What’s the Difference Between Incandescent Light Bulbs vs. LEDs? (2024)


  • Incandescents are traditional light bulbs with a warm light.

  • LEDs are newer, more energy-efficient light bulbs with a cooler light.

  • While LEDs cost more upfront, they last longer and save on energy bills.

  • LEDs, incandescents, and CFLs are all popular home lighting options.

What is the difference between LED and incandescent light bulbs—and which is right for your home? Some homeowners are ditching incandescent bulbs in favor of cost-saving LED light bulbs, but there are advantages to each. Here are the differences between these two household light bulbs.

Know Your Light Bulbs: Incandescents vs. LEDs

Whether it’s the bathroom vanity or your front door, lighting is an important component of your home. It enhances safety, lights the way, and enables you to read in the dark when you can’t sleep. But is LED or incandescent lighting right for your home? Here’s a look at the key differences between the two.

Light colorWarmCool
Energy efficiencyLess efficientMore efficient
Lifespan1,000 hours50,000 hours
Average cost$2 – $3 per bulb$5 – $10 per bulb
Bulb heatLoses energy as heatMinimal heat loss

Incandescent Bulbs

Incandescent light bulbs have been around for over 100 years. They’re likely the bulbs you grew up with, and their familiar warmth often gives them a distinct appearance to match that nostalgia. Though the wattage of your incandescent bulb might have changed over the years, not much else has been done to enhance the functionality of this classic light.

LED Bulbs

Unlike incandescent bulbs, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are another popular household bulb, but they use a chip surrounded by epoxy resin to emit light. Originally disliked for their “colder” tone, LED bulbs have come a long way in terms of color and are now phasing out the traditional incandescent light bulb. There are many different types of LED light bulbs so you can choose features like color, dimmability, and shape.

The Pros and Cons of LED vs. Incandescent Lights

As with anything that comes in a variety, there are pros and cons to LED and incandescent lights. Let’s shine a light on the key differences.

Advantages of Incandescent Lights

Upfront, the cost of an incandescent light bulb will seem cheaper than the cost of an LED light. So, if you’re in a temporary pinch, then the incandescent light bulb might be the best choice for you at that moment.

Another advantage of the incandescent light is the warm, familiar light that it emits.

Disadvantages of Incandescent Lights

It’s time for the downsides. Incandescent lights are getting phased out for many reasons. For one, this traditional light bulb uses a ton of electricity to cast that nostalgic light. This light emission means you’re paying more to power your home. What’s worse is that only 2% of the energy used in an incandescent light is visible. The other 98% is discarded heat.

Incandescent lights are also more fragile, burn out faster, and need to be replaced more often than their LED competitors.

Advantages of LED Lights

On the other hand, LED lights save on energy, have a long lifespan, contain no mercury, and are made from stronger materials than incandescent light bulbs. You can save money, conserve energy, and avoid injuries by opting for LED lights.

Disadvantages of LED Lights

The only disadvantage of an LED light is its upfront cost. Now that many LEDs come in different light colors, their brightness factor can be changed per your preference.

What’s the Cost Difference Between LED and Incandescent Lights?

LED lights are 75% more energy-efficient than incandescent lights, but knowing how much you’re going to spend on one versus the other can be a little tricky. You’ll spend around $5 to $10 on a single LED bulb and only $2 to $3 on a single incandescent bulb. However, these upfront costs are deceptive.

Once you factor in the replacement costs of incandescent lights, the initial savings are lessened by replacement costs. In fact, the lifespan of an incandescent light bulb is around 1 000 hours, while LED bulbs have an average lifespan of 50,000 hours.

You’ll also save on your electric bill when you use LEDs. Consider a 60W incandescent bulb and a 12W LED bulb. They both produce the same amount of light, but the incandescent uses 48W more power every hour. If you multiply that by your local kWh rate, you can see how much you’ll save per hour on just a single bulb.

Incandescent vs. LED Lights: Which Is Best For Your Home?

What’s the Difference Between Incandescent Light Bulbs vs. LEDs? (1)

Photo: Rasstock / Shutterstock.com

With all of the advantages and disadvantages in mind, which of these light bulbs is best? You guessed it: LED bulbs.

Not only are LED lights more energy-efficient, safer to handle and dispose of, and free of mercury and other toxic chemicals, but you can also save money in the long run by opting for LED bulbs. Though they might have a higher upfront cost, they last much longer than incandescent bulbs.

To compare the two, LED bulbs last 50 times longer than your average incandescent bulb and 8 to 10 times as long as a compact fluorescent light (CFL), which is another type of bulb that we’ll take a look at in the section below.

Let’s put these numbers into perspective: An LED light that is left on 24/7 will last for an estimated 5.7 years!

LED vs. Incandescent vs. CFL Lights: Other Lighting Options

While we’ve focused on the differences between LED and incandescent lights, there’s a third type of light bulb that’s popular for household lighting: the compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb. Like LEDs, CFL light bulbs are more energy-efficient than their incandescent competitors. CFL lights work by using electricity to generate ultraviolet light, which in turn causes the fluorescent coating to emit visible light.

Lights that flicker and start out dim only to brighten up tend to be CFLs. Though it might take a moment for the electricity to brighten a CFL bulb, once it has, you’ll find that CFL bulbs use approximately 70% less energy compared to incandescent bulbs. The downside is that CFL bulbs burn out faster than LEDs and aren’t as energy-efficient. Keep this in mind as you decide on the best light bulbs for your home.

How to Switch to More Cost-Effective Light Bulbs

If you’re starting on a lighting installation project or planning on installing year-round Christmas lights, then it might be worth making the switch to LED lights. The first thing you’ll want to do is discard any unwanted incandescent lights by safely recycling these hazardous materials.

Due to the mercury and other toxic chemicals inside incandescent and CFL bulbs, you should never throw old bulbs into the trash. Simply take them to your local center for hazardous waste.

Once that’s done, it’s time to choose an energy-efficient bulb. Decoding the energy efficiency of watts and lumens can feel like you’re trying to solve a complex math problem.

Here’s how you can determine if a bulb is energy efficient:

  1. First, avoid looking at just the wattages on the light bulb packaging. The wattage means the same regardless of the bulb. For instance, a 1,000-watt incandescent light uses as much energy as a 1,000-watt LED.

  2. To find out if you’re saving on brightness, you’ll want to look at the lumen output and compare it to the wattage. For brighter lighting, choose a larger number.

  3. Opt for bulbs with high lumens and low wattages for brighter, more efficient lighting. Bulbs with the lowest wattage and the highest lumens use the least amount of energy to achieve the same brightness as those that have a higher wattage.

For example, an incandescent light that has 120 lumens but uses 1,000 watts of power is far more costly than an LED light that also has 120 lumens but only uses 500 watts of power. If you have any questions about which bulbs to choose, it’s best to contact a local lighting professional to help with anything you need.

Frequently Asked Questions

You can use both LED and incandescent bulbs in an incandescent fixture as long as the bulb base is the right size. Never use a higher wattage than what the fixture recommends. However, it’s usually safe when transitioning to LED bulbs because they typically have a lower wattage than their incandescent counterparts.

What’s the Difference Between Incandescent Light Bulbs vs. LEDs? (2024)


What’s the Difference Between Incandescent Light Bulbs vs. LEDs? ›

LEDs typically have a cluster of small diodes, whereas incandescents have a visible filament

small thin wire part of incandescent light bulbs that produces light. An incandescent light bulb has a small, thin wire with two bigger wires holding it up. This wire is called a filament. The filament is the part of the light bulb that produces light.
https://simple.wikipedia.org › wiki › Electrical_filament
. When lit, LEDs emit an instant, bright light, while incandescents often have a warm-up time and a softer glow. Lastly, consider the heat emitted during use: LEDs remain cool, while incandescents can become hot.

Which is better LED or incandescent lights? ›

LEDs use much less energy than incandescent bulbs because diode light is much more efficient, power-wise, than filament light. LED bulbs use more than 75% less energy than incandescent lighting. At low power levels, the difference is even larger.

Why is it practical to use LED lights instead of incandescent bulbs? ›

The huge benefit LED lights have over previous light bulbs is their energy efficiency. Compared to incandescent bulbs, they are a massive 80% more efficient, and they turn 95% of their energy into light, whereas older lighting would produce a lot of heat. This has two major effects.

Can I use an LED bulb in an incandescent fixture? ›

As long as the mounting base (socket) is the same size and type, you can use an LED bulb in an existing fixture. If the mounting base isn't the same size and type, the LED bulb will not fit the socket. You should never use a bulb with a higher wattage than what is recommended for the fixture.

How do you know if a bulb is LED or incandescent? ›

Most residential LED light bulbs have a typical light bulb shape but are usually made with a plastic shell instead of glass, with only a portion of the body being translucent. Look for an "LED" or "LED LAMP" marking on the bulb as well.

Why do people prefer incandescent bulbs? ›

Low or No EMF. Incandescent and halogen (the enhanced, brighter version of incandescent) light bulbs produce very little EMF and are considered EMF-safe. As far as light bulbs go, incandescent will have the essentially zero (or at least very low) EMF emissions.

What are the cons of LED lights? ›

Blue Hazard and Pollution Risk: The intensity of blue LEDs and cool-white LEDs can exceed safe blue-light hazard limits for eye safety. The cool white LED can also cause more “blue pollution” when used as outdoor lights compared to traditional lighting.

Where should you not use LED lights? ›

LEDs deal with heat much differently than other bulbs. They use a heat sink to draw heat away from the diodes, as excessive heat can cause the bulb to fail. This problem is exacerbated when an LED light is installed in a ventless enclosed fixture.

When should you not use LED lights? ›

LED lights and our devices do contain a significant amount of blue light (but with important caveats and qualifications - see below), and the concern is that excessive use during evening hours will cause our bodies to continue the production of melanopsin, making it harder to fall asleep naturally.

Do LED lights get hot? ›

While other light bulbs can get extremely hot when you turn them on, LED lights usually only get slightly warm, if at all (they may even feel cold to the touch). It is because LEDs use less energy than other bulbs, which means they don't waste as much energy producing unnecessary heat.

What happens if you put a 60W LED bulb in a 40W socket? ›

Can I put a 60w LED bulb in a 40w socket? Most likely, yes. The wattage rating on a lamp socket assumes an incandescent lamp and relates to how much heat the socket and fixture can safely dissipate. A 60 watt equivalent LED will draw around 15 watts and produce far less heat than the 40 watt incandescent lamp does.

What is 60W equivalent in LED? ›

A 60-watt LED equivalent is 7-9 watts. A 100-watt incandescent bulb produces 1600 lumens of light, while a 12-14 watt LED gives off the same. A 150-watt incandescent bulb produces 2600 lumens of light, while an 18-23 watt LED gives off the equivalent.

Are incandescent light bulbs still available? ›

The production and sale of incandescent light bulbs have officially been banned in the United States because of their low energy efficiency. The rule, which was initially proposed all the way back in 2007, officially went into effect as of Aug. 1, 2023.

Do LED lights get as hot as incandescent? ›

High powered lighting LEDs generate light at a much lower running temperatures than the hot filament used in previous generation bulbs. The hottest outside surface of an LED light bulb is often half the temperature of an equivalent brightness Incandescent or Halogen bulb, and around 20% cooler than CFL bulbs.

Are incandescent bulbs illegal? ›

In April 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy, under the Biden administration, announced the phaseout of energy-wasting lightbulbs, banning the manufacture and sales of common incandescent lightbulbs starting on Aug. 1, 2023.

What is healthier incandescent or LED? ›

Incandescent light bulbs are known to be energy inefficient because of their heat emissions but it is this red light that renders it more natural and softer on the eyes. It means they're healthier.

What are the pros and cons of LED vs incandescent? ›

Incandescent light bulbs are cheaper than LED. They are also more widely available, though LED is becoming more popular over time. LED, however, is noted for its long lifespan, energy efficiency and low maintenance costs. An LED light can operate up to 50,000 to 100,000 operating hours, or roughly five to 10 years.

Which lasts longer LED or incandescent? ›

Lifespan. LED bulbs last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. The Department of Energy reports that a 60W incandescent bulb will last for approximately 1,000 hours. You can expect a similarly-bright 12W LED bulb to last around 25,000 hours.

Do LED light bulbs really save money? ›

Lighting accounts for around 15% of an average home's electricity use, and the average household saves about $225 in energy costs per year by using LED lighting. if you are still using incandescent light bulbs, switching to energy-efficient lighting is one of the fastest ways to cut your energy bills.

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