You’ve probably seen LED bulbs in use all around you, even if you didn’t know it at the time. They’re often used in traffic signals, cell phone displays, vehicle turn signals and trendy consumer products like LED belt buckles. In determining an LED bulb’s efficiency against a traditional incandescent bulb, take three things into consideration: the amount of light they put out, the number of hours they burn, and the ratio of lumens per watt--this tells you how much bang for your buck you’ll get when it comes to the bulb’s electricity use.
How LED Bulbs Work
LED stands for “light emitting diode,” a semiconductor that turns electricity into light. LED light bulbs are made up of many small diodes, each approximately a quarter-inch long. The diodes are linked to a driver built into the bulb, which allows the bulb to run on standard AC power. Typical residential LED light bulbs offer around 20 lumens per watt, although manufacturers sometimes claim up to 100 lumens per watt based on laboratory testing--whether or not those conditions are ever duplicated in home-use settings. According to ToolBase Services, a housing industry informational resource funded by HUD, LED bulbs can offer an astounding 50,000 hours of use.
How Incandescent Bulbs Work
Incandescent light bulbs as we know them today were invented by Thomas Alva Edison in the late 1880s. He worked on the idea from 1878 to 1880, coming up with 3,000 different ideas and testing thousands of materials for use as a filament. Today’s incandescent bulbs contain a thin strip of tungsten--the filament--encased within a glass bulb. Electricity heats the filament until it glows, producing light. Typical incandescent light bulbs offer around 15 lumens per watt, slightly less than LED bulbs.
Measuring Lumens vs. Watts
Lumens are the measure of how much light a bulb puts out: the brighter the light, the greater the number of lumens. This measurement shouldn’t be confused with watts, which measure how much power the light bulb consumes. Ideally, you want a high number of lumens paired with a low number of watts. Different types of light bulbs can have the same number of lumens but use drastically different wattages. Incandescent bulbs usually have the highest wattage, while fluorescent and LED bulbs have lesser wattages.
Which Bulb Offers More Lumens?
Overall, LED lights are capable of producing more lumens using fewer watts. A typical 60-watt incandescent light bulb puts out approximately 800 lumens. LED lights can produce up to 1,000 lumens at approximately 75 lumens per watt.
Choosing Between LED and Incandescent Bulbs
There are benefits and drawbacks to each. Traditional incandescent bulbs are inexpensive, readily available and good at broadcasting light in all directions. However, they use more watts than either fluorescent or LED bulbs and burn out more quickly than LED bulbs. In contrast, LED bulbs use remarkably little energy--between 0.83 and 7.3 watts--and can last for up to 50,000 hours. They can be quite expensive, however, costing up to $60 for a small retrofit light bulb and $107 for a standard household-use light bulb. They also lack the capability to shine light in multiple directions, limiting their applications. LED bulbs are best used for outdoor areas and small, focused workstations. Incandescent bulbs are best used for softer, ambient household light.