So I Bought you a $40 Light Bulb Today

One of the easier rules of Mustachianism is that you should shoot for using about 60-75% less power than the average US household (as described in this earlier article about electricity).

By accomplishing this, you’ll end up about $13,000 richer every ten years.

A big part of the savings comes from angrily smashing up any of those ridiculous incandescent light bulbs you have remaining at home, and replacing them with Compact Fluorescent bulbs (CFLs).

But although CFLs are clearly a huge win over incandescents, and they are cheap at under $1 per bulb, they still have some weaknesses:

  • They are not dimmable (unless you pay extra for a special type that approximates dimming)
  • They do not immediately reach full brightness (modern ones are usefully bright within one second, although certain in-ceiling reflector ones take several minutes to warm up).
  • They contain a small amount of mercury, so if you regularly smash them and snort lines of the resulting powder through your nose, you will exceed the federal recommendations for mercury intake (although they are not at all dangerous in normal use)
  • They provide omnidirectional light, which is great for lamps and exterior lighting, but not great for kitchens and track lighting.

The last point is most significant to lighting fanatics like myself. To get really good lighting inside a house or business, you need focused, narrow beams of light which illuminate the highlights of a room, rather than just ceiling-mounted lightbulbs randomly scattering light in every direction.  Think about the feel of an gallery, an expensive clothing store, the Whole Foods produce department, or an Apple computer store. These places use halogen track lights which provide a focused beam of bright white light. Now think about the feel of a Walmart or a Home Depot. Those ones use long fluorescent tubes or sodium lamps with no focus. It’s the direct and high-contrast lighting in the nicer interiors that makes you say, “Ooh, nice”.

“Ooh, nice” is an important goal, and not just for pleasing your own aesthetic senses. It translates directly into profit if you own a business with a space where customers visit, if you’re a landlord hoping to increase demand for your apartments or houses, or even if you’re a homeowner selling your place to move somewhere else, and want the house to sell quickly at a high price.

Check out the next few pictures to compare the effect:

This track light with halogen bulbs in my basement staircase creates accent areas on the painting, walls and shelf to make a more interesting scene

This sample scene in my testing area is lit up with the yellowy light of an incandescent bulb.

Here’s the same scene lit up with a “warm white” CFL bulb. Note the more reddish hue (which I find a bit nicer) and the continued wide light dispersion.

Here’s the scene lit with a brand-new LED bulb (color temperature a slightly cooler 3000K, but still called “warm white”). Contrast and shadows are sharper, scene is classier.

So in my own house, I use Compact fluorescent bulbs whenever I can, but there are still about 20 halogen bulbs in strategic locations such as the kitchen where I like really good classy light. (I’d prefer to use halogen everywhere, but then my power bill would go through the roof).

These halogen bulbs, while better than plain old Incandescents, still burn a lot of power and generate waste heat. A typical halogen uses 50 watts of power, compared to the 13 watts of a CFL bulb.

Recently, however, a new type of light bulb has become available that offers the best of both worlds: the LED.

Five years ago, the first LED bulbs hit the stores. They promised very low power consumption, which they delivered. But this came at the price of a low light output that came out in a deeply eerie bluish color. I bought two light bulbs of this type in Costco at the time, and was immediately disappointed – they weren’t nice enough to use in the kitchen or even an office. I relegated them to my upstairs staircase landing, a place we rarely hang out, and we call it “the Blue Zone”.

Here’s the oldschool LED bulb in my upper staircase – note the many individual LEDs and the bluish hue. Newer bulbs use just 1-10 kickass LEDs instead of dozens of weaker ones.

More recently, LED bulbs have advanced to be much brighter and with a nicer light color. This is why you see them being used in the headlamps of fancy cars, and they are even creeping into the art galleries and expensive stores. The better LED bulbs also appeared on the shelves of Lowe’s and Home Depot, where I started tracking them two years ago. The price of the best ones started out at a punishing $80 per bulb and has now ticked its way down to $39.99 for the big “PAR38” reflectors, and $20 for the little “GU10” track light bulbs. Looking at demonstrations of these newest bulbs, I noticed they very closely approximate the quality of halogen lights. Finally! In the near future we can all have great light quality AND low power bills, combined with bulbs that are dimmable, and last an entire generation (they have a 25 year life expectancy based on regular service).

Update: four years later, the prices have completed their amazing drop – amazing LED bulbs are now under $10 each and you can just upgrade your whole house and be done with it. For recessed lights, I highly recommend these Hyperikon bulbs at Amazon.  With that update out of the way, you may now resume reading my outdated article on the technology.

With the prices dropping so rapidly, I would normally hold out a couple more years before buying into a new technology. Although these bulbs save money compared to halogens, the annual price drop is still greater than the annual electricity savings, so it is better to keep wasting power with halogens (while continuing to use CFLs wherever possible) until the equation reverses.

But being Mr. Money Mustache, I now have the responsibility of reporting energy-saving developments to YOU. On top of that, this blog is now making a few bucks a day, enough to justify purchasing supplies for research projects like this one!

So I bought one of the big $40 PAR38 bulbs and brought it down to the MMLL for evaluation. That is of course the Money Mustache Lighting Laboratory, which is really just a desk in my basement where I set up a light fixture, a power consumption meter, and a light output meter that measures light intensity in Lux (equal to one Lumen per square meter). I took down a fleet of my existing incandescent, fluorescent and halogen lights for comparison with the new LED bulb (shown below), and here are the results.

Update! After publishing this article, I mentioned it on Twitter and it was in turn quoted by a Brooklyn, New York company called LED Waves. I looked these guys up and noticed they had pretty fancy LED bulbs as well, with the added twist of being manufactured right there in Brooklyn. I suggested that they send me a couple of their highest-end bulbs for evaluation and was pleasantly surprised to see that they did. So I’m now running a pair of their “New York” Dimmable LED PAR38 bulbs as part of the MMM family’s living room, and I also added their results to the table below. Here’s what those beauties look like:

I ordered the 8 degree beam angle, which is much narrower than anything offered in the big box stores. This concentrates the light in a smaller area, which is a nice effect in my own living room, because I have high recessed fixtures in a 9-foot-high ceiling. By the time the light from regular bulbs reaches the floor, it is quite diffuse.  From these 8 degree angle bulbs, I get some nice contrasty sunshine patches on my floor, along with a still-good amount of scattered light out to the sides. You can see how that measures out in the “brightness at beam center” result below, which is over 3 times higher than other bulbs.

Power consumption was also a pleasant surprise. I measured these bulbs at only 10 watts, significantly lower than their 14 watt spec. But because of the focused beam, the usable amount of light is almost as much as the 24 watt LED bulb from EcoSmart, at least for my own purposes. The efficiency really shows up in the “lumens per watt” measurement. This bulb is almost doubling the efficiency of the other LED bulb, and of CFLs as well! The 14 watt savings works out to about 15 kWh/year ($1.50-ish) at 3 hour-per-day usage.

They also take their light quality much more seriously than other manufacturers – check out this detailed spec sheet on the New York bulb.

The only drawback? The price of the dimmable model is $99, and non-dimmable is $74. Would I pay the extra $34 for the better light quality? For the two most frequently used bulbs in my living room, I would probably say yes. For a big array lighting up my infrequently used basement rec room – no.

Bulb TypeRated Output (Lumens)Efficiency (Lumens per Watt)Peak Brightness at beam center (LUX) @ 4ft distanceLight Quality
EcoSmart LED bulb (24 watt PAR38 shape for large in-ceiling recessed fixtures) ($40/bulb) 1300541820Sweet. Extremely bright and fairly focused beam.
LEDWaves New York LED Bulb958956000 (!)Even better than the other LED bulb - subjectively, the hue was more sun-like, but that could also just be the more focused beam.
Compact Fluorescent Reflector bulb (24 watts, same shape) ($10/bulb)
360Not bad, but wide beam
PAR38 Halogen spotlight, 50 watts ($7/bulb)850171020Super Sweet. Slightly more yellow than LED bulb. Similar focus
Cheap 65 watt builder-grade PAR30 incandescent reflector ($1/bulb)5808.92230Much more yellow than halogen, wide and unfocused beam. Similar quality to CFL above, but less bright.
Stupid 60-watt standard incandescent bulb5208.67130Dim and tragic light in all directions
13 watt CFL bulb82563130Slightly less yellow and more reddish light than standard bulb. Nicer, but still tragic compared to reflector options.

The things to note about these results are:

  • Halogen lights are already almost twice as efficient as junky incandescent bulbs, even while delivering better light.
  • CFL and LED bulbs are about six times more efficient than the incandescent bulbs, and four times better than  halogens. (The higher-end LEDWaves bulb is even higher, in an efficiency class by itself.
  • The brightness at the center of the beam, which is a key measure of lighting niceness, is much higher in halogens and LEDs than in the other types.
  • If you care about light quality and power consumption, LEDs are the only choice.
  • If you have recessed in-ceiling lights in your house right now and have never thought about your light bulb choices, you are probably using the “Cheap 65 watt builder-grade” bulbs above. These are an awful choice, because recessed lighting is often done with many fixtures. It’s not uncommon to have 600-1200 watts of light burning into a single large room. Switch ’em out for CFLs for maximum savings, Halogens for medium savings and maximum light quality, or LEDs for the best of both worlds but with high upfront costs.

So there’s my full report on this new technology, just in case you had never heard of it, or if you had and were curious about the performance. I feel that LED bulbs will completely replace compact fluorescent bulbs within the next ten years, since they are better in every way. Besides the reflector-style ones reviewed here, they also come in standard round shapes for lamp applications, as well as specialized ones for smaller lights and even car interior dome lights (so you can leave your interior light on accidentally for a month without running down the battery!).

But for now, they are only for the truly hardcore lighting enthusiast, since the prices are still dropping rapidly. My new 24 watt LED bulb will save me about $5.50 per year in electricity over an equivalent-brightness 75 watt halogen bulb. That’s a 14% annual return on investment, which sounds good until you realize the price is dropping more than $5.50 per year. For maximum savings, it’s best to stick with the alternatives listed in the bullet points above for another year or two. But keep your eye on these new beauties, since they will soon become affordable for all.

If you’re already plenty wealthy and are looking for a fun MMM-approved way to spend a few hundred bucks, I give you permission go out and outfit your whole house with LED bulbs. If you select the “Warm White” color, and go for the highest lumen rating you can find of each shape, you’ll be pleased with the results. And you’ll be helping to save power and boost the industry to help bring the prices down for the rest of us. As I said, even at current prices, they’re a roughly 14% annual return on investment*, which is better than a punch in the face.


*assuming a 3-hour per day run time and 10c/kWh electricity. You can then scale your own ROI directly if your numbers are higher or lower. For 6 hours or more per day, the LED is an even more obvious win, and it becomes cost effective to upgrade immediately.

  • Mr. Frugal Toque March 5, 2012, 6:22 am

    Track lighting is an interesting option I hadn’t considered for our living room.

    The room is presently lit with one of the nipple-dome lights in the centre of the ceiling. Even with bright bulbs in it, the room doesn’t look very nice. If I had to choose a word, “tragic” might just be it.

    I was considering rewiring the room to put four up-lights near the ceiling to give a nice indirect light. I should now consider track lighting for the art on the walls, but I have a feeling the glare would interfere with the many board games and jigsaw puzzles in which we partake on the floor (the dome light already causes problems).

    Has the MMLL ever done any analysis of indirect lighting for this purpose?

    Also, you might need one more column in that chart to compare the cost of a bulb with its brightness and longevity. The units would be … um … Lumen-years per Dollar?

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 9:20 am

      Ahh, the TRAGIC BREAST LAMP!!

      I feel your pain, and often mock the other house builders who don’t know anything about lighting, and thus use the Breast Lamp in rooms.

      I don’t think you’d have any problem with glare from track lights, but you could always calculate out the ideal placement for family board games using angles and such.

      When I’m visiting you this summer, I’ll gladly do a re-lighting project with you in that living room if you haven’t already done it by then. I may even bring some fancy LED track light bulbs as a belated wedding gift (under ten years late, I believe).

      • Mr. Frugal Toque March 5, 2012, 10:52 am

        Huzzah for that!
        I’ve been debating the effort of running wires through insulated walls (with all implied drywall tearing) vs. just leaving the tragic lamp where it is. The ceiling, at the very least, doesn’t have any insulation in it. I’d be interested in figuring out how to light the place with track lights reflecting off the walls and lighting up the central activity area.
        A project!

      • Geek June 30, 2012, 7:17 pm

        What is a good alternative to tragic (and slanted… since the ceiling runs along the roof) breast lamps in bedrooms?

  • Stephen March 5, 2012, 6:32 am

    Another great thing about LEDs is that they’re cooler, so if you put them in recessed can lights, you can finally air seal them properly, thereby reducing your winter energy bills.

  • Nuno André March 5, 2012, 6:43 am

    Still the LED leak somewhat nasty chemicals like Arsenic and others, but these will be the future.
    Also in the spirit of DIY and saving, LED lighting is very easy to set-up by buying the discrete components and connecting them, and also much cheaper! A Cree Xlamp LED costs about 9€ and can deliver 970 lumen, coupled with a current controller this would be extra 15€ and the joy of building of course.

  • PJBChicago March 5, 2012, 6:50 am

    Finally, someone has cleared up the light bulb confusion. Outstanding article! Thank you MMM.

    What do you think about the $250 programmable Nest thermostat? Money saving investment or trendy gimmick?

    • James March 5, 2012, 7:44 am

      Like all programmable thermostats, there is no one answer. It simply depends on how it is used whether it will save money or not. When I read the specs I knew immediately it would save us very little, but others might save enough to pay for it in a year or two. (but then a normal programmable would probably pay for itself in a few months in those cases) I would hold out for better technology at lower prices, it will come in the next few years I bet.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 9:53 am

      I am oddly attracted to that NEST thermostat, but my practical side tells me is a trendy gimmick. Any $49 programmable thermostat will save just as much energy if you program it right.

      The NEST, however, is a good invention to trick rich people into saving energy. Most people with big houses have so much income that they can’t be bothered to mess with their heat and lighting settings. These are the ones with $200/month electric bills and $5,000/year heating and cooling bills.

      Saving energy is not interesting to these people. But if you give them a luxury consumer good that seems exclusive and trendy, they’ll have a reason to install it. And they will be tricked into saving energy. So it’s great for non-Mustachian people.

      • AA June 18, 2013, 4:00 pm

        I replaced my A/C last year with a heat pump (I don’t have natural gas service to my house, so it was previously all-baseboard heat.)

        I bought a Nest to go along with it. I have to say, I love it. The concept of “earning a leaf” by conditioning you to use less heat/cooling is really big for me and I don’t know if other programmables have a similar feature . (You earn a leaf by using settings that save you energy for at least one hour a day.)

        Nest emails you a report at the end of the month with interesting facts about how you compare to other Nest users. excerpt from this month:

        “In the hottest states, people use AC every day to stay comfortable. In cooler climates, people may only turn on the AC on the hottest days of the year. In your state [Maryland], people usually use the AC for 53 days during the summer. In your neighborhood, it’s 53 days each summer with an average cooling temperature of 75°F.”

        There are sometimes I give in and set it to something that doesn’t earn me a leaf, and I always feel like it is a bit of a thermostat-sourced face punch. :)

  • jlcollinsnh March 5, 2012, 7:12 am

    and here I never knew there was something called a “hard-core lighting enthusiast.” ;)

    a year or two ago we began replacing our old traditional bulbs with the new CFL style. when we had the house staged for sale, they pulled lots of them and went back to the old ones for the “softer” lighting effect. the house remains unsold.

    in fact, I had quite the laugh over this line: “want the house to sell quickly at a high price.” we’ve yet to sell ours slowly at a low price.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 8:41 am

      Yeah, yeah Mr. Collins. I read your blog and know your house is not moving very quickly. I feel for you :-)

      I can’t promise that the right light bulbs will sell a house in a bad market (and I’ve got an even more expensive house functioning as a rental for precisely the same reason). But I can promise that making people say “ooh, nice” is a huge step forward in selling anything.

      • jlcollinsnh March 5, 2012, 8:52 am

        glad to hear you are reading my blog.

        with the staging we’ve got people to the “ooh, nice” point and you’re right — that’s a huge step.

        with that, and the pricing, even in this market I thought it’d be gone in a week.

        Don’t feel too bad for us, though. If it doesn’t sell we’ll just stay in it a few more years. That’s not much of a hardship as hardships go.

      • jlcollinsnh March 5, 2012, 8:54 am

        BTW, I’d be keenly interested in reading your financial analysis of your expensive house rental sometime.

  • James March 5, 2012, 7:54 am

    I’m definitely a “hard-core lighting enthusiast”, I moved up to CFLs around the time they dropped to $5 a bulb (purchased with rebates in bulk) and dealt with the slow build up of light just fine. What I can’t deal with is the fact that I regularly have CFLs last less than a year in my house. I don’t know if it’s the wiring or power grid, but I have changed many of our bulbs to halogen since I refuse to buy new CFLs every year for those spots. I still maintain CFLs in high use areas, but I’ve been chomping on the bit to try LEDs for two years. I’ll start buying them when they get down to $20 per bulb for areas they are especially perfect for.

    Thanks much for the update, it’s early adopters who drive companies to develop. Like everything else, people need to put their money where their philosophies of life tell them.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 8:47 am

      That’s a good point about CFL longevity – I think they are sensitive to noisy power (i.e., surges and voltage/frequency fluctuations) , which happens more in semi-rural areas or old houses. It may be fixable by upgrading circuit breakers in a house to ones with surge or noise suppression, but that could be expensive (never looked into prices).

      My own bulbs of that type tend to last forever. I still have some embarrasing old rectagular-tube CFLs from a Canadian IKEA I bought in the late 1990s, and some dusty spirals from Home Depot from the early 2000s. I’m actually swapping some of these out while still functional, just because the newer ones perform much better in warmup time and light color.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque March 5, 2012, 9:09 am

      They are also orientation issues with CFLs and brightness.


      They also have orientation-specific longevity issues if you put them in an enclosure that doesn’t let them cool properly, but I can’t find a cite for that. Something about heat collection around the base of the lightbulb.

      Wiki mentions this, but there’s no further info there.

      • Paul O. March 5, 2012, 10:35 am

        I lived in a rental property and replaced the landlords incands with CFLs. The bulbs (25W) in the cans burnt out one by one over the course of a year from heat exhaustion. The bulbs in enclosed but ceiling flush fixtures lasted the entire time, but the plastic on the ballasts turned from a bright white to a well-baked loaf of bread yellow/brown. I’ve actually thought of building a very low-speed 12V PC type fan for fixtures housing CFLs to create just enough airflow to cool the lamps without adding noise or losing the benefit of low power consumption. The fans at max speed would only consume about 4W but would require an AC/DC conversion.

      • James March 5, 2012, 10:52 am

        That’s probably part of my problem, some of the old fixtures are in-ceiling type that don’t let them cool. They are tan instead of white when I take them back out. The ones I had in my garage also died, probably from the cold up here in WI.

        My electric was upgraded in 1996 during a home remodel prior to my purchase, so it should be in pretty good shape.

        • BDub March 5, 2012, 12:14 pm

          My CFL’s last on average of ~1 year and I have put them in multiple locations and enclosure types. Also, I have purchased at least 4 different brands and all seem to have the same issue.

          I will also be holding out on the LED craze for now. I work in semiconductor manufacturing and have seen 1st had the quality and reliability issues anytime there is a massive ramp in production of a new(er) digital technology. The companies that are making the diodes now are in “holy shit, I need to get a lot more of these out the door” mode right now. I will wait until they are in the “we better make these right our we are going to lose a customer to the guy down the street” mode.

    • Spork March 6, 2012, 10:23 am

      You might also look at your bulbs and see if they are 120v or 130v. I found long ago that you can buy cheaper 120v bulbs, but they just don’t last. 130v bulbs seem to handle the little power surges/nuances much better. Often you won’t find them at the big box stores, but will have to go to a lighting store. Yes, they cost more. And yes, they’re actually cheaper in the long run. (This advice goes for any type of bulb, incandescent, CFL, etc.)

      • Clint March 7, 2012, 1:11 pm

        Interesting. I’ve had problems with CFLs in some fixtures (bathroom vanity, ceiling fans) going out way too soon. But then, years ago, I put one in the spotlight over the sink (which had been going out every few months) and it has lasted forever. I’ll have to look into these 130Vs.

        • Spork March 7, 2012, 1:15 pm

          Ceiling fans might be a different thing… At least with incandescent bulbs, there was always a special “appliance bulb” for ceiling fans that was made to handle the constant vibration. I cannot say if I remember if there is a CFL made for this or not… or if they are prone to breakage under these conditions. Anyone?

  • Chris March 5, 2012, 7:58 am

    About six months ago I went on a mission to change all the light bulbs in my house to CFL’s. Once I found the “shade” of light I liked, it was a pretty simple. I found that too bright was annoying and too dim was equally annoying, therefore, the shade just above mid-range brightness seemed to be the sweet spot. I was disappointed to find out that CFL’s don’t dim well. They will do it, but make a loud humming noise when dimmed, so I had to keep a few of the old incandescent bulbs.

    I’ve had my eye on LED’s for a while, so I appreciated the commissioning of the MMLL to provide a consumer report on the topic. I think I’ll wait a year or two more for prices to come down. However, in the future, I would like to have straight DC powered LEDS lighting up my off-grid house!

  • Kimmie March 5, 2012, 8:08 am

    This is an area we are still working on to minimize power consumption, but still have a nice ambiance at night in our home and in major work areas like the kitchen.

    We had similar disappointments when we started purchasing fluorescent and CFL bulbs…I hated the blue cast and that it took a minute or two when you turned them on for them to LIGHT up your space. We have vacillated back and forth and trying different options.

    Thank you for showing how your work space looks with the different lighting options. That is really helpful to see and I really enjoy your honesty and thoughts you gave on the lighting subject. I really love the LED lighting a lot. I love all of your bullet points and I “Pinned it” to Pinterest, so I can readily access this when we go shopping for bulbs again.

    We’ve been doing to home improvement projects with adding “mood lighting” options to our home and we actually have the same track/lights as you do in your basement except ours are white. I’m kind’ve of a “lighting snob” myself and LOVE for a room to have a nice ambiance (ie… wall sconces turned on for mood rather than an overhead light). But, we do have our overhead lights on dimmers though and it is nice to know that in the future, we will be able to put LED bulbs in them that will work for the dimming feature.

    Keep up the great work and thanks for all of the wonderful tips you share with us!!

  • Ben Wildeboer March 5, 2012, 8:17 am

    I did a somewhat similar activity to investigate how long it would take for a 7W PAR20 LED light ($32.98) to pay for itself compared to a 50W Halogen bulb ($7.98).

    My calculations show it would take 2,707.5 hours of use before the LED pays off (If you assume a 3 hrs of use per day, that’s about 2.5 years). However, if the LED lasts the 25,000 hours the package claims (and the Halogen lasts 2,500 hours), by the end of its lifetime, the LED will have saved over $200. I made charts and stuff, which you can see on my original post, if you’d like.

    • Matt G March 5, 2012, 3:23 pm

      Nice Graph!

  • Guitarist March 5, 2012, 8:29 am

    Consider asking for LED bulbs as birthday and Christmas gifts (assuming you are a still a gift giver/receiver). Better then getting a bunch of junk.

  • Kimmie March 5, 2012, 8:32 am

    That is a GREAT idea to give LED light bulbs for gifts…I need to remember that!

  • JaneMD March 5, 2012, 8:50 am

    We switched over to CFLs about two years ago and actually did not notice any difference. If anything, we thought CFLs were brighter. We even went as far as removing four lights in the bathroom and replacing them with a single CFL. (I’m not sure if that saved us any electricty) Am I completely light insensitive that I think CFLs are brighter?

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 9:01 am

      Good question! It’s all in the “Lumens”, which just means “light output” which is a number printed right on the box of the light bulb. A 13 watt CFL bulb puts out just as many lumens as a 60 watt incandescent bulb.

      But you can also get higher wattage CFL bulbs that are brighter than 100 watt bulbs. I use 26 watt CFLs in the lamps and wall fixtures of my larger rooms, since I want as much light as possible in certain areas.

      Similarly, the color of the bulbs should be thought of as a measurable number rather than a subjective feeling. Some people think CFLs are “bluish” or “too cool”. That’s probably because they bought bulbs with the color “bright white” (3000k) or “daylight” (4500k+) rating.

      Those cooler colors look awful to most human eyes, because they approximate sunlight color, but without the parallel rays and high intensity of a sunny day. So it confuses your eyes, thinking you are in a weird solar eclipse/zombie apocalypse world. The exception is if you have a huge number of these bulbs burning together at once, creating near-sunlight intensity. Then the effect can be nice. But then you need sunglasses indoors.

      • LadyMaier March 5, 2012, 11:33 am

        One great use for the daylight CFLs: GROW LIGHTS!!

        I bought two little crap construction clip light fixtures at Home Depot last year along with one 4500K daylight CFL bulb, and a warmer CFL bulb that I believe was <3000K. I threw in the bulbs and positioned them over my seeds, and there they grew for 6 weeks.

        This was magically cheaper than buying the over-priced seed starting systems or even the shoplight-style fluorescent fixtures and the different tubes for them.

        This fabulous setup can be used successfully in conjunction with the toilet-roll seed-starter system!


  • Dollar D @ The Dollar Disciple March 5, 2012, 8:55 am

    Better than a punch in the face, indeed!
    I’ve been curious about these LED lights so thanks for the review. Some day, they might be so cheap that the inefficient incandescent lights become a thing of the past.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 9:02 am

      Well, the inefficient incandescent lights are ALREADY a thing of the past. Nobody should have been using those in the last five years. The choice is now between halogens and CFLs.

      LEDs are working on making those two more recent technologies a thing of the past.

      • David B. July 23, 2013, 12:39 pm

        incandescent bulbs are still nice when you want light and a little bit of heat, or even just an easy heat source. I’ve seen them used in a fermentation temp control system.

    • Kali December 4, 2018, 12:06 pm

      I got an LED lightbulb for a lamp at the dollar store. So (six years later) the price has really gone down. Though in an enclosed lamp they do get hot, so watch for that.

  • christopher March 5, 2012, 9:16 am

    We changed all our light bulbs to CFL lights last year and have noticed a big decline in our electric bills. Just need to change out the ole plasma tv and I will be rocking!

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 10:06 am

      Yeah! The ultimate new technology for TVs uses zero power: having no TV :-)

      I’m partly kidding, since I have a video projector which burns 400 watts whenever I watch movies on Netflix. But at only a couple hours a week, this doesn’t add up to a big portion of the power bill.

  • Yuriy March 5, 2012, 9:47 am

    You seem excited about the dimmable feature. I always thought dimmable lights were something you try once, say “oh cool, I can dim the room!” then set it to the highest setting and never touch the knob it again. In other words, a silly luxury a mustachian should easily ignore. Are your fixtures dimmable and do you actually use that feature?

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 9:57 am

      Good point! The only dimmer I use right now is in the halogen bulb over my kitchen table. I like a nice dim romantic light shining on the luxurious plates of food – to supplement the candle light. It looks like this in action: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/IMG_4637.jpg

      • Matt G March 5, 2012, 3:32 pm

        Don’t forget it’s using even less power when dimmed.

        • Grant March 6, 2012, 3:26 am

          Is it though? An LED would, as dimming is actually cycling the led through on and off, longer off for dimming, but for a halogen, wouldn’t it just be using a rheostat? and if so, doesn’t impeding the current still consume the same amount of power?

          • Justin W March 13, 2012, 6:58 am

            No dimming will use less power even with a rheostat. The rheostat will increase the portion of power wasted in the resistor versus providing light output but the overall wattage still goes down. LEDs are smarter about dimming too, they can use current control or PWM (a type of rapid switching) to dim.

            • Mr. Money Mustache May 11, 2012, 1:46 pm

              Also, dimmer switches are more than just a rheostat – there is some fancy circuitry going on in there that is more complex than a variable resistor, so that the power waste is far less.

              Otherwise, you’d end up melting your dimmer switches, since many of them can dim 500 watt lighting systems. There’s no way you can dissipate (waste) even 50 watts in a small plastic part like a light switch without melting it.

    • BRK March 5, 2012, 10:08 am

      We find dimming to be fantastic. Our new track lighting in the kitchen is on a dimmer. It allows us to dim the lights in the dining area down enough while cooking to add some light to the area, then we can turn them up when we eat at the table to see better. You can also have a romantic low light dining experience this way too.

      We picked up some great Lutron dimmer switches that convert your current table lamp into a dimmable light. You simply plug the dimmer switch in the the wall, then you plug your lamp into the back of the dimmer’s plug. The switch is actually at the end of 5′ long cord and is a small 3″ box with a simple slider switch in it. You can now leave your lamp turned on via its normal switch and turn the lamp on/off via the dimmer switch. We have wall mounted lights in the bedroom and hooked this up to them. Since the lights are mounted fairly high up on the wall (compared to where the level of the bed is), we can now turn the lights on/off/dim while still in bed. And we can run the lights at 50% power and still have plenty of light to read by in bed, thus saving energy (plus they are 500 lumen LED’s).

      I’m thinking of putting track lighting in the office and installing a dimmer switch there too. That way we could have dimmed, ambient light to offset the monitor brightness when we don’t need to read, and turn up the lights when we do.

      Just watch out for some of the newer Lutron dimmer switches – they will actually have a resistance circuit built-in that will cut your lights maximum output by 15% no matter what. It is weird, but I suppose it is for those who would do like you described – but the dimmer, then always run it at full power. I would look for a full range dimmer switch and then actually use it to dim your lights by 15%…then you have that extra brightness should and when you need it.

  • BRK March 5, 2012, 9:56 am

    Keep your eyes peeled at your local big box store, as they will occasionally put the new LED’s on sale. Our local orange box just got a loan from the local power authority and I scarfed up a bunch of Philips 800 lumen/2700K A19 style bulbs for $12 each….over 50% normal price. These are replacing ~60W rated bulbs (both the few incandescents and CFLs) in various fixtures. What is nice about these current Philips models (these are the ones that look like big yellow eggs when turned off) is that they are nice warm white (2700K). The orange box brand bulbs have a slight advantage on lumen rating, but are around 3000K+, and thus more white. Those are actually good for in the bathroom lights we’ve found, so be sure to test a particular bulb in many areas to see where it works best.

    Perhaps someone on here might know of a good GU10 bulb rated around 300+ lumens @ 2700K? By good, I’m looking for one that allows light to spill backwards a bit. Almost all GU10 bulbs have solid heatsinks around the sides and focus/throw all their light forward away from the bulb. This is generally desired, especially in ceiling mounted fixtures – you want all the light to go forward (down) as it makes the light more efficient. However our use for them is in track light cans; these cans have a nice translucent cover around them which lights up (adds to the style factor) when you put a halogen GU10 in them (since the light spills ‘backward’ from those). However a nice new LED GU10 leaves that cover dark and drab. Now I did find some 6-9W LED GU10 on amazon, which amazingly enough, have a fluted-like heatsink which allows light to spill outward and back, and they actually light up the can. Unfortunately their color is rated at 3000K, which wouldn’t be bad, but they have a crappy green tint to the light. So I’m trying to find something that fits the above description but is more yellow/white.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 9:59 am

      I’m on the same quest as you – I love the rainbowy light that spills backwards out of halogen GU10 bulbs, and I want the same thing in an LED.

      So far, I own just one 7 or 8 watt GU10 LED (from FEIT electric). The light color and intensity is great, but it has the solid heatsink that blocks the back lighting.

  • Yuriy March 5, 2012, 9:57 am

    Also I’m curious how scientific this MMLL is. For starters, did you take care to make sure your camera isn’t automatically adjusting the white balance in the photos? There are certainly “hardcore lighting enthusiasts” out on the web, as I found out when I decided to research what lights to buy (then gave up and went to Home Depot for mediocre CFLs). In addition to the luminosity and color temperature there is also the uniformness of the spectrum and more. Some bulbs indicate a CRI (color reproduction index) that should tell the color quality, with CRI >= 90 being very good, but bearable CFLs ( 80.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 10:03 am

      The MMLL isn’t very scientific. I manually adjusted the white balance so the on-screen image appeared to match subjectively what my eyes were seeing in real life.

      Also, good point about the color rendering index. I don’t have a way to measure that either, and most bulbs don’t have it printed on the box.

      However, my rating of “Sweet” for the light quality of the new LED bulb was highly scientific and peer-reviewed. I am very pleased with it.

  • John | Married (with Debt) March 5, 2012, 9:58 am

    I see that the new Ikea House (yes, Ikea offers an entire house), comes already fit with LED bulbs throughout.

    We were lucky that when we bought our house over 3 years ago the previous owners had put CFLs everywhere. Most of the original ones are still burning.

  • Mike Key March 5, 2012, 10:35 am

    My wife and I have replaced most of the bulbs in our home. We’re fortunate that the home we have is well shaded and has lots of windows. We get a lot of light, especially in my office, that I usually keep lights off thru the day, unless I need to really motivate myself, I have two photography daylight CFL’s in pot lights I flip on in my office when it’s grey outside.

    Our kitchen however has track lightening, that are those directional halogens, and while nice and bright, they put out killer heat and I’m sure they are a drain. We rarely use them, but the last time we priced out the bulbs to replace all of them it came to $289.00 from Amazon at about $18 and LED bulb.

    Since we’re renting right now, we just decided to use the light in the kitchen as little as possible.

    My electric bill last month was $44.00 so we’ve got the energy thing down pat.

    When the day comes that I own, I’d like to explore solar options.

  • chrm March 5, 2012, 11:10 am

    Here is a riddle: When do you most notably use lights? In the cold and dark season? What does the “waste heat” from an incandescent light bulb do?

    I’m not suggesting heating your whole home with only incandescent light bulbs, but I’m sitting at my desk with one right above my head and I’m not heating the air in my room, just myself.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 1:14 pm

      I agree with your point about waste heat – see another comment I made on it in this thread. But if you use a halogen projector bulb rather than an incandescent crappy bulb, you’ll be sending most of the RADIANT heat right on to your body (like an egg mcmuffin under a heat lamp), which is even better.

      I guess it all depends on your house layout. My family spends most of our evenings in the open kitchen/living room area. I’ll be in the kitchen chopping vegetables, while Mrs. M. and Junior Stash are on the couch reading novels.

      It’s a big area with high ceilings, so it takes a lot of lumens to light up even the areas we use, comfortably. The ideal situation would be to spend time in a smaller room. But here in America, I’m trying to propose solutions that appeal to people living in the typical large North American house.

      You won’t easily convince a wealthy family to huddle together in an 8x10x8 room with a single incandescent light bulb overhead. But you MIGHT convince them to switch out the 1000 watts of incandescent recessed lights overhead to become CFLs or halogens.

      • chrm March 5, 2012, 2:19 pm

        Of course I have a lamp that looks a lot like one of those heat lamps for chicken ;-)

        Screwing a halogen projector bulb into this “projector” doesn’t change much.

        Like I said, I’m not suggesting using incandescent light bulbs everywhere, only where it makes sense.

  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy SImple March 5, 2012, 11:27 am

    Woo hoo! Let’s hear it for LED lighting!!

    I used to work for Cree, one of the leaders in the LED lighting market. I don’t work there anymore, and I don’t hold stock anymore, but there’s still a special place in my heart for the LED lighting business.

    (Plus I still have a lot of friends working there/in the business).

    We have some of these in our house. Though I waited until they came down from the $80 price tag to buy them.

  • GayleRN March 5, 2012, 11:35 am

    Am I the only one old enough to remember taking burnt out bulbs down to the electric company and getting new ones in return?

    As I age I am requiring increasing amounts of light for reading and sewing. Recently I bought a weird and ugly 5 armed octupus lamp for my sewing room just to be able to put enough light on what I am working on. I have learned to abhor modern lamps which allow nothing more than a 60W bulb and purports to be good for reading. Aaargh!

    Also the hospital I work in has elected to put 40W CFL (one to a bathroom) and continues to wonder why old people are falling in the bathrooms.

    So how about a post about reading light? Then retest your results with an 80 year old.

  • quakerplain March 5, 2012, 12:36 pm

    An overlooked and frugal option is strontium based location lighting for the
    home. Usually thought of in the context of emergency egress lighting for
    industrial use, it may be adapted for home use inexpensively using strontium
    based tape or paint to mark stairways or outdoor walkways for cheap and
    cheerful navigation in the dark.

    Use your imagination and the sky is the limit. Commercially available applications range from readable signage and light switch face plates to
    firemen’s helmets and jackets to help locate a downed first responder in the

    I used small bits of tape to highlight our stairwell or objects like that fan
    you would have tripped over in the middle of the floor.

    You won’t appreciate it until your next power outage.

    Following is a link to a photo from an industrial application

  • Mr Mark March 5, 2012, 12:38 pm

    Great to see LEDS becoming economic! Thanks for the report MMM.

    CFLs aren’t great everywhere – they especially don’t tolerate lots of on/off cycling, or for when you need bright light immediately, and they do have that nasty mercury. Not too sure about their manufacturing standards in Asia either wrt pollution…

    incandescent bulbs aren’t always as bad as you say IMHO (esp. in winter, when you’re paying for heat anyhow). We have lots of CFLs, but some halogens and a few nice lamps with big low wattage Edison style bulbs, and I don’t care they have a small efficiency, cos they look great and so does the light!

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 1:01 pm

      Hey Mark.. Good point about the incandescent/heat issue:

      – if you use natural gas heat, the cost of running incandescent lights during the heating season is effectively about half of normal, since you are getting electric heat out of them.

      – if you use electricity to heat your home, incandescent lights cost nothing to run in winter – they are 100% efficient electric heaters

      – BUT if you ever use air conditioning in summer and continue to use incandescent lights, the winter savings are blown away, since it costs much more to remove heat from a house than to add it.

      I agree that there are exceptions and some times where inefficient light bulbs are still worthwhile. Mainly I write articles like this when I see all my neighbors running 100W incandescent light bulbs in their front porch lights all night, every night. Their consumption from just that one bulb is more than 10% of my whole family’s electricity use!

      • Justin W March 13, 2012, 8:30 am

        Not to nerd out too much, but the incandescents are nearly 100% efficient heaters. Technically they can radiate some energy out the windows….. nit-picky I know.

  • The Money Monk March 5, 2012, 1:37 pm

    While the stats on the CFLs may seem good, I have found that in practice they don’t live up to the numbers.

    First off, I have experienced an extremely high failure rate. They just do not last as long as they say. I have gone through to many of all different brands to think that I just got a bad batch or something. I have even refrained from touching the bulbs after hearing skin oils can mess them up by causing them to heat unevenly, etc. They are just fragile and last about half as long as they say.

    Secondly, They get dim FAST. Not only do they take a little while to warm up EVERY time, but after only a couple months their maximum operating level is significantly dimmer than when you first get them.

    I have LED’s in one room and I love them so far, but the room is not set up with the right fixtures for that kind of more focused lighting. So I need to figure out what the best solution is.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 1:41 pm

      Money Monk (and others with the CFL longevity problem) – I think it must be a power quality issue. This is very interesting to me, since as I stated earlier, I’ve had many of my CFLs with me for the last three houses I’ve owned and they refuse to die. They haven’t dimmed noticeably either. Even so, it would be good to note which brands people have had good success with (maybe as a forum topic here?), compared to bad ones.

      This is just yet another reason I’m excited about LEDs. They promise to be a much more durable technology.

      • The Money Monk March 6, 2012, 6:55 am

        What do you mean by ‘power quality” issues? Do you mean the actual municipal power system, or something to do with the house itself? Because I have had the same issues in all 4 of the houses/apt I have lived in over the past 8 years or so. But those all have been in the same city.

        I can’t wait til the LEDs come down in price even more. When an LED bulb is 10 bucks or less it will be a no-brainer.

        I still use the CFLs, mostly because I can’t stand how hot a place will get when its lit up with a bunch of incandescent bulbs. I am looking forward to making the transition to LEDs.

    • krda July 8, 2014, 11:57 am

      Failures: I have also experienced a failure rate with CFLs around the 1 year mark, and we don’t use much lighting in a house with many windows. The CFLs are the typical bulb available at HD with varying wattage from 13-26w.

      Brightness: To wait for a light to turn on to max brightness for several seconds is a pain.

      Disposal: With a high failure rate and toxic mercury, they require special disposal. HD in my area has stopped accepting failed bulbs for disposal.

      My solution: I have for the last few years switched to dollar-store incandescent. I typically get a 4 pack, 60w for $1. At $0.25 a failed bulb is a non-event. At $7-13 per CFL, a failed bulb is a huge waste. This old technology is actually quite robust now with much lower failure rates than the past.

      Is lighting the correct approach for financial benefit in electricity usage?: I think a more comprehensive approach would need to be done, but I would expect my refrigerator uses more electricity in a month than all my light bulbs combined.

      MMM, it’s been a couple years. How about an update on your thoughts on this topic after this expereince?

      • Mr. Money Mustache July 8, 2014, 9:45 pm

        Yeah, I’ve been meaning to write a new post on this as I’m outfitting the new house entirely with LED bulbs, which are about $20 for the fancy PAR30 narrow beam ones (still happily using CFLs for all lamps, sconces, bathrooms, closets, etc.)

        But I don’t know where you are getting your figures: CFLs are well under a buck these days. And I still rarely see failures: in my old house, I had maybe 10 burn out, over 50+ fixtures in an 8 year period. And zero of my LEDs have ever failed.

        Incandescents need to be killed, man. Huge waste of electricity, except in the most sparsely used fixtures (or during winter in houses that use electric heating anyway).

        • Tom Bri August 16, 2015, 9:24 pm

          Had the same failure problem with them, a couple of different brands. Currently using Sylvania, which so far seem to be okay. But definitely a letdown, and huge waste of money on that first big pack I bought, except that the store took them back and gave us a refund. I had saved a half-dozen or so burnt out bulbs and took the whole bulk-pack back.

  • Posted On March 5, 2012, 2:29 pm

    CFLs helped our home get under the 500KWh/mo level a couple years ago when XCEL started their tiered pricing structure. Our main advantages were: replacing the 12 (twelve) 40W bulbs of our bathroom light bar with 13W CFL. We went from 480W to 156W in there and increased the brightness. True, the curly bulbs would need to be changed before we ever sold our house, for esthetic reasons. But I never really look directly at the bulbs myself so I don’t mind.

    We have four outdoor lights that are on all night, every night. This is our other major source of savings. We had four 75W bulbs (Incand, or Halogen) out there. We changed to 19W CFLs cutting our overnight usage from 300W continuous to less than 100W continuous. I also bought dusk-to-daylight photosensitive electric eyes to control them. Perfect.

    I have only had a few cases of failure, mostly on the outdoor ones. Anytime a CFL goes in a position where the base is above the bulb (like a ceiling can) the CFL will probably have a shorter life. That has been my experience anyway. I have two places where that is the case, and may switch to LED in those two spots.

    Now when I install a bulb, I use a sharpie to mark the date that I install the bulb (on the base). With 25 or 30 bulbs around my house, it is very hard to keep track of install dates. (I spent the better part of 2009/2010 replacing the incands with CFLs).

    I will probably wait for the sub $20 mark (prefer sub $10) before buying/installing any LED bulbs, so c’mon the rest f you, get out there and buy these things to increase the volumes and lower the price. ;-)

    Thanks for the enlightening article on lighting!

  • JJ March 5, 2012, 3:30 pm

    One great option in LEDs is the strips you can get – basically like a roll of tape with the LEDs stuck on every half inch or thereabouts. They come in rolls up to 5.5m (I guess that’s around 18′ for those of us still on the old system). This is great for the home gym where you may be lying back doing a stretch and don’t want your retinas burnt out from the overhead halogen (or LED downlight or whatever). You put a couple of metres of light tape behind a strip of wood (or the back of your home built power rack) and light up the whole room with indirect lighting. Get the warm white though – the bright white should only be used in hospitals, dentists or electronics factories.

  • Bakari March 5, 2012, 5:10 pm

    I have LEDs as the running lights, brake lights, and turn signals in my truck and motorcycle.

    Anything that reduces power load on the alternator ultimately raises your MPG, since the alternator is powered by the engine.

    At the same time, they are significantly brighter, and the brake lights and turn signals respond instantly instead of fading in, which makes it stand out more to the drivers behind. Plus, with their long life, there is less chance one burns out and you get pulled over for it before you notice and fix it.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 9:14 pm

      Plus you blow the mind of other drivers.. “Is that a 1983 Ford pickup with LED lighting? And I’m stuck here in my 2004 Audi with incandescent signal lights? SHIT! I’ve just been upstaged by Bakari Kafele. Again.”

      • Bakari March 8, 2012, 4:13 pm

        lol It isn’t a competition!

        And if it were, I think you reaching thousands via this blog easily blows anything I do out of the water.

        Besides, I don’t have LED house lights… well, actually, I do, however it isn’t a fair comparison because I have 6.5ft ceilings and 12v electricity, so my 1W bulbs only cost $10 each, not $40.

  • JaneMD March 5, 2012, 6:29 pm

    In our rental apartment, we replaced all the old bulbs with CFL’s and held onto the ones that came with the apartment. When we leave, we’ll take our CFLs with us and replace the old bulbs.

  • Drew March 5, 2012, 7:31 pm

    One of the biggest downsides to CFLs is that they are heavily subsidized by our government. We may not see the cost at the store, but that is our tax dollars that are being used to put them on the shelves at crazy low prices.
    If you want proof just ask an Australian. Australia recently outlawed incandescent light bulbs and now that there is no competition for CFLs, and the subsidies have dried up, a light bulb costs around $10 a piece at the store.
    Use whatever you want in your home but leave me the freedom of choice in mine.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012, 9:11 pm

      I’ve heard that “heavily subsidized” line thrown around (often by right-wingers who are suspicious of any efforts to conserve energy), but I don’t see any evidence of it. Sure, city and state governments have offered tax rebates, or in-store rebates, in the past. But the bottom line is the bulbs have now come down to about a buck sticker price, anywhere in the US. And in Canada as well.

      Search around the internet, and if you find any real documentation of government subsidies baked right into the shelf price, please let me know (I found none).

      The bulbs aren’t anywhere near $10 in Australia either. A quick online search turned them up at $5 each in one random Australian online store, although our Ozzie readers could surely shed more light on the actual pricing in standard discount retailers.

      Note that due to the commodities boom, EVERYTHING is extremely expensive in Australia right now.

      Back to the issue at hand: there is a reason that most of the scientists and engineers recommend CFL bulbs at this time: given all the tradeoffs on manufacturing and energy use, power plant construction, coal burning and its attendant C02 and mercury emissions, they represent a huge improvement over incandescents.

      May I remind you of Mr. Money Mustache’s Rule of Science again:

      Unless you are an even more qualified scientist, YOU MUST HEED THE WORD OF THE SCIENTISTS! They are smarter than you. Don’t go out and watch a bit of Fox News and then decide all the scientists are wrong. They are the best shot at accurate facts and figures we have got in this world.

      • Grant March 6, 2012, 4:15 am

        Haven’t checked the discount retailers, but a quick look at one of the members of the supermarket duopoly here says CFLs are about $10 (including their home brand).

        Approaching the banning of incandescents, the govt did provide subsidies here – initially it was a case of signing over your reduction in energy consumption to an energy provider, allowing them to claim tax credits, then it got broader and people were going door to door giving away CFLs if you would sign a piece of paper allowing them to claim the credits. I think it opened up further after that and you didnt have to sign over credits.

        Oh, and things aren’t expensive here – unless you are trying to use funny money like the greenback ;)
        Online shopping in the USA on the other hand…

      • Travis March 6, 2012, 7:27 am

        In general I would caution against blindly following a “scientist” just because he is an “expert” (yes I see you said heed and not accept). Experts can be swayed by public and personal opinion and may provide biased information and results. My wife has a PhD and has numerous examples of scientists falsifying data and making inaccurate conclusions.

        That’s not to say you should ignore their data and advice but question things and research on your own to come up with the best solution/answer. I know this takes time and sometimes we will outsource this work to experts but I don’t just follow any one person’s advice as that can be just as dangerous as following Fox news.

        • Mr. Money Mustache March 6, 2012, 7:48 am

          Sorry, I didn’t meant to suggest we follow just one self-proclaimed scientist, but rather the scientific majority – i.e., what you’ll find by reading stuff that shows up in the journal Nature, or even what ends up settling out in Wikipedia for the most part.

          Individual scientists occasionally screw up, but they are rapidly smacked down by the rest of the community. That’s why their work is so valuable – to change the mind of the community, you need to do some real testing, rather than just making something up that suits your own ideology.

          I’m very glad I’m not a working scientist myself, since the academic competition, long hours, low pay, and snobbery sounds like hell. But I sure do love the results those good people deliver for us.

          • Travis March 6, 2012, 9:32 am

            Yea that is why my wife does not want to research…no publish or perish in our household. Instead she teaches, albeit part-time, at the community college and stays home the rest of the time with our kids.

            However, the pay is certainly not low once you get past the 6 years of grad school, 5 years of post-doctoral work and get tenure. So you’re talking what 15 years of being underpaid and overworked compared to your education and experience? No wonder so many want to work in industry instead of academia.

      • Spork March 9, 2012, 10:43 am

        I can’t speak for CFL subsidies, but there certainly was a subsidy for the $40 LED. It was the winner of a $10 million dollar prize awarded by the US Dept of Energy. One of the arguments for the $10M prize was that it would make the bulb inexpensive. (You can certainly make an argument that it is inexpensive over the life of the bulb… but I am pretty sure that’s not what the intent was).


  • Marianne March 5, 2012, 8:37 pm

    We recently purchased some LED bulbs on Ebay to cut the cost a bit. We’ll see how they turn out when they get here. If they are good, we’ll buy some more for the pot lights in the kitchen.

  • Dancedancekj March 5, 2012, 11:27 pm

    Love myself some LED bulbs.

    I actually use a 7 diode CREE bulb from Home Depot over one of my saltwater reef tanks. I wouldn’t have ventured to grow saltwater corals were it not for the CREE LED tech, since metal halide lights are quite possibly the biggest energy hogs I’ve ever seen. The growth effect of LED bulbs is debatable among reef enthusiasts, but I’ve been getting decent growth for a fraction of the energy it would have required otherwise.

    The LED bulbs I’ve been warned require at least a 15 minute period, otherwise they will fail prematurely.
    I also know that they get pretty hot, even with the aluminum fins – at least as hot as a CFL, if not more.
    A lot of the LED bulbs won’t work in the recessed cans, since they’ll overheat.
    Lastly, a lot of the LED bulbs are incredibly dim in terms of the lumens produced for their comparative size and price.

    I’m going to wait a couple years before I convert myself over to LED’s completely in order to wait for the drop in price and greater variety. In the meantime though, I’m going to start replacing some of the track lights with them.

  • Spork March 6, 2012, 10:28 am

    Let me say: I am king of the off-topic post. …but this is marginally related… and it has me all a tingle with charty-graphiness.

    If you have a smart meter, check with your power company. You may be able to watch your power consumption on line. I can see tiny fluctuations, broken down to 15 minute intervals. It gives you a real perspective. The graphs are sensitive enough that you can see tiny fractions of a kwh.

    If you happen to be in Texas, check out http://www.smartmetertexas.com. You can register multiple smartmeters (assuming you know the meter number and a little bit of billing info.)

  • Concojones March 6, 2012, 11:40 am

    MMM, your line on snorting Mercury had me shaking with laughter, haha!

  • Ed March 6, 2012, 12:52 pm

    I bought a bunch of G10 LED spot lights for just $6.16, but sorry that is in Belgium and 220V… But if they can do it here at this price, why not in the US? They were used to replace halogen lights in our bedroom ceiling, 8 pieces of them, at 50W was 400 W/h! Now the total is just about 40W/h! Since my girlfriend has her sewing machine in the room and is sewing about 2 hours/day, the pay back is a matter of months :)
    I had to remove the dimmer though and the light is a bit “colder” which is too bad, but ok.
    Also, LED G10’s are slightly larger than halogen bulbs, it wasn’t easy to get them behind the clips, i even had to bend some clips slightly.
    And, yes, for LED’s and CFL bulbs, definitely have to compare the lumens, they can differ greatly for the same watts!

  • Ed March 6, 2012, 1:21 pm

    Another great application and example: where i live we have a parking area for about 10 cars. The people who renovated our building put 15 (!) halogen floodlights of 500 W(!) each, total 7,500W Power! It reminds me always of those 100,000 Watt Christmas lit houses! Luckily the new savior, called LED, also exists for flood lights :) We will replace those 15 energy hogs with just 5 (!) 40 Watt LED flood lights (this is the manufacturer: http://www.ledlite1.be/content/n17schijnwerpers.html sorry it’s in Dutch only.)
    So, from 7500 we’ll go to 200 Watt. In addition to that, there was a sensor which made all those lamps go on for nothing when people entered and exited in another building which has a shared entrance with our building, we shut that off, so now they will burn about half the time as well. We used to have annual bills of approx. $1,150/year for electricity and bulb replacements (they can’t handle well the constant on/off), this will be now approx. $25/year !
    The only thing, they are a bit expensive at about $300/piece. But after less than 2 years the investment should be amortized.
    It’s amazing how much energy is being wasted and how easily improvements like these can be made. It only takes some attention, information, will power (not always easy to find, light color issues, warranty is important at this price level as well) and investment.
    Have you ever entered a Panera? Next time count the number of lights in that restaurant… now, multiply that by the wattage, by the number of hours the store is open, by the number of days/year… Any Panera executives in this blog? :)

  • Gus March 6, 2012, 3:09 pm

    I have read some material that was talking about LED output decay after some amount of use. Is this an issue with the newest LED crop?

    One reason I am waiting a little bit before jumping on the LED bandwagon is that I would like to have more consumer data on the actual lenght of life of those bulbs. I find the rated 25,000 hours to be improbable and reading the “warranty” is not reassuring.

    MMM, although you calculated 14% return on your investment, you have to keep in mind that you do not break even until after 7 years (based on 100/14). If the bulb stops working before then, you will have had a negative return.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 7, 2012, 11:41 am

      Hey Gus.. You’re very right – if they don’t last 25k hours then the deal is less promising. However, I’ve always found that CFLs and other bulbs I use tend to last about the rated number of hours. So I’ll keep an eye on the situation and report back to all of you if the performance lags.

      Since I took initial brightness readings with my light meter, I can also watch for light decay over time.

      Once the price is down another 50% to $20/bulb, we’ll really start to see serious savings over halogens, even with the risk of a shorter lifespan. Also, people who run their bulbs more than the 3 hours a day in my calculation will see much faster returns (outdoor night lighting, grow lights, office workers, retail businesses, etc.)

  • lurker March 6, 2012, 3:38 pm

    I think Panera bakes the bread with those lights…

  • Peter March 6, 2012, 9:15 pm

    Great article! Thanks for putting in the money upfront for the LED test so we don’t have to.

    Anyone have a take on the quality of the LED bulb light improving in the next few years. When CFL came out they were crappy for a couple years. If you were an early adopter you paid 5x more for a lousier bulb than the person a few years later.

    If I retrofitted with LED I would want to make sure that the bulbs I had were still current high quality bulbs in a few years…

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 7, 2012, 11:44 am

      I think that one of these companies (a big one like GE) should offer a prominent 25-year satisfaction guarantee/warranty. It could rake in a lot of sales, since many people seem to be concerned about longevity and lasting quality.

      But it wouldn’t cost the company as much as you’d think, since the replacement value of the bulbs will be dropping every year (plus, people rarely cash in on this type of guarantee anyway).

  • PK March 7, 2012, 10:25 pm

    Love the scientific tests; not only did you get me to the verge of a purchase, but I’m also eying a light meter (I can justify it! I have a SLR too, heh)…

    I bought a couple of the lower wattage LED lights HD was carrying to mess with – we have a couple of hallway lights which stay on a good amount of the day (no natural light) which we wanted to cover. No dice – they didn’t really illuminate anything well, which probably has to do as much with the clouded acrylic in the recessed lighting (the house is 70s vintage and I haven’t replaced the square cans yet) as the power – but I will definitely try again with something with more lumens.

    Thanks for the article!

  • uspsfanalan March 8, 2012, 10:11 am

    About 2 weeks ago a friend let me know that his electric company had a free CFL program. I checked my statement and was able to order free CFLs on the company’s website. I live in NC and the power company here is Duke Energy. I would encourage everyone to check thier monthly statement and see if the power company in your area is doing the same thing.

  • ScrumMaster Sugar March 9, 2012, 8:04 pm

    What up with the uncharacteristically snarky Fox News comment, MMM? You’ve got some friendly fair & balanced folks reading your fine blog here (and growing/grooming some awesome mustaches) who may now feel suddenly and unexpectedly judged or unwelcome. FI is a non-partisan goal after all, is it not?

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 9, 2012, 10:05 pm

      Uncharacteristally snarky? I thought I was always snarky! :-)

      I make fun of ALL TV, because it is a mostly garbage medium. But especially TV news (all varieties), because it is just superficial sound-bite coverage with no real explanation of the meaning of anything (which it has to be, since it is designed for ratings, rather than to inform). Let’s just say Faux News is the worst of the “news” shows because it takes already-shallow news reporting, and mixes in plenty of fiction and political bias.

      Anyway, NOBODY should be getting their news from TV. Get your science news from science books and websites, and learn your politics by reading the policies themselves on whitehouse.gov. And you can skip the stories about the celebrity gossip, the families dying in car crashes, and the chilean miners altogether – that shit just rots your brain!

      • ScrumMaster Sugar March 10, 2012, 9:20 am

        Consider this feedback; posting it is your choice and doesn’t matter to us: Your response disappoints. You make incorrect assumptions about our information source(s) and medium. You restate your position, repeating yourself without challenging yourself using our comment as a spur. For your sake as a young person with talent but perhaps impatience and a few unconscious biases, do try again with the essence of our inquiry: is not the pursuit of FI a non-partisan goal? And if so, how might readers of all stripes be best served and least (unnecessarily) alienated here? Be true to yourself, of course, but know that as you grow your soul along with your ‘stache, you absolutely can be more of the inclusive change you say you want to see in the world.

        • Mr. Money Mustache March 10, 2012, 10:08 am

          Wow, it sounds like you are actually some sort of plural person. Maybe even a disembodied entity, some sort of Spirit of the Right. I’d better be cautious with all future replies.

          Financial Independence is indeed a non-partisan goal. But Mustachianism requires a certain amount of critical thought, which is not compatible with the type of presentation I see on Fox News. I’m not dissing the principles of fiscal conservatism, but I am definitely dissing Fox News. Vigorously speaking out against such a shitty fountain of brainwashing is absolutely essential to my mission in this world.

          • IAmNotABartender February 18, 2015, 11:31 am

            For me, at least, I greatly appreciate that you have an opinion and don’t just clear out anything controversial just to keep from offending. (It helps that I agree 100% with your opinion of Fox News.)

    • Bakari March 10, 2012, 6:25 pm

      There is nothing partisan about criticizing Fox News.

      Take, for example these words, from former Fox News producer Charlie Reina:
      “”The roots of Fox News Channel’s day-to-day on-air bias are actual and direct…”
      Read this, and everything below it:

      Take note of the 173 references to back up everything written there.

      Heres some more:
      In case you think they are just making this stuff up, there is actual video clips of each example.

      This isn’t a criticism of the viewers. Maybe they just aren’t aware of how much Fox gets factually wrong. Instead of taking it as a personal insult, take the opportunity to reconsider whether it really is a trustworthy source of legitimate information, given all the information you now have.

  • Ellen March 10, 2012, 1:09 am

    Last december I bought LED bulbs for all the lights in my living room/kitchen area. I spent 250 euro on 7 bulbs. According to my calculations I will not have to replace any light bulbs for the next 20 years and I will save 200 euro per year on electricity. No matter if the price drops, if you need a specific light for at least 4 hours a day it’s worth replacing it NOW.

  • Posted On April 17, 2012, 9:44 am

    Looks like a chance to get a decent price on a decent LED bulb starting Sunday…


    • Mr. Money Mustache April 17, 2012, 10:54 am

      Nice! … I actually noticed those bulbs at $20 at HD earlier this week.

      The odd part is, even the much higher-end bulbs (like the one I reviewed in this article) cost less than the $60 “regular” price for the Philips bulb. And in fact, LED bulbs of all shapes and sizes have been in the $20-$60 range for over a year. So I’m not really impressed with the Philips accomplishment, although I did test the light output and the color was very nice.

      Now, bring on the sub-$5.00 LED bulbs and we will really be rocking. I can’t wait to swap out my entire basement ceiling, currently outfitted with 12 CFL reflector bulbs that take about two minutes to reach full brightness, and even then provide a less pleasant light than LEDs/Halogens.

  • hickchick April 29, 2012, 11:13 am

    For more hilarity on the subject of lighting, may I recommend http://badmoneyadvice.com/2012/04/light-bulb-math.html

    • Mr. Money Mustache April 29, 2012, 6:35 pm

      Hmm.. I don’t find that other article very hilarious at all… mostly because I get pretty pissed off at incandescent bulb defenders and haters of energy-saving technology in general.

      First of all, he’s wrong about the amount of energy saved by dropping from incandescent to efficient light bulbs – it is HUGE, not tiny. Most households could cut over 25% of their electricity use out forever, simply by getting rid of incandescents. Multiplying this across the country saves dozens of enormous power plants from ever being built.

      Secondly, he’s ignoring environmental benefits, pretending that the cost of electricity is the only thing that matters.

      Third, he’s ignoring the REAL goal of the L prize: not to develop a $50 light bulb, but to jumpstart the process of getting these things into stores, so they can hop onto the inevitable treadmill of competition, economy of scale, and relentless price drop that will lead to us all buying these Philips bulbs and identical knock-offs for a buck or two in just a few years.

      Also, an 8% discount rate is pretty high these days for net present value.

  • hickchick April 30, 2012, 10:59 pm

    I think 25% for lighting is a little optimistic. I agree that he’s overlooking the goal of the prize, but I’m pretty sure that was for style points.

    As for incandescent defenders…I’m not sold on the fact that CFL’s are some magic bullet. Especially considering the increased costs to manufacture and transport.

  • Mark September 12, 2012, 5:50 pm

    Another advantage is (according to the following), they don’t attract bugs.


    I’m not as rich as MMM yet so I have not tested this for myself ;-)

  • Peter Lyons October 9, 2012, 8:21 pm

    I just had a CFL in my office burn out after just a few months. We have frequent momentary power failures here (2 in the past 2 days), and I think that takes its toll. I’ve had multiple CFL bulbs burn-out in the bathroom as well. It seems many have this problem:


    It’s a bummer. Not sure if I should go back to incandescent, get in the habit of leaving my office light on to avoid too many on/off cycles, or go LED.

  • LadyMaier November 2, 2012, 11:40 am

    I just ordered some LED lights to replace my halogen undercabinet lights (the puck-style lights). Well-reviewed, so I can’t wait to test them. $8 a bulb!


  • Mark December 19, 2012, 2:22 pm

    You could get REALLY crazy and stock up on the clearance priced incandescents. Then in the winter, replace the CFLs and get some extra heat in your house.


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