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Here's a true confession: I hate compact fluorescent light bulbs. They're like the awkward cousin your conscientious mother makes you invite to your birthday party--the right thing to do, but a serious buzz kill. That said, I'll also say that I love what's lighting up my life instead.
The truth is that compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) were never really all that. Yes, they save a fair amount of energy and on an overheating planet have been the only reasonable lighting choice for anyone with a functioning conscience, but let's face it: Their odd shapes can make them hard to use, and their light can feel harsh. They tend to sputter to life, especially when it's cold, and putting them on a dimmer is a suicide mission. Finally, when they die, their mercury issues turn them into hazardous waste. Not exactly the sustainable lighting solution of our dreams.
So mine are gone, goodbye, and good riddance. This, however, is not to summon darkness and force my family to stumble around in its clutches all night long. Hardly.
Now that I've finally screwed in a few LEDs, let me tell you: these new bulbs are the greatest thing since Edison got his filament on. Their light is warm and dimmable. Their shapes are fixture-fittable. And they're instant-on and mercury-free. So what are we all waiting for?
My guess is a home equity loan. Because LED bulbs don't come cheap. You can pay $10-$20 for a single bulb, and that seems, well... a bit dim. Yet they're worth every penny. The only problem is we have to look hard to see why, and that's not something we're used to doing for something as lowly as a light bulb.
One of the biggest benefits of LED lighting is its lifespan. An LED bulb will last approximately 50,000 hours --- five times longer than a CFL bulb. If the bulb is left on for eight hours per day, it will last more than 17 years! During that lifespan, an LED bulb will use 300 kilowatt hours of electricity. At 20 cents per kilowatt hour, the lifetime electricity cost of an LED bulb is $60.
To compare, you would need five CFLs to match the 50,000-hour lifespan of an LED. Those five CFLs would use 700 kilowatt hours of electricity, costing $140. The LED bulb saves 400 kilowatt hours of electricity compared to the CFL and 2,700 kilowatt hours compared to the incandescent bulb. This represents a cost savings of $80 over CFL bulbs and $540 over incandescent bulbs.*
Since I've started buying a few LEDs every month and installing them around the house, my power bill has dropped noticeably. I can literally see the difference they make. But the savings that really matter will be in the energy I conserve, the pollution I prevent, and the climate change I fight with every lumen. As the old credit card ad used to say... priceless.
The only question is, will Americans do the math so they can see it, too? I hope so. This is one switch it makes complete sense no matter what your budget. Because if you're worried about costs, the price of ignoring these amazing bulbs is the one that's too high to pay.
About the Inkslinger
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds.