Compact fluorescent light bulbs aren't the only option for conscientious, energy-efficient lighting. Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are small and incredibly durable. They last up to 60,000 hours—five times longer than compact fluorescents and 50 to 60 times the life span of an incandescent bulb. They use so little energy that some don't have to be plugged in at all, running on solar power or a single battery. They are, however, expensive. That will change soon, as new energy standards set to take effect in 2012 will eliminate incandescent bulbs as we know them. 

In fact, the costs of producing LED bulbs are set to drop quickly. Phillips has announced the first entry in the Department of Energy's $10 million L Prize contest to build the equivalent of a 60-watt incandescent bulb, producing the same brightness and quality of light but consuming only 10 watts. If the Phillips bulb passes DOE testing, it will become standard in government offices and receive subsidies from utilities to reduce the consumer price. The combined effect could replace compact fluorescents as the default low-energy bulb in little more than a year.

So how would you use an LED?

You already do—the little glowing lights on all your electronics are LEDs. But now these tiny, bright lights can be found in modern lamps, chandeliers and sconces as well as crank flashlights and holiday ornaments. LEDs burn bright and cool for great decorative and accent lighting. They work well with shades, glass or other coverings to diffuse their bright glow. Examples range from high-end items such as a constellation chandelier to less expensive lamps from Ikea and Target. Task-lighting needs can be met by LED nightlights, desk lamps and $45 wall sconces from Energizer. For aesthetic effects, more whimsical options include LED wax-free candles that look like votive lights and solar-powered sun and moon jars that make great night-lights for kids. LED bulbs are also being rapidly adopted for holiday string lights, due to their efficiency, color options and sturdiness.

As for your ceiling bulbs, for now CFLs are your most cost-effective choice to replace incandescents, given the high price of LED lamp bulbs. Look for "soft white" on the label for warm light that matches incandescents. But affordable LEDs should be available soon, and don't forget to check with your utility for discounts.

Photo credit: Ssmallfry/Flickr


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