Shining a Light on LEDs:  Light Bulb Cost Showdown

This is the second of a 3-part series of blogs written by AmeriCorps Member Phoebe Little, who, along with Grace Sherman, is working with GrowSmart Maine to bring our Energy Efficiency Community Campaign to Biddeford and Windham. We know that energy efficiency and weatherization are pragmatic steps in mitigating climate change that also save Mainers money. While GrowSmart continues to advocate and plan events to highlight connections between smart growth and Maine’s Climate Action Plan and 10-Year Economic Plan, we are also engaging in this community level boots on the ground work for immediate impact. While EV charging stations and renewable energy production are ramping up, simple steps like switching to LED lighting (and knowing how to recycle them) and adding weatherization window inserts through WindowDressers, Mainers are making a difference now. Check out our October and November Window Builds in Biddeford and Windham on our website calendar at

Switching to energy efficient light bulbs is an easy step each of us can take to save money and reduce our energy use. Along with weatherization, this is a common entry point for energy efficiency work for many Mainers.

Phoebe is a 2020 graduate of Smith College where she studied government and environmental science and completed a thesis on armoring Maine Island communities against sea level rise. In 2021, she graduated with her Masters degree in audio journalism from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. She’s thrilled to be back in her home state working with communities to increase energy efficiency.

LED bulbs use less energy to produce the same amount of light as fluorescent bulbs. In scientific terms, LED bulbs produce more lumens per watt. In cost savings terms, replacing fluorescent bulbs with LEDs that create the same light using less electricity will save people money on electricity bills.

LED bulbs also have superior longevity to traditional incandescent bulbs and even fluorescent light bulbs. Where a fluorescent bulb is expected to last for approximately 8,000 hours of use and an incandescent bulb only 1,200 hours, LED bulbs have a use expectancy of 25,000 hours. In other words, at least three fluorescent bulbs or 21 incandescent bulbs would need to be discarded over the lifespan of one LED bulb. Therefore, replacing fluorescent bulbs with LEDs can keep a lot of material out of landfills as well as represent real savings from having to replace bulbs less frequently.

There’s often a misconception that fluorescent bulbs and LEDs are prohibitively more expensive than traditional bulbs. The truth is that huge leaps in material science and electrical engineering have caused the retail cost of LEDs and fluorescent bulbs to steadily drop in recent years. A decade ago the difference in cost between a traditional incandescent bulb and an energy efficient option may have been as high as $40, now the price difference is usually in the range of 1 to 7 dollars. And while it’s true that the upfront cost of these energy saving options is higher, the savings in the long term are immense. The chart below breaks these savings down: