LED Review – Light Bulbs – Which lamp should I buy?


LED lamps look similar to the Incandescent, but uses 1/6 the energy.

Review of the 3 lamp types a person would use in a bath or vanity:

‘I want to replace a globe shaped lamp in a bathroom.  What do I use?’

  1. Incandescent
  2. Compact Fluorescent
  3. LED

The question for review starts with which lamp should a person buy for a common bathroom lighting system?
There are three choices available these days; the incandescent lamp we have used for over 100 years that burns a filament of tungsten, the compact fluorescent lamp created out of a small twisted fluorescent tube filled with gases and rare elements, and LED lamps using the new solid-state technology to create light from electronic components.

The modern person must now think about a lot more aspects of the simple light bulb. The simple choice has, like many technologies, become more complex to understand and choose. Let me be your guide and show you your lighting options.

This review starts by looking at the three technologies first; the 3 types of lamps you can readily purchase at a store like Wal-Mart. All three have merits, but this review certainly does not favor the future of the incandescent light bulb. The Edison lamp is becoming a symbol of the ‘old ways’, and an era that is fading away with each incandescent lamp that burns out and is not replaced.

3 lamps for review

The 3 lamps chosen for this review

Bulb trio

LED, CFL, and Incandescent lamps

We  start by buying a sample of each lamp from a common retail store. For this review Wal-Mart was chosen as the supplier. There is a Great Value LED lamp and compact fluorescent lamp. The incandescent lamp chosen was made by Sylvania because the Great Value version was unacceptable. This reviewer could not even bring himself to buy the ‘Great Value’ incandescent lamps for review because they are a waste of money and are not recommended for any use. The Sylvania ‘double-life’ lamp, at the same price as the inferior ones, was the only choice considered.

The new LED lamp comes with a 3 year warranty, the compact fluorescent comes with a 2 year warranty, and the incandescent comes with what we shall term a ’12 foot warranty’; the kind that expires when you get 12 feet outside the store [see Customer Service]. Note that the ‘double-life’ incandescent lamps have the same non-guarantee as the ‘regular-life’ lamps in that when it burns out, you replace it again regardless of the actual amount of use you achieved. Technically, a lamp with a 3000 hour rated life should have a warranty of 125 days; but they do not. The LED and CFL lamps both have UL approval marks on the packaging; the incandescent lamp is not UL approved, nor does it have to be. An incandescent lamp is quite dangerous and can cause severe burns if not protected. There is a good reason they use an incandescent light bulb in the Easy Bake Oven; because the light bulb gets hot enough to bake a cake. That same heat generated by incandescent lamps will affect your room temperatures and air-conditioning as well, so be aware.

   Let us look at the charts and numbers first:

A review of incandescent, CFL, and LED light bulbs

The 3 lamp research data chart

Incandescent, Fluorescent, and LED lamp review statistics

   The review will start from the top of the preceding chart.

The incandescent lamps comes in last place in Watts consumed by a long shot. This is the main reason the government wants to discourage making them; to conserve energy use. The CFL wins the category with 9W used, to the LED’s 11W, and the 60W use of the loser. A 7W LED would produce the same amount of light as the CFL, but there was no Great Value choice at the time of purchase. Advantage CFL, and LED right there also.

Lumens shows how much light the lamp is rated to produce; the higher the number the brighter the lamp. The LED wins this category producing almost 90% more light than the incandescent bulb. The CFL produced a good amount of light, brighter than the incandescent, but less than the LED. Advantage LED.

Lumens per Watt is the real measure of energy efficiency here and the LED surpasses the other two. The incandescent is almost tragically behind in energy efficiency, strongly contributing to its future demise. The LED lamp clearly produces more light, using less energy, with less heat, in a smaller space, than the other two technologies. Advantage LED.

EnergyLabelCropLighting Facts Label for each lamp






Lumens per Dollar is a measure of how many (rated) Lumens you can buy for a dollar. The higher the number the better choice. And here is where our friend the incandescent wins easily. You can buy more ‘Lumens’ per dollar with inexpensive incandescent light bulbs, with a strong trade off. Lighting designers and professional lighting experts deal with specifying rooms that use energy to produce light (a cost), and also must be maintained. The cost of maintaining incandescent lighting systems exceeds the cost of maintaining any other kind of light. This category is more useful to a consumer, not a lighting designer.

The cost of changing a light bulb is factored in by professionals, and this is where the incandescent price loses its appeal. Let us take a diversion from our chart and discuss what it takes to change a light bulb. There are many jokes about this subject, but let us get serious about our time and money for a moment and look into what really happens from the time a light bulb starts to fail:

  • What is the value of your time to discover a failed or failing lamp, and then decide on how to replace the lamp?
  • What is the cost and value of your time to get the replacement lamp? Do you have to drive somewhere?
  • What is the replacement cost of the lamp? How much money will to have to spend to get the correct replacement lamp, or will a substitute be acceptable? Can you afford to by extra or spares?
  • What is the value of your time to get the new lamp and return to where the old one was located?
  • How much time does it take to get the proper equipment like ladders and tools used to change the light?
  • Consider the time it takes to open the fixture to get at the light bulb socket.
  • It takes a little time to remove the old lamp and put in the new. Hope nothing goes wrong at that step.
  • The cost of returning the installation equipment and final clean up is then factored, along with proper disposal of the old lamp.

After all that it might not seem that changing a light bulb is so funny. Imagine you operate a large building with 1000 light bulbs that must be maintained every day. A typical household could have an average of 30 light bulbs, and those lamps just do not want to fail on the same day. A light bulb can fail unpredictably, but it is also possible to predict when they will fail. Manufacturers use a predicted lifetime to rate the lamps, and that can be used to calculate when a light fixture needs to have new lamps installed ahead of time, before failing; thus making lamp changing more economical on a commercial scale. The cost of changing the lamp is a critical factor in lighting design and the economics of lighting.

The amount of Lumens produced by a lamp in its lifetime is a newly made up category. The manufacturer states how many hours the lamp should last, and that is multiplied by the amount of Lumens the lamp puts out per hour. The total is a theoretical amount that the lamp begins with when it starts producing light. Every hour the lamp subtracts its rated Lumens from the total. The LED lamp at 20 million Lumens per lifetime far exceeds that of other lamps in this category, signifying a new trend. Over the life of the LED we will produce more lumens  at a lower price for a longer time than the other two technologies. Again, the incandescent lamp is no match for the LED technology. Advantage LED per individual lamp, but the incandescent lamp produced more ‘Lumens per lamp life’ than others for less money (not including energy cost). The economics of this number is not in the LED lamp’s favor due to the higher cost of the LED lamp.

The Lifetime rating in hours of the lamp comes from the manufacturer and is used for several calculations regarding the lamp and its operation. The incandescent has 3000 hours to the LED’s 25,000 hours and the CFL’s 8000. Note, these are ‘double-life’ incandescent lamps we are comparing to the others, giving the old technology a bit of an advantage in all these calculations for review. Even at that rate the LED outlasts the incandescent 8 to 1 in hours. Too bad the LED lamp costs more than 8 times the incandescent. That becomes a simple financial consideration to many when deciding which lamp to use and purchase. The LED in this instance is cheaper than an ‘ordinary’ (not recommended) incandescent lamp. The advantage goes to the long lasting lamp, the LED.

The cost of the light bulb is critical for way too many purchases, and the incandescent lamp is the cheapest of the bunch. The cost of the lamp makes a big factor in our decisions to buy a replacement lamp. Initial cost of lighting fixtures and lamps can be factored into new construction and renovations, but in residential applications the cost seems more hidden within the everyday daily budgets. LED lamps are the most expensive and the advantage here goes to the incandescent lamp for residential use. The choice becomes more difficult for larger commercial operations.

Three types of light bulbs

Three types of light bulbs On, including the CFL during warm up (first 2 minutes)

The next category on the chart is the cost in dollars of the hourly rated life of the lamp under review. Using the LED for example, the review takes the $12.42 cost of the lamp and divided it by the rated cost-of-life in hours of 25,000 and got the tiny figure of $.00049 cents per hour. The advantage goes to the CFL in cost-of-use categories, but the LED was only 10% behind in those figures and lower LED lamp costs will change the momentum in favor of the LED soon.

We can also determine the LED costs $.012 cents a day to operate on average per day. The next category shows the hourly cost multiplied by 24 to get a full days worth of calculated use; the cost of operating the lamp per day. The CFL fared best as it came in at a penny a day to use, all day.

The cost of using the lamp for one year calculates for the average cost over a period of time covering 8760 hours. The incandescent lamp required several replacements in a year bringing its cost up. The CFL, by rated life, almost lasted a full year, but had to be changed once. The LED lasted the entire year without relamping. Still, by ratings, the CFL was the winner due to its lower price. Note that in spite of the long life of the LED lamp, the cost to use it still made it more expensive than the CFL. If you walk up to any light in your room and point to it, this category tells what it costs to operate that light for a year always on, not including the electricity. This represents the cost of consuming the lamp, not the electricity.

A 10 year average cost of use is included to show the differences between the short life of the incandescent and the longer life of the LED and CFL. There is no cost advantage to using incandescent lamps; there are only disadvantages if alternative lamp technologies are available. On just cost of the lamps alone, the CFL was 25% cheaper to use over a long period than a ‘double-life’ incandescent. Again, the present cost of the LED lamp puts it in second place in this category.

But we need to account for changing lamps, and the time and cost of doing so. The next category on the chart is the lamps used per Year, based on manufacturer’s rated life of the lamp. In one years  time, this is the amount of times you will need to replace the lamp if it was kept continually On. The advantage goes to the LED.

This next category is the amount of lamps that will be changed over the period of 10 years based on continual use. Incandescent lamps will be replaced the most, almost three times more than second place CFL lamps. Each LED is rated for almost three years of theoretical constant use, so they are only changed three times over a ten year period.

Based on manufacturers use of 3 hours per day, this next category charts how many lamps will be needed in ten years based on occasional use. Even in this respect, the category winner LED has a four-fold advantage over the ‘double-life’ incandescent lamp. The LED lamp does not need to be changed for over 10 years, or 20 years, based on occasional use. This, combined with the cost of changing a light bulb, gives the clearest long range perspective on the three technologies. The hidden maintenance costs of lighting are made clearer with these figures.


Color differences between lamps

Dimming is a wonderful way to lower costs and change the mood of the lighting. Both the CFL and the LED lamps are not dimmable, so the incandescent lamp has a key advantage. Adding quality dimming to CFL lamps has not been commercially successful, and often problematic. Adding dimming to LED lamp drivers is promising, but not on par with the incandescent lamp ability. Big advantage to the incandescent for predictable dimming ability.

The light was actually measured

Actual foot candle readings were taken with each lamp, measuring the amount of light at the counter top level by the sink, produced by a single lamp. The amount of light measured from each lamp corresponded with the Lumen output advertised on the lamp package. According to a basic light meter, the lumen output of each lamp was fairly accurate.

That concludes the details and figures for each lamp and technology. These figures are based on the information given by the manufacturer and have not been independently verified. Pictures taken with one camera, identical exposure parameters, on a tripod.

# Bath Vanity Examples

Vanity exposures under 3 different lamps showing color differences.

In conclusion, this review finds the LED the best choice for a replacement globe lamp in a bathroom vanity.  The LED scored a total of 83 points from 9 categories. The compact fluorescent lamp scored a 71 total and the incandescent was last with a total score of 65. The incandescent lamps are losing their value in the long run for both residential and commercial non-dim applications. The self ballasted CFL still has slow turn on issues, a blue tint, and color rendering constraints to name a few drawbacks. The review winner, the LED, even in its ‘infant state’ has more forward progress ahead that the fluorescent or incandescent technologies. Our future in lighting is the LED. The LED lamps are becoming more economical to use over time, but the initial price is high for now. The LED lamps were the overall winner in the majority of categories profiled, and a winner in the overall product technology tested.

   Using three different lamps sold at a common store like Wal-Mart, this review finds the LED lamp the superior choice over compact fluorescent and incandescent replacement lamps.

One thought on “LED Review – Light Bulbs – Which lamp should I buy?

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