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CFL vs. LED Light Bulbs - Brightness Comparison LED Lighting

When it comes to brightness, are LED light bulbs better than compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs? By now you probably know that LEDs are the most energy efficient lighting solution in the market, so it's not surprising to hear people say that now is the perfect time to make the switch. But the question is, is it really time to do so? With the initial cost of LED light bulbs, are the benefits worth it? This article should answer some of your most pressing questions about LEDs.

The heightened demand for green technologies has encouraged various companies to develop new ways for us to reduce our energy consumption and live more environment-friendly lifestyles. The advent of LED lighting is one such result of this push, with LED light bulbs now slowly gaining popularity among many people all over the world.

The inherent design of LEDs makes it give off directional light. Unlike incandescent, compact fluorescent (CFL) and halogen bulbs which have a very wide beam range, LEDs have a narrower lighting angle and are thus best suited as spotlights. A Lumen is the measure of the brightness generated by a light, as seen by the human eye. This unit of measure is indicated on the packaging of most light bulbs. Another measurement often associated with light bulbs is lumens/watt. In layman's terms, this indicates the amount of light generated for every single watt used by the bulb.

Unfortunately, both these types of measurement are insufficient when performing comparisons between LEDs and traditional light bulbs.

Before we get to the heart of the matter, let us first tackle some terms you will frequently come across when discussing LEDs and the light they generate.

Lumen - As explained earlier, a lumen is a unit of measurement used to describe the amount of light generated by a light bulb. Lumens are measured by a device that computes the average lumens rating around a light source.

Lux or foot candle - Is a measurement of a lights strength or brightness taken from a surface. A light bulb lux is measured using a lux metre.

Luminous efficacy or lumens/watt - The number of lumens generated by a light bulb relative to the energy it consumes. The lumens/watt rating indicates the energy efficiency of a light bulb. The more light a bulb produces for every watt, the more efficient it is.

To compute a light bulb's luminous efficacy, simply divide its total lumens by its wattage. Bear in mind though that this can be inaccurate, as manufacturers often have different ratings for their products.

Comparing the Luminous Efficacy between Light Bulbs

Comparing the luminous efficacy between different types of light bulbs can often confuse a lot of shoppers. It's already a given that incandescent bulbs are energy wasters, but what about CFLs? If you look at the packaging of CFL and LED light bulbs, you can see that CFLs will almost always have a slightly higher lumen/per watt rating.

However, luminous efficacy isn't only determined by the number of lumens generated for every single watt a bulb uses. The lighting fixture of a light bulb also comes into play, especially when incandescent and CFLs are concerned.

When CFLs are placed in certain fixtures, such as recessed types, much of the light they produce only ends up being wasted; light is reflected back into the ceiling because CFLs are multi-directional. So in a nutshell, you end up not getting all the light youre paying for.

The inherent directional lighting design of LEDs offers an important advantage: light is emitted in one direction. Recessed lighting isn't a problem, since LEDs display light downwards, allowing you to enjoy all of it.

The Bottom Line

So when it really comes down to it, LEDs are brighter than CFLs, only when they're placed in certain fixtures made for directional lighting. When placed in a recessed fixture, CFLs waste close to half of the light they produce LEDs put out all of it due to fixture efficacy.

On the other hand, if you need a light source that spreads out to a greater area, then CFLs are obviously a more energy-efficient choice.

The Catch

Unfortunately, the old standard of measuring the lumens of traditional light bulbs doesn't apply well to LED bulbs. The United States Department of Energy and Energy Star are doing all they can to develop new methods of measuring their lighting intensity, prompting companies and government energy departments all over the world to do the same.


For now, though, you will just have to make do with making side by side comparisons between different bulb types. This is the only way you can avoid getting disappointed after impulsively buying into manufacturer hype. Whether it's through pictures or through an actual demonstration, it's important to see an LED light bulb's performance in order to determine if it fits your needs. With the high price tag that comes with these devices, it's imperative that you choose carefully.