Comparing CFL And LED Lightbulbs

I have three 48 inch double fluorescent lamp fixtures mounted under an upper kitchen cabinet. I use them to start seedlings during late winter. Over time, all the 40 watt lamps have dimmed. Even when new, these 6 lamps did not produce near the light my plants needed. At a cost of $30.00 to replace all lamps. I decided to go a different route.


For several years, I have been using CFLs in my home, even before the advent of LED lamps. I was satisfied with them, except for the price. $3.00 per lamp was just to much (in the lighting industry, which I was a part of for 10 years, the bulb itself is called a lamp).

I wanted to make a gro light fixture using CFLs but found it cost prohibitive. I put the project off for 3 years. Then I came across low cost LED lamps at Dollar Tree. I found 9 watt (60 watt eq) LED lamps for a dollar each. I bought 24.

On a recent visit to Dollar Tree, I found they now have 15 watt (100 watt eq) lamps, also at a dollar each. I bought 10. With all these lamps on hand, I decided to do a comparison of the CFLs and the LEDs. Here is what I found. All figures are based on 100 watt eq lamps.

  • Average cost of one 23 watt (100 watt eq) CFL = $3.00 (as of 5 years ago).
  • Average cost of one 15 watt LED (100 watt eq) (Dollar Tree) = $1.00.

  • Average lumens for both = 1600 ( I found the LEDs actually appear brighter).
  • Average life of CFLs =10,000 hours
  • Average life of LEDs = 15,000 hours

  • Average operating cost for CFLs (at 3 hrs/day) $2.77 per year. (Figure is 5 years old).

  • Average operating cost for LEDs (at 3 hrs/day) $1.81 Per year. (Figure is current). (When using as many lamps as I plan to use, the savings will really mount up).
These figures convinced me LEDs is the way to go. But there's more. A feature I will not use is, LEDs (at least the ones I bought) are dimmable.

While the lamps I compared had a 3000k and a 5000k color temperature with the LED being the lower, I could discern no color difference when burning both side by side.

Maybe most important of all, LEDs are mercury free!

I see a declining market for CFLs. Fewer purchases, higher prices. Unless I'm mistaken, there's currently nothing on the market better than LEDs, except for solar powered lamps; and only then if you live in specific areas.

I done good, Y'all!

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November 11, 20171 found this helpful
Top Comment

My husband is in the lighting business and he totally agrees with all the info provided. Thanks for the break down of usage.

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November 17, 20170 found this helpful
Top Comment

As a firefighter, I can tell you I know of 3 fires started by a cfl. I don't trust them.

LED is now the way to go. However, some LED bulbs specify not to be in fixtures where the bulb has to be upside down, so check your label for that information and also to see what light spectrum it offers.

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November 11, 20170 found this helpful

LED lamps can be used for outdoor motion detector lighting. Unlike the CFLs, they light instantly even in very cold weather. I also found that 4 Watt LED lamps are sufficient for the motion activated lights.
Have FUN!

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November 11, 20170 found this helpful

Good point. They are bright instantly and don't go through a 'warm up' period. I prefer the cooler colors and Amazon has the 5000k 100 watt eq, but they are $3.00+ ea.

(My new LEDs @ 3000k are just a bit cooler in color than my older CFLs @ 5000k).

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December 2, 20170 found this helpful

Thank you.

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November 11, 20170 found this helpful

Thanks for doing this comparison! Now Ill know which one is
the best to buy.

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November 13, 20170 found this helpful

I had no luck with CFL bulbs. They would burn out way sooner than I expected and it was such a hassle to get them recycled without breakage. I have converted all mine over to LED, except for a few small decorative incandescent bulbs.

One interesting thing I noticed is when I had a CFL in one lamp and a LED in the other. You could really tell the color difference between the two but you could also see how the shadows fell differently. The CFL shadow edge was soft and faded out, like a halo. The LED was much more hard-edged and the shadow edge stopped more abruptly. I believe this is because the LED is a single light source so you are dealing with a more direct beam, whereas the CFL is glowing so there are light beams bouncing around everywhere. Wish I had a picture for you all. :)

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November 15, 20170 found this helpful

Gracie Allen?

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January 4, 20180 found this helpful

Thanks for all the information. I have wondered which is the best. I trust your judgement and will stick with the LED.

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January 16, 20180 found this helpful

I've always wondered the same thing in which is really the better "bulb" and your info here is great. Thank you.

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January 30, 20180 found this helpful

LEDs are the best pricing is coming down and they do have LEDs in grow light can get them on line or at Home Depot

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November 5, 20190 found this helpful

You might be disappointed in your results using plain LED bulbs for your seedling starter area. Common LED bulbs lack the red spectrum that plants need for healthy growth.

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