What you need to know about LED bulbs

LED bulbs don't get as hot as incandescent or CFL bulbs. Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

TORONTO – In my constant effort to help save energy and lower my hydro bill, I bought my first LED bulb last week. That was no easy task as most major retailers in Ontario don’t have displays or information readily available and their staff are not fully versed on the benefits of LED lighting. It was hard to justify paying almost 15 dollars for one LED light compared to a typical 60W incandescent bulb that you can get at the grocery store for a dollar. Determined, I researched for days and came up with this handy list of what you should know before you upgrade to LED bulbs.

Finding LED bulbs

As noted above, trying to find LED bulbs or even info on LED lighting at a major store is next to impossible. At the Rona, Canadian Tire, Wal-Mart, and Lowes I visited in the Toronto area I could not find a prominent display for LED bulbs and the selection, usually mixed in with the compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), was poor. My goal was to replace the 60W incandescent bulb in my kitchen vent hood (the light used for the most hours per day in my home) with an equivalent LED bulb. I finally found what I was looking for at my local Home Depot.

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Choosing the right LED bulb

Finding LEDs at your local retailer is only half the battle. Discovering which LED bulb is right for your needs is the most important requirement. Do you need one that’s dimmable? Are you planning to put it outside? How bright do you want it to be? What kind of socket base do you need?

The most common bulb type is the A19 “classic” screw bulb. These are sometimes referred to as a medium base or E26 bulb (for the Edison style 26 millimetre screw base). Most chandeliers use a smaller, E12 or candelabra base, while track and recessed lighting commonly use a GU10 post style halogen bulb.

Once you know what type of bulb you require you’ll need to determine what brightness and colour temperature you want.

Brightness is measured in lumens. A 60W incandescent bulb runs between 300 – 900 lumens while a 100W incandescent bulb falls between 1600 – 1800 lumens. The more lumens, the brighter the bulb.

Colour temperature, measured in Kelvins (K), is also important. A soft white bulb falls somewhere around 2,500 – 3,000K, while a bright white bulb ranges from 4,500 – 5,000K. I originally purchased a 5,000K bulb and found it to be so cold and clinical I had to return it for the warmer 2,700K option. Both bulbs were bright at 800 lumens, but the difference between the colour temperature was huge.

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After you find the right LED bulb, the sticker shock of how much these cost is enough to make even the most energy conscious shoppers keep walking to the cheaper CFL bulb section.

Prices have come down drastically over the last year though, and the Cree 60W equivalent I bought can be found at Home Depot for $15.97CDN each. They also sell a Philips 60W equivalent soft white bulb for $14.88CDN, but it’s not dimmable. If you only need a 40W equivalent, you can opt for a Cree one for $12.97CDN.

I was able to find a dimmable 50W equivalent GU10 bulb in bulk on for roughly $5CDN each. Much cheaper considering they last up to 30,000 hours (compared to 2,000 hours for the halogen ones) and the Philips GU10 LED bulb goes for $26.98 at Home Depot.

As with any new technology the price will continue to drop as more people adopt LED bulbs in their homes. Most hydro companies offer coupons or incentives to upgrade to LED bulbs and you should check with your provider before heading to the store.

LEDs vs. CFLs

The most common question I’ve heard since buying an LED bulb is, ‘What’s the difference between it and the CFL bulbs we were all told to buy to save the environment a few years ago?’

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CFLs are fragile, loaded with mercury and need to be disposed as hazardous waste. When one stops working it needs to go to a special drop-off centre the way paint cans and motor oil does. LEDs are solid, contained units that don’t have any mercury and aren’t easily breakable.

LEDs also turn on to full brightness automatically, give off better light, use less energy, don’t get as hot and, according to the New York Times, can last up to three times longer than a CFL bulb.


While the upfront costs are high, the long term savings may be worth it. The bulb I purchased only uses 9.5W of energy and has a lifespan of 25,000 hours. If you use the bulb for an average of 3 hours per day, 7 days a week, it will last close to 23 years, compared to a regular 60W incandescent bulb, which on average lasts 1,000 hours, and may need to be replaced 25 times in the same lifespan.

The greater savings comes on your hydro bill. Using the same 3 hours per day, 7 days a week formula at an average peak cost of $0.11 kWh and the LED bulb costs a total of $1.14 to run per year or $26 over the 23 year lifespan of the bulb. A 60W incandescent bulb on the other hand costs over $7 per year to run. Calculate that over the course of 23 years and you’re looking at spending $166 on hydro on top of the cost to replace the bulb 25 times. Add up how many bulbs in your home and the savings become even greater with time.

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Calculating how much a bulb costs to run

To calculate how much a bulb costs to run you first need to find out how many kilowatts per hour (kWh) it uses. To do this you take the amount of watts the bulb uses and multiply it by how many hours you plan to use it for each day. You then divide it by a thousand (as there are a thousand watts in a kilowatts). Using the example above, my calculation looked like this:

9.5W x 3 hours / 1000 = 0.0285 kWh

Once you have your kWh you can multiply that by how much you pay per kWh.

0.0285 kwh x $0.11 = $0.00313 per day

Take that number and multiply it by 365 days and you get the yearly cost to run your bulb.

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$0.00313 x 365 = $1.14

You can use this formula for other electronics in your home too.

In the end…

While saving money is great, the environmental benefits of switching to LED bulbs are much more important. It might take a few months for me to swap all my bulbs, but the idea that these could still be working when my 5-year-old is done college amazes me and makes me feel good.

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