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Fluorescent Lights versus LED: The Great Showdown

Energy efficiency is a money-saver for everyone, and for off-the-gridders, it is a fundamental principle of sensible and sustainable living. No stone should be left unturned by preppers, survivalists, and homesteaders who need to preserve every last watt of electricity they possibly can, which is why decisions about what kinds of lighting to purchase and install should not be taken casually.

The old-style incandescent bulbs are, unfortunately, testaments to inefficiency. Between that and the 2005 energy bill which essentially mandated a nation-wide switch to CFLs, the shift away from incandescents to fluorescents has been inevitable. While the cost of CFLs is still higher than incandescents, they have come down to the point where the separation is now relatively narrow.

But does that mean that fluorescents are the true wave of the future? Or do they actually represent an intermediate technology that is destined to be replaced by something even more energy-efficient? Boosters of light-emitting diode lighting, or LEDs, are convinced it is the latter. And there are good reasons for this belief. As we will see, this new breed of lighting really does promise to revolutionize the way we illuminate our personal spaces in the years to come.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)

Compact fluorescent bulbs are longer lasting, more energy efficient, and produce less heat than incandescent bulbs. In fact, a CFL is 300 to 400 percent more efficient than an Edison bulb. However, despite all the hype that CFL manufacturers, environmental groups, and the government have and continue to make, there are a lot of negative aspects to these lamps (although we do need to give recognition where recognition is due— ever since 1938 when GE brought these lights to the market, they have been lighting American in myriad ways, and doing so very well).

  • The bulb must heat up before the full luminosity of the lamp is available.
  • They require a ballast, which can create a buzzing sound and adds to the cost of the lamp.
  • Bulb life is reduced when the light is switched on and off frequently, such as in a high-use area like a bathroom or basement, for example.
  • Requires specially manufactured bulbs for use with dimmer switches and 3-way lamps, which are more expensive.
  • While manufacturers will say that a CFL bulb will last up to 7 years, a more realistic expectation of lifespan for these bulbs is about 1 1/2 to 2 years under normal household usage.
  • All CFLs flicker, even if a person isn’t aware of it. For those with migraines and certain central nervous system diseases, this flickering can exacerbate symptoms.
  • Broken CFL bulbs are a health hazard from the mercury content of the bulb.
  • Disposal of CFL bulbs is neither convenient nor easy. The EPA has some pretty convoluted rules about safe disposal of these bulbs. Most people simply throw them into their household garbage where they wind up in landfills.

The Advantages of LEDs

LED bulbs are actually very small, and in the past they were used primarily to illuminate objects rather than spaces. But ways have been found to combine and power a group of LEDs in thick, tight clusters, and this breakthrough has allowed LED bulbs to be created that are large enough and luminescent enough to be used interchangeably with incandescents or CFLs in just about any imaginable setting.

The benefits of these larger, multipurpose LEDs include:

  • Lifespan – LEDs can last up to 30 times as long as incandescent bulbs, and up to 10 times as long as fluorescents.
  • Durability – LEDs have a solid, tough form that makes them uniquely resistant to breakage.
  • Low Temperatures – there is little or no heat build-up from LED bulbs, which produce a miniscule 3.4 Btu of heat per hour. (In comparison, incandescent bulbs produce 85 Btu.)
  • High efficiency – LEDs use 25 to 50 percent less energy than CFLs of similar brightness, and 4 to 6 times less energy than incandescents.
  • Dimmability – it is possible to purchase LEDs that can vary in light intensity.
  • Off-the-grid compatibility – because they have such low power requirements, LEDs are perfect for use with small generators and battery banks charged by solar panels or wind energy.
  • Variety – LEDs are now available in the following forms:
    • Diffused bulbs – for normal home lighting needs, i.e. lamps, overhead lights, etc.
    • Dimmable globes – for bathroom vanities, kitchens, or hanging lights
    • Track lighting
    • Flood reflector lights for recessed light fixtures and other types of housing
    • Candelabra style – candle-flame shaped LEDs for decorative lighting
    • Tube lights – can be used in place of fluorescent tube lights

The CFL vs. LED Comparison

While fluorescents are still relatively cool, they do produce more heat than LEDs. This is not usually a problem, but it can be if fluorescents are used in recessed lighting, where the heat produced is not so easily vented and can therefore damage CFLs and shorten their longevity considerably.

Fluorescents do tend to come up short of their projected 10,000-hour lifespan in many instances. LEDs have a much better chance of lasting the 25,000 – 50,000 hours they are expected to last regardless of how or where they are used.

LEDs do cost a little more than fluorescents right now, but their benefits seem to outweigh the costs of the bulb in more ways than not. If you look at it from a long-life usage standpoint, from a disposal standpoint, and from a health perspective, LEDs win any contest with fluorescents hands down.

The Off-the-Grid Verdict

For those who are pursuing an independent lifestyle, energy is a precious resource for those relying on alternatives to the grid to supply their power. Being able to use less of that energy in any circumstance is a benefit in and of itself. Therefore, installing LEDs wherever possible on a homestead that is being designed for maximum self-sufficiency is probably a wise choice.

And for those off-gridders who have already installed fluorescent lights on their homesteads, a sensible course of action would be to leave those lights in place until they actually burn out, after which they can be replaced one by one until the transition to LEDs is complete.

©2012 Off the Grid News

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