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All about lightbulbs

Consumer Reports Magazine: January 2012

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How many lightbulbs does it take to change your utility bill? Just one CFL can save you around $50 over its lifetime, and LEDs can save you more than twice that. Here’s the scoop:

Q. Have CFLs really improved?
Our early tests of 100-watt-equivalent CFLs found that they might not be as bright as the incandescents they replace. (Look for full Ratings of 100-watt-equivalent CFLs and halogen bulbs next month.) But Energy Star-qualified 60-watt equivalents are as bright as regular incandescents, use about 75 percent less energy, and last seven to 10 times longer. But they still need time to fully brighten, and most aren't dimmable.

Q. Should I stick with halogen bulbs?
Some use about 25 to 30 percent less energy than standard incandescents, but they cost more and many don't last much longer. So you're unlikely to save much money. But halogens instantly produce light, are fully dimmable, and cast light evenly. Look for the results of our tests of 100-watt halogen bulbs next month.

Q. Why buy LEDs?
LEDs instantly brighten and aren't affected by frequent on/off cycles and cold temperatures, and many can be dimmed. They use slightly less energy than CFLs and are claimed to last even longer, 20,000 to 50,000 hours, or around 20 to 40 years. LED prices are dropping, but the bulbs are still expensive and have a payback period of two years or longer. Not all lamp-type LEDs emit light evenly, so look at our Ratings and look for the Energy Star logo.

Q. Why do LEDs cost so much?
Production is challenging and expensive, but as with other electronic-based products, prices are dropping as demand and performance go up. Until then, look online for rebates from manufacturers and utilities. You'll spend about $1 a year on average to power an Energy Star LED or CFL, $3.50 for a halogen, and almost $5 for a traditional incandescent bulb, according to the Department of Energy.

Q. Do LEDs contain toxins?
Semiconductor chips and electronic circuitry in LEDs can include lead, arsenic, and gallium, but those substances aren't accessible, even if the bulb breaks. LEDs should be recycled with other electronic waste. Used CFLs, which contain a small amount of mercury, can be taken to Home Depot, Lowe's, or Ikea for recycling.

Q. Are any lightbulbs U.S.-made?
Most incandescents are manufactured abroad, and CFLs usually come from China. LED chips and final assembly might be done here, but only one of the 10 LEDs we tested was made in the U.S. LED research, development, and design are done here.

Q. What's a lumen?
Brightness is measured in lumens; watts measure energy use. Here's a cheat sheet for equivalents: To replace a 40-watt incandescent lamp bulb, get 450 lumens; 60 watts, get 800 lumens; 75 watts, get 1,100 lumens; 100 watts, get 1,600 lumens.

And remember, not every energy-saving lightbulb can be used in every fixture. In fact, incorrect use of an energy-saving bulb can affect its performance and shorten its life. Check out our tips on choosing the right bulb for the fixtures in your home.

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