March 13, 2014 at 12:06 PM ET
Traditional incandescent light bulbs, which sell for a handful of pennies, have lit the country since the late 1800s. But under new efficiency standards that took effect last month, companies can no longer manufacture or import the Edisonian incandescent. The switch to costlier alternatives has caught some consumers off guard and spurred others to stockpile the contraband that remains on store shelves.
Rather than run out and do the same, consider the old bulbs’ primary successors: compact fluorescent light bulbs and light-emitting diodes. CFLs and LEDs save energy by producing the same amount of light as an incandescent at a lower wattage. They also last far longer: about 10,000 hours for a CFL and up to 25,000 for an LED, compared with 1,000 for an incandescent. Proponents delight in pointing out that an LED installed in a baby’s room won’t fade until the child leaves for college.
By one estimate, consumers can save at least $40 on electricity and replacements over the lifetime of a CFL, which starts at less than $2 and can pay for itself in six months. Although LEDs are far more efficient and prices are falling, it takes more time to recoup the somewhat staggering initial cost. A single “60-watt equivalent” can command $40 or more and rarely goes for less than $10, even with a rebate from a manufacturer or local utility.
Cheapism.com has spotlighted three low-cost CFLs and one relatively cheap LED that perform well enough to win incandescent converts. The light bulbs below serve as replacements for a 60-watt incandescent.
The Philips 13-Watt Energy Saver Mini Twister Soft White CFL (starting at $1.25, or $4.98 for a four-pack) rebuts many common complaints about CFLs. It takes less time to fully brighten — only 21 seconds in one expert test — and provides ample light right away. “Soft white” refers to the color temperature of 2,700 Kelvin. That connotes a warm, yellowish glow similar to incandescent light, rather than the harsh blue tones typically associated with fluorescents. This bulb is expected to last 12,000 hours and comes with an 11-year warranty. (Where to buy)
Walmart’s Great Value 14-Watt Soft White CFL (starting at $1.22, or $4.88 for a four-pack) has been put through its paces by consumer-product experts and earned their recommendations as a top budget buy. Now that a 14-watt bulb can generate as much light as a 60-watt bulb, the industry has turned to a new measure of brightness. This light bulb gives off 900 lumens, making it very bright for a 60-watt replacement. An equivalent incandescent would register about 800 lumens. (Where to buy)
The GE Energy Smart 13-Watt CFL (starting at $1.45, or $12 for an eight-pack) gets kudos for effectively distributing light throughout a room. It casts the same familiar 2,700K light as the previous two bulbs and emits 825 lumens. Experts warn against using this light bulb (or really any CFL) someplace such as a closet, where the light is turned on and off at short intervals, if you want to reach the promised 8,000 hours. (Where to buy)
The Cree 60-Watt Replacement Soft White LED (starting at $9.97 or less with an instant rebate in many locations) requires just 9.5 watts to produce 800 lumens and claims a lifespan of 25,000 hours, or more than 20 years. It seems to win over every critic by combining hyper-efficiency with the light quality and convenience of an incandescent. Many consumers point out that it doesn’t contain mercury, a knock against CFLs. Overall reviewers see this as a good value despite the upfront cost. (Where to buy)
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