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CFL vs LED: Should You Wait?

CFL vs. LED bulbs

cfl vs led light bulbsIn today’s energy conscious world, most homeowners are interested in their options for energy efficient recessed lighting.

In this post I’ll compare the two technologies – CFL vs LED – that can reduce energy consumption by 75% or more over traditional incandescent lamps.

Before the current LED technology existed, there were only two types of light bulbs used in residential recessed lighting: standard incandescent and energy efficient compact fluorescent (CFL). Many homeowners chose CFLs because of the significant savings in energy over incandescent lamps.

While there’s no denying the major reduction in energy use (about 75%), there are a few drawbacks to CFLs.

The first is the delay when you first flip on the light switch. CFLs have a brief warm up period that can last anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. This makes them a poor choice in areas where you need light immediately like a hallway or closet.

Another drawback is that they’re not (very) dimmable. Yes, there are manufacturers selling dimmable CFLs, but if you read the reviews you’ll quickly realize that they are a disappointment.

When dimmable CFLs first hit the market, we installed hundreds of them for customers who were thrilled to have a product that was both energy efficient and dimmable. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before we started getting calls from many of those customers reporting flickering, buzzing, and that the lamps would hardly dim at all.

A third drawback to CFLs is that they contain a small amount of mercury. As trace of an amount as it may be, it’s enough for them to be considered a hazardous waste material which makes them a pain to dispose of.

Enter: LEDs

Around 2010, light emitting diode (LED) light bulbs began appearing on the shelves of the big home improvement stores. As with most new technologies, the quality and performance was mediocre at first, but has since evolved to be outstanding.

LEDs have several key benefits that make them an ideal light source, especially in recessed lights.

  • Energy efficient – Most LEDs are even more efficient than CFLs, often using 80% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

  • Long life -LEDs have a life expectancy of more than 20 years. For this reason alone I always recommend them to homeowners with tall ceilings.

  • Instant on -LEDs turn on at full brightness  – no warm up delay like CFLs.

  • Dimmable -Most LED light bulbs are fully dimmable when used with compatible dimmers.

  • Mercury-free -LEDs contain no mercury.

A clear winner?

By now you may be wondering why anyone would use anything other than LEDs?

The most common objection is the upfront cost.

If cost is a concern (which it usually is), just remember that while LEDs may cost more than CFLs initially, they cost less – much less – over time.

Take a look:

cfl vs led comparison

So if the ceilings are low enough  that changing the bulb is not an issue, dimming the lights is not necessary, and a brief warm up delay is fine, CFLs may be okay.

Otherwise, it’s safe to say that LEDs are the clear winner.

The 3 Things to Consider Before Installing Recessed Lighting



Installing recessed lighting is one of the best improvements you can make to a home. This post covers three of the main decisions you’re going to need to consider when planning the project.


1. What size and type of recessed lights?

The first thing to decide here is whether you’re going with LED trims or trim-and-light-bulb combos?
The difference is LED trims (aka modules or retrofits) do not use a light bulb and separate trim. Instead, they are a complete luminaire consisting of a driver, LED chips, a lens, and a trim, all incorporated in a sealed unit that fits inside a recessed light fixture. The majority of them use an orange 2-pin connector to fit dedicated LED fixtures. Most also include a screw-base adapter for use when retrofitting standard recessed fixtures.

There are a few reasons you may choose this over the standard trim and light bulb type, the most common being their attractive “sealed” appearance.

Another reason is code. As energy restrictions become stricter, most local ordinances have some sort of criteria that the lighting must meet in terms of efficiency. One way they enforce this is by disallowing screw based fixtures altogether, and only allow high-efficacy plug fixtures for LED or fluorescent lights.

Regardless of type, you’ll mostly find 5-inch and 6-inch lights used for general lighting in residential homes. Smaller 4-inch lights can be used for task and accent lighting, and in some cases general lighting for small rooms.


2. How many lights?

It’s common to assume that the brighter the lights are, the fewer you’ll need. However, it’s not the brightness of lights that makes for great lighting. It’s actually the spacing of the lights that makes all the difference. Too few lights spread across a room will leave dark spots between them. Too many lights and well, it will look like too many lights!

Most often you will need enough lights to space them 40″- 80″ apart depending on factors such as room dimensions, ceiling height, luminaire beam angle, and work plane height. This can be calculated using basic trigonometry, however I’ve created a calculator on this page to make it easy.


3. How would you like to control the lights?

Think about how you will use the lights in the room. Here are some questions to ask yourself followed by my recommendations:

Should they all turn on together with one switch, or would it be beneficial to be able to control some of them separately? In larger rooms that use six or more lights, it may be practical to separate the lights into more than one zone. For example, in a master bedroom, you could have the lights above the bed on a separate switch for reading in bed without having to light the entire room.

Do you want a dimmer switch so that you can control the brightness? I recommend dimmers everywhere. It is a relatively inexpensive way to have total control over the lighting in a room.

Where will the controls be located? In most cases, the controls should be located where you enter and leave the room. If the room has more than one point of entry, install controls at each location whenever feasible. You don’t want to have to walk across a dark room to turn on the lights – it kind of defeats the purpose of the lighting.



How to Use a Light Bulb Changer for Tall Ceilings

Light bulb changer for recessed lights

Replace light bulbs from the floor…
Light Bulb Changer

This light bulb changer is the solution to that very common concern from homeowners who have recessed lighting installed in their tall ceilings (typically in their entry, living rooms, and over their stairs).


The kit comes with an 11-foot telescoping pole and several adapters to change most types of light bulbs in recessed lights. This should be adequate for ceiling heights up to 16-feet.

If your ceiling is taller than 16 feet, you can stand on a ladder to get a few extra feet of height. There is also an extension pole available if needed.

Here are a few tips.

When using the changer, keep the pole as steady as possible to prevent breaking the light bulb off at its base inside the fixture.

Also, if you’re using the suction-cup tip, don’t forget to attach the release string. You need it to release the suction cup from the light bulb once you’ve screwed it in.

Most home improvement stores including Home Depot and Lowes carry the light bulb changer. Here’s one on Amazon.

Have a comment or question? Leave it in the box below and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.

How to Choose LED Light Bulbs for Home

BR30 LED lights for Home

BR30 LED lights for HomeIf you are considering replacing incandescent light bulbs with LED light bulbs, you’re not alone. Millions of homeowners will be making the switch to LEDs over the next few years.

Most LED bulbs are energy efficient and last many years, but they’re not all created equal in the other areas that count.

In this post I will explain how to choose LED light bulbs for home that, in addition to being energy efficient and long-lasting, are as good or better in brightness, light color, and appearance as the incandescent light bulbs they replace.



Traditionally, when you think of the brightness of a light bulb, you probably think in terms of watts. For example, a 100-watt light bulb is brighter than a 65-watt light bulb. And when comparing the same types of light bulbs, that’s likely true.

However, when comparing a standard incandescent light bulb to an energy efficient LED bulb, using watts as a measure of brightness no longer works. This is because LED light bulbs produce much more light per watt of energy used. Some LED bulbs can produce as much light as a 100-watt standard light bulb while only consuming 15-watts of energy.

So how can we compare the brightness of two types of light bulbs if not by watts?

The answer is lumens, which in simple terms is a unit of measurement for how much light is contained in an area.

So how can we find out how many lumens a light bulb produces?

Enter the new Lighting Facts label…

The New Lighting Facts Label

Lighting Facts label
(Click to Enlarge)

In an effort to shift comparing a light bulb’s brightness and efficiency from watts to lumens, the Federal Trade Commission has introduced the new Lighting Facts label.

This standardized label lists the performance specifications of a light bulb and is now a requirement on all light bulb packaging (very similar to the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods).

Most recessed lights use a BR30 65-watt light bulb. On average, these light bulbs produce about 600 Lumens. So when looking for a LED equivalent, look for one that has a light output of 600 or more.


Color Temperature

Color Temperature (Light Color) is the measurement of the color of light expressed in Kelvins (K). The lower the number, the “warmer” the color of light.

A standard incandescent light bulb has a color temperature of about 2700 Kelvin. LED bulbs are available in a wide range of color temperatures that range from 2700K to 5000K. For residential applications, I recommend staying below 3500K. When you get above 3500K, it can make a room feel stark and cold.


Color Rendering Index (CRI)

CRI represents a light’s ability of to display colors correctly in comparison with a natural light source. Think of it as the quality of the light. Incandescent lights have the highest possible score which is 100. Anything above 90 is considered excellent.


Light Bulb Appearance

As the LED light bulb market evolves, I have seen some really futuristic light bulbs on the shelves of Home Depot and Lowes.

led light bulbs for home

Personally, the last think I want to see in a recessed light is a light bulb that belongs on a space ship. Here is an example of great LED light bulbs are as similar to a standard incandescent light bulb’s appearance as possible. They have a nice frosted cover on them that, once installed, makes them almost impossible to tell the difference between them and the incandescent bulb they’ve replaced.


Have a comment or question about LED light bulbs for your home? Just leave it in the box below and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.

Kitchen Soffit Lighting with Recessed Lights

Kitchen Soffit LightingKitchen Soffit Lighting with recessed lights is a great look that’s popular in updated homes.

Many homes built during the 70’s and 80’s came with soffits built in to the kitchen ceiling. They usually housed fluorescent tube fixtures that were covered by plastic lenses.

A popular update to this type of lighting is to remove the old fluorescent lighting and install recessed lighting inside the ceiling of the soffit. This is a great look, especially when it is finished off with crown moulding.

If you are considering this type of retrofit, there are a few things you need to take into consideration:


  • Kitchen soffit lightingThe inside of the soffit will need to be resurfaced by a drywall professional and then painted. You have to remember that  the inside of the soffit was never meant to be seen, so it was usually only taped and not textured like the rest of your kitchen ceiling.In the picture to the right, we have installed crown moulding inside the soffit, and then coated and re-textured the entire ceiling.


  • LED lighting is highly recommended, and required by code in most areas. Use lights with wide beam angles (>50-deg.) for the general lighting  when possible.


  • Depending on the size of your soffit opening in relation to your kitchen, you may need to install some additional recessed lights around the perimeter of the soffit directly over your work areas for task lighting. Remember that the light coming out of the original fluorescent tubes is omnidirectional and diffused well by the plastic lenses.
    On the other hand, the light coming out of a recessed light fixture is directional. So as you can imagine, if you only install recessed lights in the center of your kitchen soffit, you may end up with a bright floor and dark counter tops (where you need the light the most).


Although the open soffit look is great, it’s not for everyone…

Another option is to frame and patch over the soffit opening, and then install recessed lighting. This may seem a bit boring, but in reality it is actually a more modern look because it is how new homes are being built.Kitchen soffit lightingThe process for patching the kitchen soffit includes:

  1. Removing the existing fluorescent lighting.
  2. Framing the soffit opening.
  3. Attaching drywall to the framing.
  4. Taping the new drywall and texturing the entire ceiling.
  5. Installing the new recessed kitchen lights.
  6. Painting the ceiling.




Have a comment or question about kitchen soffit lighting? Leave it in the box below and I’ll do my best to answer it for you!