CFL Bulbs vs Incandescent Light Bulb Efficiency

CFL vs incandescent, green energy, free lightbulbs, efficient lightbulbs, light bulbs, green light bulbsHave you been introduced to the new free CFL lightbulbs from the power companies and ever wondered what kind of research has been done to demonstrate the benefits of CFL bulbs vs Incandescent bulbs? Paul Wheaton started thinking about high efficiency light bulbs, his own experience with energy efficiency lighting, and “free” and decided to run an experiment (demonstrated in the video below) comparing CFL vs incandescent. In this entertaining video, what his experiment showed was not what many would expect.

“I’m very much in favor of less power plants, less pollution and most of all more money in my pocket, but when I run the math for myself, I see that switching to CFLs might save me $4 per year in electricity… but if they sent me a $5 clothesline that might save me $75 dollars per year. Something ain’t right.”

Paul Wheaton of

Light Bulb Efficiency Comparison

What Paul did was to conduct a light bulb efficiency audit using twelve free CFLs in areas such as the closet and hallways. His theory was that if the lights were used more often for a shorter period of time the free light bulbs (CFL bulbs) would wear and deteriorate the fastest. During the audit the light bulbs were left on for no more than thirty seconds at a time and only lasted a total for 504 hours, but the box said they were guaranteed at 10,000 hours! Paul then continued his research and compared a common incandescent light with the CFLs,  a long life incandescent, and an LED bulb using a cyclic timer that would be on for thirty seconds and off for two minutes. He chose thirty seconds to simulate what he expected to really show why CFL bulbs vs. incandescent truly was a big difference in efficiency: the many occasions where a person walks into a room, turns on the light, and does something and then leaves. (see video for examples of why he considers 30 seconds as accurate)


The results of the incandescent vs CFL experiment were nothing short of shocking. The first light bulb died after fifteen days, but its box said it would last for 1200 hours. The total time it was on was 72 hours. It lasted less than 1% of the time that was reported on the box. Even though the box claimed that when you buy two of the light bulbs it would save you $74. The next CFL died on day 20 and another on day 26. The Incandescents and the LED were still going when Paul stopped the experiment on day 42 so he could produce the video above.

The next experiment he did was looking at a different form of CFL versus incandescent light bulb efficiency: the efficiency of a light bulb illuminating a room. To test this, Paul mounted a light meter in a fixed position and then videotaped four lights for 30 secs (see 30 second reasoning above). Once he turned them on he showed that the incandescent lit up right away, but the CFLs start out at about 70% less light than the incandescent light and thus are less efficient in all the 30 second “enter and leave” room examples – meaning you would need twice what the box says (so approximately an 80 watt CFL bulb) to equal the same brightness as a regular incandescent bulb.

“For any light in the house that averages less than 30 seconds of use, you need a CFL that is twice as powerfulas labeled to give off almost as much light.”

Paul Wheaton


Paul then quotes a study by the International Association for Energy Efficient Lighting reported that it takes 1.8 kWh of electricity to assemble a CFL compared to 0.11 kWh to assemble an incandescent. Paul adds, but what about the cost of all the extra parts, chemicals, the glass and the shipping of a heavier bulb? Well that will be reflected in a price, right? The average price of a light bulb has consistently gone up, soon Paul hypothesizes that the end price of a light bulb will be about $12 a bulb. The US Government, Paul says, is trying to ban incandescents so the price of CFLs can be raised, because if there is no competition they can raise the price as high as they like; or they can give them to you for free and get the money out of you one way or another.

So for Pauls experiment where the first CFL died at 72 hours that bulb cost him $3. It used about 7 cents of energy during its short life. The incandescent used 28 cents of energy during the same time. If you’re okay with this total energy idea then it looks like the CFL used four times more energy than the incandescent. Paul says, “But if we factor in the subsidy, the CFL used 15 times more energy than the incandescent!”


Paul also corrects some interesting report math during his video and discusses mercury pollution and includes commentary on the following effects of CFL lighting on people:

  • possible epileptic seizures
  • lower IQ scores
  • emotional outbreaks
  • learning disabilities
  • increased cancer levels
  • cataracts


The efficiency of light bulbs debate comparing the many facets of CFL high energy efficiency lighting and bulbs to traditional incandescent lighting and bulbs is becoming a more and more hotly debated topic. Paul’s video make a very compelling argument for sticking with incandescent lighting for your health and your wallet. Our suggestion: watch the video, do your own additional research, and make your own decision.

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