While the government has recently given a nine-month reprieve on the 100W incandescent bulb ban, it's an opportune time to look at how the way we shop for and buy lighting fixtures is changing.
Given the nature of my business, I have a natural gravitation to the lighting aisle every time I'm at one of the big box retailers. It's always interesting to see the latest and greatest products make their way to the shelves.
The transformation of the light bulb aisle over the past year or so has been amazing. When LED products first arrived on shelves, it was very confusing for the average consumer to compare, with the exception of price. Fast-forward to today, and it is fairly easy to compare competing 60W incandescent, CFL, and LED options. Each label contains details such as light output (measured in lumens), energy used (measured in watts), and lifetime (measured in hours).
Ever since Edison invented the light bulb, most of us have viewed light in terms of watts. Every time a bulb burns out, we unscrew the bulb, look for the wattage, and hope we have the right replacement around without a trip to the local store. The LED lighting revolution is facilitating a new way to learn about and, ultimately, buy lighting products. Wattage refers to the amount of power used by the bulb and not the amount of light given off. Light output is measured in lumens.
On one recent visit to a big box retailer, I noticed there was a very prominent signage that helps educate shoppers. The display read, “Lumens — A new way to shop for light” and “Choose brightness you want” and was very helpful in providing comparison details.
One benefit in the improvement in consistent labeling is that it provides the necessary information to take the next step, which is to do the math and calculate total cost of ownership using each of the three technologies. Let's state the obvious — it's hard to make a $20 LED bulb decision when there are $1-$2 incandescent and CFL alternatives, and that's where many of us stop. However, considering that CFL and LED options utilize 80 percent less energy than incandescent and the significant differences in life span (incandescent/1,000hrs, CFL/10,000hrs, LED/25,000hrs), the prudent decision becomes more complex when we're willing to follow through with the analysis.
What you'll find is that, after approximately 4,000 hours (or four replacements of your 60W incandescent bulb), the LED solution achieves total cost of ownership advantage over incandescent. While CFL still maintains a total cost of ownership advantage over LED, there are other distinct differences between these two technologies that factor into the equation. Besides being the least aesthetically attractive option, CFLs also contain toxic chemicals (mercury) that are harmful to the environment. LEDs do not contain harmful chemicals, are less sensitive to temperature and more durable, have better dimming capability, and have instant on/off performance.
So with LED bulb manufacturers reducing costs and many utilities offering rebate programs, the gap between CFL and LED cost of ownership will continue to close. The million-dollar question is, given the additional intrinsic benefits of LEDs, how much does the gap has to close before the purchasing crossover happens in earnest? Have some fun and play with the data in your own environment, especially in locations where lights tend to be on for longer periods of time — at the very least, it could make for an interesting science fair project with the kids.