LED or CFL? Test Sheds Light On The Choice

So you think LEDs are the best, most energy-efficient lighting option? The answer isn’t always black and white. Those are the findings of a recent product comparison by Precision-Paragon, which makes both LED’s and fluorescents.

The company’s examination started by looking at one of the most commonly used light bulbs in the home, the 60-watt incandescent. The comparison found that an energy-efficient LED and a compact fluorescent (CFL) provided nearly identical levels of energy-efficiency and performance – but the CFL costs just $0.86 per bulb, while the LED is a whopping $45. The LED bulb is supposed to last three times as long, however, so the study suggested that the LED could have the advantage when used in a hard to reach place.


image via Precision-Paragon

In terms of high wattage lighting found in industrial or commercial spaces, the comparison examined the energy efficiency of replacing a 250-watt metal-halide fixture, one that could be found in a parking garage. There, the winner in both price and efficiency was the fluorescent bulb, which is six times cheaper than the LED and offers 90 lumens of light per watt, compared with the LED’s 79 lumens per watt.

The comparison concluded  that the more efficient choice often depends on the situation. In some cases, the features of LED-based fixtures might add enough efficiency to overcome the high cost. And sometimes, fluorescent fixtures will still be the more affordable, more efficient choice.

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Kristy Hessman is a writer and native Oregonian who currently resides in California. Before starting her own company, she worked as a reporter covering business and politics for daily newspapers and The Associated Press.


  • Reply October 24, 2011


    Iu2019ve found that in most cases (except for one spot in our house for various reasons) that CFLs last far less than their advertised claims. Weu2019ve switched back to incandescent (except that one spot) until LEDs come down in price some.

  • Reply October 26, 2011

    Vermont Lighting Designer

    Sorry to get a little nerdy here, but the parking garage comparison is apples to oranges.u00a0u00a0 Theu00a090 Lumens per Watt CFL is source or bulb efficiency and does not account for losses in the fixture because youu00a0need a reflector to get the light out.u00a0u00a0u00a0At best most CFL fixtures are 70% efficient so the actual efficiency you get is 90 lumensu00a0per watt x 70% = 63 lumens per watt.u00a0 Conversely, LEDs do not typically require a reflector, the light is inherently directional so the efficiency rating of 79 lumens per wattalready accounts for fixture losses.u00a0u00a0 In nerdy terms, CFLs are rated using relative photometry whereas LEDs are rated using absolute photometry.u00a0u00a0 The LED for the parking garage is actually more efficient.u00a0u00a0

  • Reply November 5, 2011


    CFL’s are nice, but are an environmental hazard, much like standard florescents.u00a0 I can buy a CLF for 99cents, but the local landfill want to charge me 22 cents a foot for standard flourescent lamps, and 1.35 for each CFL for disposal. NO one is gonna dispose of these things “properly” to avoid lead and mercury contamination. Mine go in the trash. LED’s can be made lead and mercury free at least. Environmentalists shot themselves in the foot with CFLs.

    • Reply December 30, 2011

      Pete Danko

      Randy, as noted in my reply above, unlike your local landfill there are a number of retailers who will take your CFLs for no charge at all, ensuring that the very small amount of mercury in the bulbs isn’t released into the environment.

  • Reply December 30, 2011


    Let’s all stop pretending like CFLs actually last longer than incandescent bulbs.u00a0 They don’t.u00a0 I’ve had several fail, including one this morning that was all of 1 year old, nowhere near 7.u00a0 The actual cost of that CFL is more than double what an incandescent would have cost despite the energy savings.u00a0 The clue would be that CFLs are made in China, source of the cheapest and crappiest of cheap crap.u00a0 And now I have to dispose of the thing without throwing it away.

    • Reply December 30, 2011

      Pete Danko

      Your experience is unfortunate. I’ve fared much better. I put in a dozen or so in the first year I was in my house, replacing the traditional bulbs as they burned out, and only one has since failed.There have also been a number of independent studies that show CFLs deliver vast lifetime savings; I think Consumer Reports just did some research that confirmed this, even as it found CFLs sometimes weren’t as bright as advertised. As for disposal,u00a0Home Depot, Ikea and Lowe’s all take them. (It should be pointed out, too, that the amount of mercury in CFLs is at least 60 percent less now than a few years ago, and that in lifetime analysis even if CFLs are thrown away they release about a quarter of the mercury into the atmosphere compared to what results from using traditional bulbs.)

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