Sunday, May 31, 2020
May 31, 2020

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Energy Adviser: Lighting not limited to one type of bulb

The Columbian

What is the difference between a regular light bulb, a CFL and an LED? Which is better?

It’s amazing to think we have choices when it comes to buying a light bulb, isn’t it? We can choose between incandescents, compact fluorescents and light-emitting diodes.

All three of these are quite different in terms of how they create light. Incandescent (regular) bulbs create light when electricity heats a filament inside the bulb until it glows to produce light. Filaments ultimately burn out. They also waste energy by creating excess heat.

In a compact fluorescent bulb, or CFL, electricity activates argon gas and some mercury vapor inside the bulb to create an invisible ultraviolet light. That in turn activates the white phosphor coating on the inside of the bulb, creating visible light.

An LED’s, or light-emitting diode, light is created by the movement of electrons in a semiconductor material. It is part of the family of solid-state lighting that we’re sure to hear more about in the future as technology continues to progress in the lighting field.


CFL bulbs have improved since their introduction several years ago.

“They are higher quality and available in more color temperatures,” said Nicole Necchini, lighting specialist at Fluid Market Strategies in Portland. “Initially people complained that the color was not as warm of light as an incandescent. Now you can choose many different styles in warm or cool light.”

In Clark County an 18-watt CFL, which is equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent, will cost 24 cents a month in electricity if left on for six hours a day, while an incandescent would cost 86 cents.

Not a huge savings perhaps, but it adds up when considering the number of bulbs in a home.

Get $2 off

Retailers such as WinCo, Grover Electric & Plumbing, Home Depot and Fred Meyer are participating in a Bonneville Power Administration program offering $2 off specialty bulbs such as globes, reflectors, floods and candelabra bulbs. Traditional CFLs are marked down 50 cents.

“Consumers can look for signs with the Simple Steps Smart Savings logo,” Necchini said. “Participating retailers have marked the qualifying products.”


LEDs are the next advancement in residential lighting, promising to use 75 percent less electricity than incandescent. However, they are so expensive that few people are buying them as replacement lamps.

Necchini said consumers should look for LEDs carrying the Energy Star logo. “There’s a lot of discrepancy between products,” she said. “The third-party certification of Energy Star helps ensure quality.”

Energy Star LEDs carry, at a minimum, a three-year warranty. Energy Star estimates that a qualified LED bulb can last 25,000 hours. Many LEDs, however, tout a 50,000-hour life, which is years longer than the 750- to 1,000-hour life of a typical incandescent and 6,000-hour life of Energy Star CFLs.

The Energy Adviser is written by members of the energy counselor team of Clark Public Utilities, who provide conservation and energy use information to utility customers. Send questions to or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA. 98668. A panel of local energy efficiency and energy product specialists will review your questions. Previous topics are available at