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Choosing the right light bulb

Lifespan, color rendition, dimmer compatibility among top considerations
Paul Bianchina Published: November 23, 2012

Compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs, are the increasingly familiar “curly tube” light bulb. Once again, they're more expensive to purchase initially than a standard incandescent bulb, but their increasing popularity and availability is bringing prices down.

CFL bulbs use about a quarter of the energy that a standard bulb uses to produce the same number of lumens, so that's a pretty good savings. They're estimated to last about 10 times as long, so that offsets the somewhat higher initial cost; in fact, the Department of Energy estimates that a typical CFL will pay for itself in less than nine months.

As CFLs have become more popular, they've become available in a range of colors that weren't available when they were first introduced. You can now get CFLs with warm, yellow tones, as well as bulbs that are encased in an outer cover that helps diffuse the light better — and which, coincidentally, also makes them look much more like a traditional light bulb. Some CFLs also can be used with a dimmer switch, but be sure that you verify that on the package when you buy it.

CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury, as do all fluorescent bulbs. When they burn out, they shouldn't be disposed of with the regular trash. Instead, they need to be properly recycled, which is something that a growing number of retailers are doing at no charge.

LED bulbs

The final type of bulb is the light-emitting diode, or LED. These bulbs are semiconductors that convert electricity into light. They're actually in the early stages of development, so they're still pretty expensive. However, many people think that these bulbs have a tremendous amount of potential and represent the wave of the future in residential and commercial lighting. As such, their prices should begin coming down.

LED bulbs use only about 25 percent of the energy that a conventional bulb does, but their real advantage is in their lifespan. An LED bulb is estimated to last about 25 times longer than a conventional bulb, so even with the high initial cost, their use may still make good economic sense for applications where bulbs are difficult to access for replacement.

Remodeling and repair questions? Email Paul at All product reviews are based on the author's actual testing of free review samples provided by the manufacturers.

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