With humans spurring climate change, it’s important to find new ways to reduce our individual carbon footprints. Fortunately, all the changes we make don’t have to be major. Simply upgrading your home or apartment to more efficient lighting, for example, can help make a difference.
Now, light bulb usage has become somewhat polarizing in recent years, with many passionate about what type of bulbs light up their spaces. Specifically, people are divided on whether they should use old-school incandescent lights or newer LEDs instead. So, which is better?
The Earth (and your wallet) recommend switching to LED lights.
Why are LED lights better?
Just what are LED lights, and why are they better than other types of lighting, anyway?
LED stands for light-emitting diode. Now, a diode is a tube that conducts an electrical current. So, technically, when you see an LED “light bulb,” you’re not actually looking at a light bulb, but a specially shaped diode. Importantly, a diode emits light when conducting a current, which is known as electroluminescence. Electroluminescence fortunately results in more energy converted to light and less energy converted to heat, the latter of which old-school light bulbs are infamous for. The fact that LEDs force light in a single direction (as opposed to all around, like traditional bulbs) also helps make these lights more efficient, reducing the need for diffusers and reflectors that many other types of lighting need.
Just how much more efficient are LEDs, though? Quite a bit.
When many think of traditional light bulbs, they are often thinking of incandescent bulbs. These bulbs contain a twisted filament that conducts an electrical current. Unfortunately, most of this energy—about 90%—is lost as heat. That means that old-school light bulbs have a light-output efficiency of just 10%! Even worse, these bulbs have a short lifespan, meaning you need to go through more of them. Now, this waste extends far beyond more bulbs filling landfills (as if that wasn’t bad enough): the production of incandescent bulbs leads to mercury pollution.
How is this possible? After all, old-school light bulbs do not contain mercury. Coal, however, does. And it takes lots and lots of burning coal to make these bulbs. The more bulbs you create naturally means more burning coal, which leads to increased levels of mercury pollution.
That’s where LEDs come into play. For starters, LED bulbs can last up to 25 times longer than old-school alternatives, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE).
Let’s put these numbers into perspective.
The U.S. DoE says that the lifespan of a traditional 60W incandescent bulb is roughly 1,000 hours. By contrast, a 12W LED can last up to 25,000 hours. Now, let’s assume each bulb is on for about two hours a day. That means a traditional bulb will last you a little over a year. An LED? The best can last up to 25 years. Throw in the fact that the average U.S. household has about 50 bulbs, and you can see how easily switching to LEDs cuts back on pollution in the long term. All in all, this fact alone more than makes up for the fact that these newer lights have a higher upfront cost than old-school ones.
Even better is the fact that LEDs are incredibly energy efficient, using up to 80% less energy than incandescent light bulbs, according to the U.S. DoE.
Again, let’s put these numbers into perspective.
With 50 bulbs/household and 2-hour usage/day (as in the previous example), a house using incandescent lighting would have an annual energy bill of about $240 ($4.80/year per bulb). By contrast, an LED-lit home would have a bill of about $50 ($1.00/year per bulb). That means savings of nearly $200 a year for a single household.
On a societal scale, these savings are even bigger. Specifically, the U.S. DoE estimates that widespread LED use by 2027 could result in about $30 billion of annual savings. Planet Earth would be thankful too, as this switch would save the electrical output of roughly “44 large electric power plants,” each about 1000 megawatts.
From saving you money on your electricity bill to helping the planet to even lighting up your latest TikTok story, LED lights are great fits for any household, apartment, or dorm. In fact, making this switch could be one of the most effective—and one of the easiest—ways to reduce your personal carbon footprint.