CFLs, LEDs--it all sounds like alphabet soup. In Consumer Reports latest lightbulb tests we found that many of the problems of earlier versions of replacement bulbs have been overcome. But there are some pros and cons to each type. Here are the types of lightbulbs to consider.
They're inexpensive and instantly emit a warm light in all directions, accurately revealing the colors of objects and skin tones.
They use significantly more electricity than energy-saving bulbs and only last about 1,000 hours.
Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs)
They use about 75 percent less energy and last 7 to 10 times longer than the incandescent bulbs they replace. Typically it takes less than a year to recoup the cost of most CFLs. The spirals and covered spirals give off light in all directions, making them a good choice for lamps, and the flood/reflector bulbs are more directional. Several CFL brands offer bulbs with a plastic coating that contains the mercury and any shards if the bulb breaks.
They take time to fully brighten, typically from 19 seconds for spiral bulbs to several minutes or more for flood/reflector bulbs, especially when used outdoors in frigid temperatures. Most CFLs aren't dimmable, and since frequently turning them on and off affects the bulbs' performance and life, they shouldn't be used in certain sockets. CFLs contain mercury and while the amount is small and has decreased substantially in the bulbs we tested, they should be recycled. This prevents mercury from being released into the environment when the bulbs break in the trash or as landfill. If a CFL breaks at home, follow the clean-up tips from the Environmental Protection Agency at www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup.html.
They're incandescent bulbs that use about 25 to 30 percent less energy than standard incandescents. The halogen bulbs meet the new energy-efficiency standards required by federal law and will not be phased out with standard incandescent bulbs. Halogen bulbs instantly produce light and are fully dimmable. The A-type bulbs cast light in all directions.
Some do not last much longer than standard incandescent bulbs yet cost more.
Light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs)
They use slightly less energy than CFLs and manufacturers claim LEDs last 20,000 to 50,000 hours. That's about 18 to 46 years when used three hours a day. LEDs instantly brighten, even in frigid temperatures, and performance is not affected by frequently turning them on and off. Some LEDs we tested dim as low as incandescent bulbs.
Among A-type bulbs, the type used for lamps and other applications, not all are good at emitting light in all directions. And LEDs are expensive, $20 to $60, and can take four to 10 years to pay for themselves, based on our tests.
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