Closeup on an incandescent light bulb at left and an LED light bulb at right

LED light bulbs have genuinely revolutionized the lighting industry. In fact, I even previously built a commercial lighting company specifically around this huge technology leap. And now we can create the same environmental and energy savings at home for ourselves.

The benefits of LED lighting technology are countless, besting every other type of bulb available in virtually every imaginable way. 

One benefit is their extreme efficiency—you could realize significant savings by changing over from your old incandescent bulbs.

Read on to learn how to slash your energy bills with LED lighting.

Are LED Bulbs Cheaper to Run than Incandescent Bulbs?

LED light bulbs use about 85% less energy to create the same (or more) light as A19 incandescent bulbs. For example, a 60-watt incandescent bulb uses 60kWh every 1000 hours, costing around $6.60. An equivalent LED bulb would use just 9kWh, costing as little as $0.99 for the same period.

How Do Incandescent Bulbs Work?

Incandescent light bulbs produce light by heating a thin wire filament, usually made of tungsten, until it becomes white-hot. When current passes through the filament, it resists the flow and heats up. 

As the filament heats up, it begins to glow and produce visible light. These bulbs are filled with argon, a noble gas, to prevent the filament from oxidizing and prematurely failing.

Incandescent Bulb Efficiency (Or Lack Thereof)

Producing light by running current through a filament is inefficient. Most energy is lost as wasted heat, and as little as 10% becomes visible light. This is also why your hand will get burned if you hold on to a bulb turned on (don’t do it!).

This lack of efficiency is because the filament in an incandescent bulb has a relatively low surface area, and a large amount of energy is required to heat it to the high temperatures necessary to produce visible light.

A glowing A19 light bulb hanging from a fixture trasnsposed against a dark background

Incandescent Bulb Lifespan

Incandescent light bulbs have a relatively short lifespan compared to LED bulbs for several reasons. One of the main reasons for the short lifespan of incandescent bulbs is they produce light by heating a filament. 

The filament is subjected to high temperatures and mechanical stress every time the bulb is energized, which can cause it to weaken and eventually fail. The heat produced by the bulb can also cause the inert gas inside the bulb to break down, which can contribute to the failure of the filament.

In addition, the filament is suspended in a delicate glass bulb, and the connections between the filament and the electrical contacts can also become loose over time, leading to failure.

Finally, incandescent bulbs are more susceptible to damage from voltage fluctuations and power surges, which can further shorten their lifespan. 

How Do LED Light Bulbs Work?

LED bulbs produce light by using a semiconductor to convert electricity into light. A semiconductor is a material that can conduct electricity in specific situations but is otherwise an insulator. When voltage is applied to a semiconductor, a current can flow through it.

a closeup of white led diode strip lighting wrapped together
While this LED lighting is not in bulb format, it’s the same exact technology. You can see the diodes and mini-circuit board controlling the electricity and light output to the diodes.

In an LED light bulb, the semiconductor is formed into a thin layer sandwiched between two layers of electrodes. When electricity is applied to the electrodes, it flows through the semiconductor, causing it to emit light.

LED Bulb Efficiency

The process of producing light using a semiconductor, as in LED bulbs, is much more efficient than the process used by incandescent bulbs. This characteristic is because a semiconductor can convert a high proportion of electricity into visible light with very little wasted heat energy. 

The exact efficiency of an LED light bulb depends on several factors, including the quality of the semiconductor material and the bulb’s design. 

The high efficiency of LED bulbs makes them an attractive choice for both residential and commercial lighting, as they can produce the same amount of light as other types of bulbs while using much less electricity, resulting in significant energy and cost savings over the long term.

While LED bulbs can save 10-20% on your home electricity bill, just imagine upgrading/retrofitting old lights in a warehouse or retail store to LED’s.

With my old company, I would routinely design new larger commercial spaces, and swapping the old lighting out for LED. A $20,000 lighting project could easily save $8,000 to $10,000 in energy per year. And there would usually be some great tax credits or rebates to go along with it.

a hand in the middle of the picture holding up a lit up LED light bulb with a garden in the background

LED Light Bulb Lifespan

LED bulbs have a much longer lifespan than incandescent bulbs. The average lifespan of an LED bulb is between 25,000 and 50,000 hours. In contrast, the average lifespan of an incandescent bulb is around 1,000-2,000 hours.

The longer lifespan of LED light bulbs can result in lower costs and waste savings over the long term, as you do not have to change them as often as incandescent bulbs. In addition, the longer lifespan means they are less likely to fail unexpectedly, making them a more reliable choice.

In reality (at least in my experience), the stated hours of LEDs is always longer than what they’ll actually last. So I would suggest being conservative on that front. 50,000 hours means that an LED bulb will basically never burn out in your lifetime if you only have it on a couple of hours a night. And we know that’s not true.

What Are the Energy Savings of LED Bulbs?

To calculate the energy savings of switching from incandescent to LED light bulbs, you can compare the wattages of the two types of bulbs and their respective lifespans.

First, determine the wattage of the incandescent bulb you have, and the wattage of the LED bulb you plan to buy. For example, say you are using a 60 watt incandescent bulb, and you want to switch to a 9 watt LED bulb.

The calculation is: 60 – 9 = a 51 watt difference. 51 divided by 60 = 85% energy savings

Closeup on a homeowner's arms who's swapping an incandescent bulb for a LED light bulb in a hanging ceiling fixture

Next, calculate how many hours per year the bulb will be in use. This figure depends on the specific application and your usage patterns. For this example, assume the bulb will be on for three hours per day, or 1,095 hours per year.

Now, you can calculate the energy savings by multiplying the wattage of the incandescent bulb by the number of hours it is on per year and then subtracting the wattage of the LED bulb multiplied by the number of hours it is on per year.

Using the numbers from the example above, the energy savings are as follows:

  • 60 watt incandescent bulb • 1,095 hours per year = 65,700 watt-hours per year, or 65.7kWh
  • 9 watt LED bulb • 1,095 hours per year = 9.855kWh
  • 65.7kWh – 9.855kWh = 55.845kWh

So, by switching from a 60-watt incandescent bulb to a nine-watt LED bulb, we can avouch that you would save approximately 55.845kWh per year. The US national average of $0.11 per kWh equates to a saving of $6.14 per bulb per year. 

If an A19 (regular) bulb costs only about $3, that’s less than a six-month payback!

This calculation does not consider the longer lifespan of the LED light bulb, which would result in additional energy and cost savings over the long term.

 Purchase PriceLifespan
Incandescent$0.95 1000 hrs
LED$3.50 30,000 hrs

To light a room for the same time as a single LED, you would need to purchase 30 incandescent bulbs. 

30 x $0.95 = $28.50

While it may seem like you’re saving money by purchasing incandescent bulbs, you’d spend approximately $28.50 on just the replacement bulbs during the lifespan of a single LED unit. 

What Are the Additional Benefits of LED Bulbs?

In addition to the apparent cost and efficiency benefits of LED light bulbs, they also boast several distinct advantages over older technology like incandescent bulbs.

LED Bulb Environmental Benefits

LED light bulbs have several additional environmental benefits, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, contribute to global warming and climate change by trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. 

Burning fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas, to generate electricity is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. By using LED bulbs, you can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in several ways. 

First, LED bulbs are much more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs and other traditional lighting technologies, so they use less electricity to produce the same amount of light. This benefit can result in significant energy savings, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Various types of LED light bulbs transposed above a white background

In addition, LED light bulbs have a much longer lifespan than incandescent bulbs, so they do not need to be replaced as often. This longevity can help to reduce waste and the environmental impact of manufacturing and disposing of new bulbs.

Finally, LED bulbs do not contain mercury or other hazardous substances, which makes them safer for the environment and easier to dispose of.

LED Light Bulb Safety

LED bulbs have improved safety compared to incandescent ones due to their low heat output and reduced fire risk.

One of the main advantages of LED light bulbs is their low heat output. They produce very little heat, as most of their energy is converted into visible light rather than lost as heat. 

This efficiency makes LED bulbs much cooler to the touch than other bulbs, which can be a safety advantage in specific applications, such as desktop lamps where stray hands could come into contact with the bulb.

Additionally, LED bulbs have a reduced fire risk compared to other types. Incandescent bulbs, in particular, have a higher fire risk due to the high temperatures at which they operate and the presence of a filament, which can become an ignition source if the bulb fails or is damaged.

LED bulbs do not have a filament and do not produce significant amounts of heat, which reduces the risk of fire. Overall, the low heat output and diminished fire risk of LED bulbs make them a safer choice for lighting, especially in applications where safety is a concern.

LED Light Bulb Versatility

LED bulbs are highly versatile and offer a wide range of options for lighting. One of their main advantages is that they can produce a broader range of color temperatures than incandescent bulbs, from warm yellows to daylight white. This versatility allows you to choose the color temperature best suited to the application and your preferences.

In addition to the range of color temperatures, LED light bulbs are also available in an almost infinite range of colors, making them suitable for many decorative and specialty lighting applications.

A living room with ILC RGB LED Light Bulbs radiating various colors
Courtesy of Amazon

LED bulbs are also compatible with smart-lighting systems, which allow you to control your lighting using a smartphone app or voice commands. Smart LED bulbs can be dimmed, scheduled, and controlled remotely, which provides convenience and energy savings. 

Some smart LED bulbs can even change colors and respond to music or audio inputs.

Considerations When Switching to LED Bulbs 

One of the main compatibility issues when switching to LED light bulbs is the need for LED-compatible dimmer switches. Many LED bulbs are incompatible with traditional incandescent dimmer switches, as the electrical characteristics of LED bulbs differ from those of incandescent bulbs. 

As a result, using an incandescent dimmer switch with LED bulbs can result in problems such as flickering, buzzing, or reduced dimming range.

To avoid these problems, you must install an LED-compatible dimmer switch if you do not already have one. Most LED bulbs will specify the types of dimmer controls compatible with them, so check the manufacturer’s recommendations before purchasing a dimmer switch.

Final Thoughts

While the aesthetic benefits of certain types of lights may be subjective, the efficiency and cost benefits of LED lighting could not be clearer. So, if you want to save on your energy bills instantly, start switching out your old incandescent A19 bulbs for LED light bulbs as soon as possible.

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