Overview of New LED vs 60 Watt Light Bulbs

Cutting Through the Confusion

The Cree standard 40 or 60 watt LED light bulb
Cree Inc. - Used by permission

These days there are suddenly a lot of new, unfamiliar light bulbs on the store shelves. Especially ones that say “60 Watt Equivalent.” On top of that, the price of these new bulbs is more than the price of the familiar 60 watt incandescent bulb you want to replace. One of these new bulbs can cost as much as ten of the ones you’re used to.

Some of the questions that come to mind are “Why can’t I find regular 60 watt light bulbs?” "Do I have to buy a CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamp) or LED (Light-Emitting Diode) light bulb?” “These new light bulbs are so expensive! Can they possibly be worth that much?” And “Which of these is the best one to buy?”

To help you get started, here are a few factors to consider before buying new light bulbs for your home. 

Why the Light Bulbs Are Different

Right at the end of the Bush administration, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. They also set it up to take effect four years after that. The stated reason was to allow the manufacturers some time to design and re-tool to get the replacements to us.

That worked, and that innovation is still going on across the industry. The manufacturers who want to be serious players have been, and are, working overtime to provide the light bulbs that we want and need, and that meet the requirements of the act.

What those requirements do is set the maximum amount of power, in watts, that can be used to produce a certain of light, in lumens. They don’t “outlaw” or “ban” any light bulb. But, by requiring light bulbs to be more efficient – that is, to produce more lumens per watt -- they make it more difficult to meet the requirement with incandescent light bulb technology and easier to do it with other technologies such as CFLs and LEDs.

That’s why the light bulb manufacturers are switching to making bulbs that use the new technologies, and why you can’t find the “standard” incandescent bulbs anymore.

Do I Have To Buy a CFL or LED Light Bulb?

Pretty much, yes. And why wouldn’t you want to? The light bulb makers actually pushed – lobbied – for the passage of the new Energy Act because while most of us were making the switch already, some of us weren’t. The manufacturers were faced with having to make both the old and new bulb types for years, and they wanted to get out of that trap. Plus, this entire shift is about saving energy, and a lot of it. That’s why it’s called the Energy Independence and Security Act. The country is cutting down on its energy demands as you and I are cutting back on our energy use. And that saves us money on our electric bills.

Let’s do the math. A standard 60 watt incandescent bulb puts out about 820 lumens. So the 60 watt incandescent produces 13.67 lumens per watt. One of the better CFLs on the market, the GE Reveal® Bright from the Start™ light bulb, uses 15 watts to produce 740 lumens. So that bulb has an efficiency of 49.33 lumens per watt. That’s a nice improvement. But one of the newest LED bulbs, the Cree Standard 60W Replacement LED, puts out 800 lumens with only 9 watts of power. That’s an efficiency of 84.21 lumens per watt.

The LED more than six times as efficient as the incandescent bulb it’s replacing. To put it another way, switching from an incandescent 60 Watt bulb to one of these 60-watt-equivalent LED bulbs saves – removes – eliminates – nearly 84 percent of the cost of having that light bulb on.

They’re So Expensive. Can They Possibly Be Worth That Much?

They are expensive. The prices are coming sown as production ramps up, but a good-quality LED bulb will still set you back roughly $9. You could buy a 60 watt incandescent light bulb for less than a dollar – 82 cents, in fact. But here’s the thing: That incandescent bulb was only rated for 1,500 hours, or 1.4 years. So it actually cost 59 cents per year to buy and replace them. The LED replacement is rated for 25,000 hours, or 22.8 years. That brings the cost down to 39 cents per year. That’s right. Not only will you not have to hassle with changing out the light bulbs, they actually cost less, to buy as well as to power up.

The bottom line is, the new light bulbs are definitely worth what they cost.

Which of These Is the Best One to Buy?”

This is a bit of a moving target right now, with the manufacturers working on new designs and fine-tuning their production methods as they go. That said, there are two LED light bulbs that stand out. Both are from the same company.

The Lowest Cost

The lowest cost 60-watt-equivalent light bulb that I’ve found so far is the Cree standard 60 watt replacement LED. That’s the one discussed and linked to above. 800 lumens, a nice-looking light, and just $1.54 per year to own and operate.

Did I mention that the total cost for the standard 60 watt incandescent bulb was $7.92? Yep, almost $8.00, every year, for every 60 watt incandescent light bulb in your house.

The “Best” Light

This is partly a matter of taste, but I find that the quality of the light – its color, or color temperature, and its Color Rendering Index, or CRI, matter to me, and to the folks I work with. So I think the Cree TW series 60W replacement LED light bulb is a great bulb to have in your home. The light is less yellow and the CRI is a whopping 93 percent of sunlight. At $1.63 per year, it doesn’t make the cut in the savings sweepstakes, but I like it enough to pay the difference. See if you can find a side-by-side demonstration in a store to check it out for yourself.