How To Buy LED Light Bulbs (When You’re Used To Fluorescent)

LED Light Bars ShowcaseFluorescent light bulbs are all the rage. Today, the majority of households in the U.S. have begun to adapt their lighting, exchanging inefficient incandescent light bulbs for energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). These familiar spiral-shaped light bulbs hide under our lamp shades, within our ceiling lights, behind our wall sconces, and are quite pleasant to use. Often, you can’t even tell the difference between a classic incandescent and a CFL.

As incandescent lights become a thing of the past, and energy efficient lighting becomes more of a priority, the fluorescent lights have gained popularity.

Fluorescent lights use much less energy to produce the same light output as any incandescent lamp, and they last many times longer. Plus, improvements in fluorescent lighting technology have turned these lamps into a pleasant source to have around your home or work space. The cost upfront isn’t terribly more than an incandescent, either.

Presently, cost and technology make fluorescent lights and LEDs (light emitting diodes) rivals in the energy efficient lighting market. But it won’t stay that way for long. Lighting experts say that while fluorescent lighting technology has reached its peak, LEDs are still evolving and improving. Even now, manufacturers are coming out with new LED lights that surpass fluorescent technology in many different ways.

Let’s examine how fluorescent light bulbs compare with today’s LED light bulbs:

  • Efficiency: While both light sources are considered efficient, LED lights have pulled ahead. A CFL produces 30-50 lumens or light per watt, while an LED on the market today can produce 60-100+ lumens per watt.
  • Rated Life: LEDs and fluorescent lights also both have long rated lives, but again, LEDs win. A CFL can last between 6,000 and 15,000 hours. An LED can last between 25,000 and 60,000 hours.
  • Mercury: Fluorescent lights contain mercury, and LEDs don’t. While operating fluorescent lights on a daily basis won’t put you in danger, a broken light bulb will expose you to a small amount of this toxic substance.
  • Infrared and UV: LED light bulbs don’t emit infrared or UV radiation in the same direction they emit light, but fluorescent lights do. Thus, LEDs will not damage sensitive material, and they won’t attract bugs.
  • Durability: Strong vibrations can degrade the electrodes fluorescent lamps use to create light. LEDs don’t use filaments to illuminate, so they can withstand more abuse.
  • Cool Temperatures: LEDs thrive in the cold, while fluorescent lights have trouble working if the ambient temperature is below freezing.
  • Start Time: Fluorescent lights usually take some time (1-60 seconds) to reach their full brightness level, while LED lights turn on instantly.
  • Dimming: CFLs are very difficult to dim – their technology isn’t exactly built for it. It’s much easier to find a dimmable LED – every week manufacturers introduce more and more dimmable LED lights into the marketplace.

While fluorescent lights are a very viable lighting option today, we expect the cost of LEDs to decrease and LED technology to become even more sophisticated. Fluorescent lights are more like bridge between old incandescent lights and LED lights.

However, if you’ve gotten used to your fluorescent lights, and want a good LED replacement, you’ll need to look for these features: 

  • Color Temperature: Look for an LED with the same color temperature as the light bulb you’re replacing. 3,000K for a warm white light, 3,500K for a neutral white light, or 4,100K for a cool white light.
  • Light Output: Fluorescent light bulbs are notoriously bright, so to make sure you get an LED that is just as bright, look at the lumen output of each light. If the numbers match, you’re good to go.
  • Directionality: Fluorescent lights are omnidirectional – meaning their light shines in all directions. LED light bulbs naturally only shine their light in one direction unless they’re designed otherwise. Make sure the LED you’re considering will shine light in the right place.

For more info on how LEDs can replace other light sources, check out this post on incandescent lights, this post on halogen lights, and this post on xenon lights.

Annie Josey

Annie was the E-Commerce Marketing Specialist at Pegasus Lighting from June 2012 to October 2013. She has a background in English literature, and loves using language to help illuminate the world. So covering lighting news and tips naturally fit her interests. In her personal time she enjoys painting, biking, and reading.