connecting chip used in other bulb types. She explains, “Connecting that chip to a heat dissipater (heat sink) that is usually aluminum or another conductor of heat (which is more expensive than bulbs that have no heat sink). This chip makes the bulbs electronically sound so that they can transform electricity into a form that the LED can use so it does not overload.”

So, if you’re going shopping for LED light bulbs, keep these little facts in mind when you see the price tag. Chant to yourself, “I will save money long term. I am helping the environment. It is going to be okay, I have less chances of killing myself on a ladder!”

Finally, it’s worth noting that not all LED bulbs are the same. There are different colors and wattages, just like an ordinary bulb or CFL bulb. I prefer the soft white color, whereas my husband and son prefer the daylight color (which is very, very bright). Consider the warranty the company offers on the bulb, and because you’re making an investment, save your boxes and receipts. We’re converting our lighting room-by-room, and in the end, I look forward to going years without changing a light bulb!

Sommer Poquette writes about energy savings for the home, as well as DIY tips, for The Home Depot. A selection of LED light bulbs like the ones that Sommer writes about can be viewed on the Home Depot website.

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