Cheap Light Bulbs
Published on By Elizabeth Sheer
Philips 13-Watt Energy Saver Soft White CFL Review
From $1.25 Best
These 60-watt-equivalent light bulbs seem almost immune to common gripes about CFLs. Reviewers say the bulbs cast sufficient light immediately and fully brighten in short order. The small size suits fixtures where other CFLs would protrude from under a shade.
These light bulbs abound with advantages over other low-cost CFLs -- not to mention incandescents, according to Philips Energy Saver Mini Twister reviews. A consumer points out on Amazon that the 13-watt bulbs are somewhat shorter than the usual spiral shape, so they aren't visible atop his table lamps. These are T2 light bulbs with thinner tubing than the usual T3 bulbs, which makes them ideal for tight places where other CFLs might not fit. The manufacturer warns, however, that (like most CFLs) they should not be used in recessed or enclosed indoor fixtures; that can shorten their lifespan.
Philips 13-Watt Energy Saver Mini Twister Soft White CFLs (starting at $1.25, or $4.98 for a four-pack) have a brightness of 840 lumens (up to 900 depending on the model). That's fairly high up the scale for a 60-watt replacement and pleases Home Depot customers who are used to CFLs being dimmer. These are quite bright enough to read by, Amazon reviewers agree. And yet, the light they emit is soft and warm. The color temperature is 2,700 Kelvin, the warmest end of the spectrum, where the incandescent bulb resides. Philips 13-Watt Energy Saver Mini Twister CFLs also come in warm white and daylight in addition to soft white, as well as a variety of wattages and bulb bases.
Like most CFL bulbs, these don't come to full brightness instantly, but they have proved among the fastest for their type in testing by outlets such as the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. Experts there also identified Philips 13-Watt Energy Saver Mini Twister Soft White CFLs as more efficient than others. As for longevity, Philips claims that these Energy Star-rated bulbs will last 12,000 hours with normal use, or 11 years. The company offers a warranty to guarantee they will be free from defect for that period, if they are used as directed (three hours a day, seven days a week).
Where to buy
Great Value 14-Watt Soft White CFL Review
From $1.22 Good
Walmart's house brand light bulbs have earned the recommendation of experts on the strength of bright, evenly distributed light. They create a warm, yellow glow that closely resembles the light from an incandescent bulb.
Consumers cite low cost as a primary draw in Walmart Great Value CFL reviews. These 14-watt light bulbs (starting at $1.22, or $4.88 for a four-pack, Amazon) are true to their name at full price and have been discounted to only 88 cents for the four-pack in some locales. But these house-brand bulbs are more than just cheap, according to experts. Product-testing organizations including the Good Housekeeping Research Institute have identified this light bulb as their top pick for consumers on a budget.
The brightness is 900 lumens -- fairly high for a 60-watt replacement bulb -- which should provide enough light to satisfy consumers who generally find CFL bulbs too dim. Like most "soft white" light bulbs, these have a color temperature of 2,700 Kelvin, which means they are on the low end of the color scale. Reviewers describe the light as a warm yellow. (A "daylight" version is also available.) Like all CFLs, these light bulbs take a bit of time to come to full brightness, but Great Value CFL reviews indicate that the warm-up period is very short -- 26 seconds in one expert test.
Great Value 14-Watt Soft White CFLs are Energy Star-rated and have an expected life span of nine years or 10,000 hours. The lone negative review among the handful on the Walmart website, as well as several reviews of the "daylight" version, assert that the bulbs' longevity is far less than advertised. On the other hand, another Walmart reviewer has successfully used the daylight variant for eight months outside, where CFLs are notorious for performing badly.
At such a low price -- especially if you catch a sale -- these bulbs are certainly worth a try. Expert recommendations lend them a decisive vote of confidence.
Where to buy
GE Energy Smart 13-Watt CFL Review
From $1.45 Good
In reviews, consumers describe a pleasing light that isn't blue or harsh. Although some say the lifespan is on the short side, most are happy to have the classic yellowish light they're used to at a reasonable price and appreciate the savings in energy costs.
One favorite attribute cited in GE Energy Smart CFL reviews: These 13-watt light bulbs don't flicker as they come on and take very little warm-up time. Some users posting on Amazon refer to the light bulbs as "instant-on," whereas other CFLs take a few minutes to fully turn on. A reviewer who tested the GE Energy Smart 13-Watt CFL (starting at $1.45, or $12 for an eight-pack, Amazon) for Apartment Therapy observes that it started out dimmer but ultimately lit the space better than an equivalent incandescent light bulb.
These Energy Star-rated bulbs are 60-watt replacements that light up just as brightly as their incandescent cousins, which some reviewers found quite surprising. The listed brightness is 825 lumens. At 2,700 Kelvin on the color temperature, GE Energy Smart 13-Watt CFLs emit a pleasing "soft white" glow. Reviewers say it isn't harsh or blue, like the light from fluorescents of old.
Some GE Energy Smart CFL reviews report issues fitting these light bulbs into ceiling fans and other enclosed fixtures. Users note that the bulbs can overheat and burn out in such settings, lasting only a few months instead of the five years the manufacturer claims. Consumers should use CFLs in enclosed or dimmable fixtures only if the manufacturer specifically gives a green light on the front of the package. Expert testers at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute also warn that turning the light on and off frequently, instead of leaving it on for long periods, can shorten the lifespan of GE Energy Smart 13-Watt CFLs -- more so than other bulbs. Still, other reviewers assert that as long as you don't use these bulbs in situations they're not designed for, they work fine and present no issues with longevity. They come with a one-year manufacturer's warranty.
EcoSmart 14-Watt Soft White CFL Review
From $1.24 Think Twice
These bulbs light up quickly and brightly and have a warm, yellow tone. Like other CFLs, they claim to have a long life span of 10,000 hours, or more than nine years when used three hours per day. However, many users have seen the bulbs burn out far more quickly -- sometimes within days.
These super-cheap light bulbs (starting at $1.24, or $5 for a four-pack, Amazon) promise a lifespan of more than nine years, based on usage of three hours a day, but many EcoSmart 14-Watt Soft White CFL reviews at Home Depot and elsewhere counter that those estimates don't hold up. Customers report a high failure rate -- two out of a pack of four within a week, for example -- and accuse the manufacturer of poor quality control. EcoSmart 14-Watt Soft White CFLs come with a nine-year warranty, but some reviewers have had no luck getting the manufacturer to honor it.
Many other users are satisfied, judging by EcoSmart 14-Watt Soft White CFL reviews. They've seen significantly lower electric bills after switching from 60-watt bulbs and consider the light soft and warm -- very similar to the incandescent light they're used to. The color temperature is 2,700 Kelvin, on the yellow end of the color scale, which creates a warm and pleasing atmosphere. There are no indications of buzzing, humming, or flickering, which used to be associated with older fluorescent lights.
EcoSmart 14-Watt Soft White CFLs turn on immediately, but they do take time to come to full brightness. Good Housekeeping testers recorded a warm-up period of more than two minutes. The manufacturer identifies these CFLs as suitable for outdoor lighting fixtures and enclosed ones, so they can be used in sconces, ceiling-mounted fixtures, and porch lights in addition to table lamps. When fully lit up, they register 900 lumens -- very bright for a 60-watt replacement.
This brand also makes 60-watt equivalent CFLs in a "daylight" color of 5,000 Kelvin. The EcoSmart 14-Watt Daylight CFLs don't seem to have the longevity issues that dog their soft-white siblings and get much better reviews overall. Consumers who prefer low-temperature light, however, should look elsewhere.
Where to buy
For years now, frugal consumers looking for cheap light bulbs have weighed the lower initial cost of incandescent bulbs against the long-term savings of energy-efficient options. Now the choice is largely moot: As of January 1, 2014, manufacturers are no longer producing traditional incandescents. Efficiency standards set by the U.S. government in 2007 effectively phased out 100-watt incandescent bulbs first, followed by 75-watt bulbs; 60- and 40-watt bulbs just recently got the boot, although some linger on store shelves (and there are certain exceptions). Plenty of consumers lament the loss of incandescent bulbs, which often cost 50 cents or less, and some devotees have hoarded the cheap light bulbs. However, Cheapism found that the best cheap compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, don't cost much more.
Cheap Light Bulbs Buying Guide
CFLs produce the same amount of light as the old incandescent bulbs at a lower wattage, which saves on electricity, and they last longer, which saves on the cost of replacements. They carry labels such as "60-watt equivalent" or "40-watt equivalent" for the sake of comparison to incandescents. We focused our search on replacements for 60-watt incandescent bulbs, one of the most common and most recently phased-out varieties. The winning candidate: The Philips 13-Watt Energy Saver Mini Twister Soft White CFL (starting at $1.25, or $4.98 for a four-pack), which stands out for casting bright light quickly and for its compact size. Walmart's Great Value 14-Watt Soft White CFL (starting at $1.22, or $4.88 for a four-pack) has emerged from expert testing as a top recommendation among cheap light bulbs, with high marks for brightness and quality of light. GE Energy Smart 13-Watt CFL bulbs (starting at $1.45 each, or $12 for an eight-pack) also curry favor with consumers, giving off a pleasant glow that's similar to the light produced by an incandescent bulb. EcoSmart 14-Watt Soft White CFLs (starting at $1.24, or $5 for a four-pack) likewise cast a bright, warm, and inviting light. However, consumers may want to steer clear, because these light bulbs don't last as long as advertised, reviews say.
These are all general-purpose CFL bulbs with medium bases and that distinctive spiral shape. Some CFLs look a lot like the old standards, with a dome cover that diffuses the light, giving it softer tone, and they also come in globe and candelabra shapes. Those are less common and tend to be a lot more expensive than the curlicue models, though. It's also possible to find CFLs that can be used with a dimmer switch or in a three-way socket, but again, they cost more.
Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
What We Looked For in the Specs
Energy Star Certification.The blue Energy Star label certifies that a light bulb saves energy while maintaining a high quality of light. Incandescent light bulbs are remarkably inefficient: 90 percent of the energy they consume turns into heat -- the light is almost an afterthought. (We read one review from a consumer who prefers incandescent bulbs for reading lamps specifically because they heat up a chilly bedroom.) The Energy Star website asserts that certified bulbs use 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescents. That's well above and beyond what's required under the new federal standards, which permit light bulbs that are only 25 percent more efficient. Factoring in the longer lifespan, each CFL bulb yields savings of $40 over its lifetime, according to Energy Star estimates, and quickly pays for itself. Look for rebates from Energy Star partners, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, and light bulb manufacturers to save even more.
At Least 800 Lumens.Amid the switch away from incandescent bulbs, there are some changes afoot in light bulb labeling. Now that wattage no longer corresponds to light output (a 13- or 14-watt CFL is as bright as a 60-watt incandescent), the industry has moved toward lumens to measure a light bulb's brightness. A 100-watt incandescent light bulb produces about 1,600 lumens, a 75-watt bulb about 1,100 lumens, a 60-watt bulb about 800 lumens, and a 40-watt bulb about 450 lumens. Those are also the minimum levels required for Energy Star certification. To ensure that our choices for the best cheap light bulbs would be bright enough to stand in for 60-watt incandescents, we chose CFL bulbs that generate at least 800 lumens. The Great Value 14-Watt Soft White CFLs are especially bright, at 900 lumens.
Low Color Temperature.Many people are concerned with the quality of light from CFLs, which have a reputation for appearing harsh compared with the soft, yellowy glow of an incandescent. Ironically, that warm glow is associated with a low color temperature in the range of 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin. Light bulbs with higher color temperatures give off whiter or bluer light. A color temperature of 5,000K to 6,500K mimics daylight; you may see that indicated on the packaging.
We've chosen light bulbs designed to replicate the low-temperature light consumers are used to from years of incandescents, but color temperature is ultimately a matter of preference. The EcoSmart 14-watt light bulbs also come in a daylight version with a color temperature of 5,000K. They have a higher price tag than the soft white (starting at $2.24, or $8.97 for a four-pack) but earn much better reviews. You may favor different bulbs for different applications: higher color temperature for reading lights, lower for living room lamps, somewhere in the middle for a bathroom or a work space in the basement. Ask about return policies and save the receipt in case you don't like what you see when you install the light bulb.
CRI of at Least 80.CRI stands for Color Rendering Index, which measures how accurately colors show up under the light -- another reputational weakness of CFL bulbs. The closer this number is to 100, the closer the light approximates the performance of an incandescent light bulb. Experts recommend a CRI of no less than 80 for indoor use. They also note that consumers should use CRI to compare bulbs with the same color temperature.
Light Bulb Reviews
What pleases people the most about using compact fluorescents, according to light bulb reviews, is the savings in energy costs. That alone isn't enough, though. Consumers expect a bulb that doesn't flicker, buzz, or hum and can be used anywhere a standard incandescent light bulb can go. It should emit a pleasing light that is as bright as the incandescent bulb it replaces. The package will tell you how long a CFL bulb is supposed to last -- usually at least 8,000 hours. We looked to light bulb reviews for assurance that the products we chose would actually last as long as advertised. After all, one advantage of a long-lasting CFL is avoiding the expense of replacement bulbs over time.
Bright, Pleasing Light.For the most part, reviewers are happy with the light they get from the CFL bulbs on our list of top picks. It may take a while to get used to one quirk: CFLs don't fully brighten for up to a minute or two (the Energy Star website explains why). For minimal warm-up time, look to the Philips 13-Watt Energy Saver Mini Twister Soft White CFL (starting at $1.25), which took only 21 seconds in one expert test and is often cited in user reviews for lighting up fast. As far as the quality of the light is concerned, many reviewers say the CFL bulbs we chose are indistinguishable from 60-watt incandescent bulbs. In some light bulb reviews, consumers remark that they expected the light to be harsh and express surprise at the pleasant glow.
Longevity.Energy Star-certified CFLs are supposed to last for years -- about 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs. The advertised life of an EcoSmart 14-Watt Soft White CFL (starting at $1.24) is 10,000 hours -- a typical claim. However, light bulb reviews suggest that such numbers are not to be taken at face value. On the Home Depot website, many users warn that the EcoSmart light bubs lasted only a few months, weeks, or even days. Some reviewers conclude that they must have received defective bulbs and report trouble getting the manufacturer to honor the nine-year warranty. Our top pick, the Philips 13-Watt Energy Saver Mini Twister Soft White CFL, is backed by an 11-year warranty, assuming the light bulb is used as directed (three hours per day, seven days a week). Just be sure to hang onto your receipt.
In general, CFL light bulbs work best in situations where they remain on for a period of time, instead of being turned on and off frequently (as in a closet, for example). A consumer who posted a review of the 13-watt GE Energy Smart bulbs (starting at $1.45) on Amazon found out the hard way that not all CFL bulbs are designed for enclosed fixtures. Look for the packaging to specifically say so, or run the risk that the light bulb will overheat, severely shortening the expected lifespan.
Other Light Bulb Types.As we've seen, CFLs have their drawbacks. They don't come to full brightness immediately, they get dim over time, and they don't perform well in cold temperatures. Light bulb reviews often point out that CFLs contain mercury, so they cannot be discarded in the regular trash. (See the EPA website for information on safe disposal.)
Another alternative to incandescent light bulbs is light-emitting-diode or LED bulbs, which are even more efficient and last even longer than CFLs -- about 25,000 hours, or more than 20 years with typical use. They also brighten immediately and can be thrown away without worry. The rub: They generally cost between $10 and $40 each. In general consumers should count themselves lucky to find a 60-watt-equivalent LED for less than $10. Walmart has started selling Great Value-branded LEDs starting at $8.88, but they're too new to properly evaluate, especially where longevity is concerned.
A $10 price tag is a lot less than manufacturers offered only a year ago and allows consumers to come out ahead over the lifetime of the bulb, thanks to the energy savings. The New York Times reports that prices will continue to drop and have already hit the $5 mark in states where utility providers are offering incentives. It should be only a matter of time before you can afford to light the whole house with ultra-efficient LEDs. For consumers who want to pick their spots for the pricey bulbs, experts particularly recommend LEDs for fixtures where bulbs are cumbersome to replace, outdoor lights, and places such as closets and stairways, where you need immediate illumination and/or don't leave the light on for long. As it turns out, a critical favorite in this category, the Cree 60-Watt Replacement Soft White LED, happens to fall on the low end pricewise (starting at $9.97 or less in many parts of the country).
Halogen bulbs are sometimes referred to as "energy-saving incandescent" or "eco-incandescent." They're efficient enough to clear the threshold set by the government in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, although not efficient enough to earn Energy Star certification. Like regular incandescents, they brighten right away, produce warm, familiar light, and contain no mercury. This makes them a popular intermediate step for consumers wary of trading in their incandescent light bulbs. The Philips EcoVantage 43-Watt Soft White Halogen (starting at $1.49, or $5.97 for a four-pack) makes an excellent substitute, according to reviews at Home Depot. Consumers like that it's mercury-free and has the added advantage of being dimmable. Still, a CFL costs about the same up front and saves money in the not-so-long run.
Additional Products We Considered
EcoSmart 14-Watt Daylight CFL Review
EcoSmart 14-Watt Daylight CFL reviews paint a much more positive picture than reviews of this light bulb's soft white relative. The color temperature lies on the blue end of the scale, at 5,000 Kelvin, so you wouldn't want to use these bulbs in a place that calls for a more dimly lit atmosphere, such as a living or dining room. One consumer who posted a review on Amazon favors them for bathrooms, noting that the light is ideal for applying makeup. A reviewer from Alaska appreciates that they give the illusion of natural light, especially when the winter months provide very little.
EcoSmart 14-Watt Daylight CFL reviews at Home Depot give the light bulbs credit for appearing bright right away, particularly among users irritated by the waiting period most CFLs require before coming to full brightness. One reviewer estimates the tune-up time at 15 to 20 seconds. The bulbs emit 800 lumens, but users say the light seems brighter because of its cool tint.
The projected lifespan of the EcoSmart 14-Watt Daylight CFL (starting at $2.24, or $8.97 for a four-pack, Amazon) is 10,000 hours and it has a limited nine-year warranty. Although some reviewers have found that the light bulbs bite the dust prematurely, others note that they must be used under the right circumstances. They are not dimmable and, like any CFLs, will last longer if you leave them on for long periods of time than they will if you turn them on and off a lot.
One of the most important features of any CFL bulb is its efficiency, and quite a few EcoSmart 14-Watt Daylight CFL reviews mention energy savings. One reviewer came out $20 ahead on his electric bill, even after deducting the price of the light bulbs. For whatever reason, reviews suggest that the apparent longevity problem plaguing the soft white EcoSmart bulbs has spared the daylight version. Although we recommend proceeding with caution, this could be a good option for consumers who like their light more white than yellow.
Cree 60-Watt Replacement Soft White LED Review
<p>Cree light bulbs have been billed as the ones to bring LEDs into the mainstream, and Cree LED reviews establish the soft white 60-watt replacement as a critical darling. To generate 800 lumens, the same brightness as a 60-watt incandescent, this Energy Star-rated bulb uses only 9.5 watts of electricity (compared with 13 or 14 for a CFL). A reviewer at <a href="http://reviews.cnet.com/smart-home/cree-60-watt-replacement/4505-9788_7-35833107.html" target="_blank">CNET</a> lauds the efficiency and the expected lifespan of more than 20 years, which combine to make this LED a good value despite the cost (<span class="ad_int"><a href="http://www.shopping.com/Cree-60%96Watt-Replacement-Soft-White-LED/products?linkin_id=8044756" class="sdc_link_internal" target="_blank" rel="nofollow" title="Compare prices on Shopping.com">starting at $9.97 per bulb in many locations</a></span>, <span class="ad_int"><a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BYG7O8A/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00BYG7O8A&linkCode=as2&tag=cheapism_text-20" class="amazon_link_internal" target="_blank" rel="nofollow" title="Buy it from Amazon">Amazon</a></span><img src="http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=cheapism_text-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B00BYG7O8A" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />). The price looks better when you consider that LEDs can command $40 or more per bulb.</p>
<p>On the whole, consumers who have posted Cree LED reviews at <a href="http://www.homedepot.com/p/Cree-60W-Equivalent-Soft-White-2700K-A19-Dimmable-LED-Light-Bulb-BA19-08027OMF-12DE26-2U100/204592770" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Home Depot</a>, the brand's retail partner, seem to agree the price is right. In the opinion of many, the Cree light bulbs make a much more appealing substitute for incandescents than CFLs do. Reviewers say the light is attractive, the brightness sufficient, and the bulbs versatile. They can go indoors or out and pair with dimmable switches, whereas many CFLs can't, although a few users complain about a discernable buzz when the light is dimmed. This soft white bulb is the same 2,700 Kelvin on the color temperature scale as most incandescents, giving it a familiar yellow-ish glow.</p>
<p>A rubberized coating makes this LED shatterproof but also attracts dust, which is hard to remove -- a minor quibble by a reviewer at <a href="http://www.gizmag.com/cree-led-light-bulb-review/27285/s" target="_blank">Gizmag</a>. Otherwise he's yet another in the legion of experts singing Cree's praises. Of course, the big story with all LED bulbs is their extreme longevity. While the jury is still out there because these light bulbs are fairly new, we've seen no complaints among consumers about reduced lifespan or burned-out bulbs. The Cree 60-Watt Replacement Soft White LED comes with a 10-year warranty.</p>
<p>The company produces a number of LEDs in other other styles, wattages, and color spectrum choices. The TW Series features a color rendering index of 93, compared with a CRI of 80 for the light bulb reviewed here, which means it illuminates nearly a full spectrum of colors. It's generally more expensive, though. One other draw for many consumers: These bulbs are manufactured in the USA.</p>
Philips EcoVantage 43-Watt Soft White Halogen Review
As most incandescents go away, halogens remain, and Philips EcoVantage reviews convey gratitude from consumers who feel that alternate technology has yet to equal the tried-and-true incandescent. For many, the Philips EcoVantage 43-Watt Soft White Halogen (starting at $1.49, or $5.97 for a four-pack, Amazon) may be a stopping point on the way to CFLs or even (gasp) LEDs. This halogen light bulb offers some energy savings over a 60-watt incandescent -- enough to meet new federal requirements that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014 -- but it's also not efficient enough to earn an Energy Star rating. It also lasts no longer than a typical incandescent: about 1,000 hours. The brightness is 750 lumens, lower than a comparable Philips 60-watt incandescent or our recommended CFLs. At 2,920 Kelvin, the color temperature is a bit bluer, yet these bulbs still emit a warm light.
Because a halogen bulb is a type of incandescent, the Philips EcoVantage 43-Watt Soft White can be used anyplace the older technology can, including enclosed and dimmable fixtures. Reviewers posting at Home Depot note that there is no discernable hum when lights are dimmed. Many reviewers point to advantages over CFLs: These bulbs produce a good quality of light, they don't contain mercury, and they come up to full brightness immediately.
Although halogen light bulbs appeal to consumers unhappy with CFLs and the new efficiency requirements, they lack one primary attraction of incandescents: the low price. Philips EcoVantage 43-Watt Soft White Halogen light bulbs fall in the same price range as the CFLs on our list of top picks, but the cost won't be made up in energy savings. Meanwhile, the quality of light from CFLs has improved markedly and LEDs continue to drop in price. Reviewers consider the best of those a better value than a halogen like the Philips EcoVantage 43-Watt Soft White.