Earth Day Marks the LED Revolution
(and the Death of Incandescents).
If you’re among the 70 percent of Americans who believe in climate change, you know the devastating effects it will soon have on our planet. A whopping 287 billion metric tons of arctic ice is melting per year. As a species, there are few problems demanding this large of an immediate change. We need to reduce our carbon emissions — and fast. But as a citizen, it can be challenging to find ways to contribute in your daily life. One of the best ways to support the movement is by analyzing your lighting solutions.
There are three types of lighting we use today, all with vastly different standards in cost-effectiveness, safety, and environmental friendliness.
- A light-emitting diode, or LED, is a type of solid-state lighting that uses a semiconductor to convert electricity into light.
- A compact fluorescent lamp, or CFL, is a fluorescent lamp designed to replace incandescent lamps.
- An incandescent light bulb is an electric light with a wire filament heated to a high temperature until it glows with visible light (incandescence).
LEDs are the most recent innovation in lighting history. When compared to incandescent and CFL bulbs, today’s LED bulbs can be six to seven times more energy efficient than conventional incandescent lights and cut energy use by more than 80 percent.
As a direct result of their improved efficiency, LED light bulbs emit much less heat than a CFL or incandescent bulb. An incandescent lamp converts about 9–10% of energy into light, meaning incandescents lose 90% of their energy as heat.
LEDs, however, convert nearly 100% of the energy they consume as light. You can actually feel the temperature difference just by being near the light. Most LED bulbs are relatively cool to the touch, whereas their incandescent and halogen counterparts will leave you with a first or second-degree burn. Maximum operating temperature for residential LEDs is around 135–140 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, incandescent bulb run around 375–400 F to the touch and their halogen cousins (a modern variation of the incandescent) run around 600–700 F to the touch.
If the entire United States would replace only the existing incandescent Christmas lights, the potential energy cost savings starts around $110,620,000 dollars. That’s just over the holidays. (Sources)
According to energy.gov, there were about 49 million LEDs installed in the U.S. in 2012 — saving about $675 million in annual energy costs. Switching entirely to LED lights over the next two decades could save the U.S. $250 billion in energy costs, reduce electricity consumption for lighting by nearly 50 percent, and avoid 1,800 million metric tons of carbon emissions.
LEDs contain no mercury at all — and over 95% of an LED is recyclable. Compare this to the wasteful design of CFLs, which not only contain Mercury but also create a large portion of electronic waste due to their design. The fluorescent tube portion of a CFL stops working long before its other electronic components are ready to die. This inefficiency alone creates tons of waste every month.
One 7-watt incandescent bulb could power 140 LEDs — enough to light two, 24-foot Christmas light strings.
LEDs are becoming a prominent light source in the Christmas industry. As we know, LEDs consume far less electricity than incandescent bulbs. Decorative LED light strings are no different. By switching to LED holiday lights, you will have the following advantages:
- Safer: LEDs operate at a much lower temperature than incandescents or CFLs, reducing the risk of burns or fires.
- Sturdier: Incandescents are prone to shattering because of their glass bulb. LEDs are made of epoxy glass — a durable, shatter-proof glass that resembles plastic.
- Longer lasting: Good-quality LED bulbs can last 25 to 35 times longer than incandescents and up to 10 times longer than fluorescents. The same LED strings are low maintenance and can still be in use for many holiday seasons. You don’t have to purchase lights yearly now.
- Easier to install: Up to 25 strings of LEDs can be connected end-to-end without overloading a wall socket.
- Directional light emission: LEDs direct light where it is needed. Incandescent and CFLs emit light — and heat — in all directions. If you recall, incandescents only convert 10% of energy into light. The small amount of light created isn’t even completely usable because it can’t be projected in a single direction.
- Size advantage: LEDs can be very compact and low-profile. The smaller scale of LEDs ranges from 2–8 mm.
- Instant on: Unlike incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, LEDs require no warm-up time. As soon as electricity is switched on, LEDs are their natural color.
- Cost-effectiveness: This small chart demonstrates the vast superiority of LEDs when it comes to cost-effectiveness:
The LED Revolution
Incandescents were invented by Thomas Edison in 1878. It makes sense that LEDs vastly outcompete technology that’s over a century old. In 2012, Sylvania surveyed that 71% of Americans still use incandescent bulbs in their homes.
We still haven’t made the change to LEDs for reasons outside the scope of this post. LEDs bring efficient, long-lasting, and affordable light to homes, municipalities, and businesses everywhere. Their zero mercury content, recyclable parts, and high efficiency all reduce carbon emissions. It is absolutely vital that we recognize the benefits and work towards the LED revolution. It’s time to part ways from the 1800s.
Like the traditional light bulb, but 80% more efficient, lasts 25 times longer, pays for itself, then pays you for years to come.
We will continue to update this guide as new research is released.
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