I always enjoy this time of year; things are beginning to come back to life. The smell of fresh cut grass, spring rain and farmers turning the dirt for the first time reminds me of how special it is to be in the Midwest. Seeing all of the lawn and gardening equipment in the store tempts you to replace the old lawnmower or do some spring landscaping.  But when you walk through a large home improvement store, the first thing you see is the lighting display.

I am amazed every time I look at the display by the variety of lighting products or bulbs available to the consumer. This is a long way from where Thomas Edison started the incandescent light bulb, but what is the right decision for you? There are three basic types of bulbs available to the residential market: incandescent, compact fluorescent (CFL), and light emitting diode (LED).


The incandescent bulb is the oldest, cheapest to purchase, and most expensive to operate. On average it emits about 10% light and 90% heat, so therefore it is very inefficient and the life expectancy is usually around 1000 hours.  One positive to the incandescent bulb is the variety in the color of light available. 


The CFL is the next generation of light that came on the market. The CFL costs more than the incandescent but it uses about 25% of the energy and does not produce the heat that an incandescent does.  Another positive is the life expectancy is about 3,000 hours.   The CFL comes with some big drawbacks for some folks.  It has a limited color spectrum it produces, and it is not instantly bright in cold weather.



Finally is the LED. This light bulb uses about 10% of the energy as an incandescent.  The LED has an extremely long life, usually in the 10,000-15,000 hour range.  It has instant “on” capabilities and has a wide variety of light color available.    The biggest down side to the LED is the cost; it is generally about 3 times higher than the cost of an incandescent bulb.   

When you purchase a light bulb, look at the Kelvin (K) rating. The higher the K rating the brighter it will; be this will be true for all bulbs. The wattage rating is the confusing part.   If you look for a CFL or LED look for the words “wattage equivalent.”  This will give you a comparison to what the bulb uses compared to an incandescent.

Even though an LED may cost more up front, it is usually the best choice. Because of the extended lifetime of an LED, on average you would need to buy about 10-12 incandescent light bulbs to match the lifetime of each LED purchased. Plus, remember the LED will use about 10% of the energy.