The Easiest Money You’ll Ever Save: CFLs

I was talking to a relative recently and happened to mention we used some LED under-cabinet lighting when we remodeled our kitchen, and have replaced every incandescent bulb with CFLs. My jaw dropped when they said they still have no CFLs and use incandescents.

I tend to be an early adopter of technology and especially relatively cheap green technology. So when CFLs first came out and they were touting their energy savings, I ran out a bought a handful of them. I used them, but not without quite a bit of complaining from family members who dropped by. They had to warm up, they looked blue and washed out the rooms they were in. Here’s the problem: everyone thought that’s just how CFLs (or compact fluorescent lights) were, and they swore not to use them. I heard every once in a while they had made an advance and now they were just as good as incandescents. Well I can tell you that is definitely the case now. There’s too many advantages not to run out and swap out (virtually) your whole house with them.

First, let me extoll the virtues of these lights, and below I’ll list the caveats to be aware of when buying them.

It’s Like Free Money, People!

The standard incandescent light is 60 watts, while the equivalent for CFLs is 13-14 watts. I googled around for some numbers and found that the average home uses 940 kWh a month, the average price for electricity is 11.72 cents / kWh, the average bulb is on 3.13 hours/day, and that typically lighting makes up for 10-25% of an electric bill. Using those figures we can actually guess at the average number of light bulbs in a house, and I get between 33 and 41 when I do the math.

Let’s do some math and figure out how switching from 60 watt incandescents to 13 watt CFLs would look:

We’ll assume 35 light bulbs running an average of 3.13 hours a day, or 93.9 hours a month.


60 watts / bulb * 35 bulbs * 93.9 hours = 197.19 kWh / month

197.19 kWh * $0.1172 / kWh = $23.11 / month


13 watts / bulb * 35 bulbs * 93.9 hours = 42.7245 kWh / month

42.7245 kWh * $0.1172 / kWh = $5.01 / month


So we’re looking at $23.11 – $5.01 = $18.10 in savings per month for switching! And that’s not even taking the increased lifetime into account. Comparing prices on Amazon, I found the per-bulb cost for a 24-pack of incandescents and an 8-pack of CFLs as well as their lifetime rating:

$0.50 / bulb for incandescent, 1000 hour lifetime

$1.37 / bulb for CFL, 8000 hour lifetime = $0.17 per 1000 hours



If you’d like to see the difference in your monthly bill, here’s a calculator I whipped up where you can plug in your own numbers:

Bulbs: Electricity cost (cents / kWh):

Average hours / day:




The problem is that people still may be running out and grabbing “natural” or “daylight” bulbs. Incandescents just kind of came in different wattages, but not really different hues (though they do offer some now). If you’d like to keep the nice shade of light that incandescents throw off, look for Warm White, Soft White or 2700K lights.


You cannot typically use CFLs with “old” dimmers. There are CFLs labelled “dimmable” that work in some cases. But really you should be ready to switch over to using dimmers that work with CFL and LED bulbs. Lutron seems to be the biggest name and most reliable company to make these special CFL and LED dimmers.

3-way bulbs

If you have a three way lamp (where each turn of the know ups the bulb to a higher wattage), typically of the 50-, 100-, 150-watt variety you’ll need to find a 3-way CFL bulb, and they can be tricky to locate. I had to grab some Soft White 3-way CFLs off of Amazon. Please be aware that these bulbs will be larger than 3-way incandescents were, which raised an issue with some of our lamps and lamp shades. For a couple, the bulbs actually stick up out of the top of the shade, while on another there’s not enough clearance horizontally around the bulb to fit one in.


If you’re looking for some more reading on CFLs, there’s a good primer at

2 thoughts on “The Easiest Money You’ll Ever Save: CFLs

  1. Pingback: LED bulbs: Are They Worth It? | Big Day ComingBig Day Coming

  2. great post! I appreciate the calculator. It really helps drive home how much you can save making the switch, even with the extra expense for the initial purchase.
    You mentioned the problem you were having with the larger 3-way CFL bulbs and your lampshade. You can buy a new harp (the part that connects the shade to the socket) for around $4-6 depending on where you go. If you have a lighting store in your area, i recommend bringing the whole lamp in and they can fit you with a new harp.

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