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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

So, incandescents are getting more efficient, but how do they compare to the other options out there - compact fluorescents and LEDs, or light-emitting diodes? How do they compare in efficiency and cost and in environmental impact? Well, for some answers, we're joined by Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman, who is the deputy home editor at Consumer Reports, and in their October issue, due out tomorrow, they put compact fluorescent bulbs to the test. Welcome to the program.

Ms. CELIA KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN (Deputy Home Editor, Consumer Reports): Thanks very much.

SIEGEL: And let's start with efficiency. How do these new incandescents compare to what you've seen out there from compact fluorescents?

Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN: They're still far less efficient than compact fluorescent bulbs and less efficient than LEDs. And we actually tested one of these hybrid bulbs - a Philips Halogena, which also says it's going to save 30 percent of the energy and it did. The problem is that these bulbs are very expensive. We paid $9 for two bulbs. So, even at 30 percent savings in terms of energy, you're just never go - these bulbs are never going to pay for themselves.

SIEGEL: Well, let's talk cost. Compact fluorescents have come down a lot in price, but are they a better deal than incandescents?

Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN: Yes, they are. Long term, they are a much better deal. They've come down in price quite a bit. We had some of our Consumer Reports best buys are about a $1.50 a bulb. Those can save you $56 over the life of the bulb. And when you think of the fact that the average house has about 40 light bulbs in it roughly, you really can start seeing some significant savings.

SIEGEL: Although I gather the life of the CFL is not quite so long as might have been advertised when they first hit the market.

Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMANP: They're getting much better. And that's one of the things we also found in our test was that the Energy Star bulbs did perform better. So, we're seeing that they are starting to - you know, they're all going to perform and last much longer than an average incandescent bulbs. The incandescent bulbs last about 900 to 1,000 hours and all of the bulbs that we had in our ratings were still burning brightly after 3,000 hours and we keep them going. So, we're going to update that.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMANP: But in our previous tests, we have bulbs that burned for 10,000 hours.

SIEGEL: Now a big downside to compact fluorescents is the issue of toxicity, they contain mercury. And one is warned to never simply throw them away - bad news for folks who buy them hoping that they'll be planet friendly. But, is that a reasonable argument in favor of incandescents or LEDs?

Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMANP: Well, certainly not - I don't think really in favor of incandescents, because you're saving so much electricity and that electricity is being generated often by coal-powered electric plants. And that's dumping a lot of the same pollutants, mercury into the air. The compact fluorescent bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury, five milligrams or less for the Energy Star bulbs. And five milligrams is actually a very small amount. When we test it, most of them actually contain significantly less than the five milligrams. And five milligrams itself is actually the amount you would need to cover the tip of a pen or a pencil.

SIEGEL: Now, here's another criterion for judging light bulbs: aesthetics. Incandescents make great light, you can put them on the dimmer. Can CFLs or LEDs ever come close to that kind of warm light?

Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMANP: Well, CFLs have gotten a lot closer. You have to know how do you find the CFL with that same light quality. And that's one of the things that people do. They confuse brightness with color and light quality. Color, how blue or white or yellow the light is, is actually defined by the temperature of the light. And if you look for a CFL that's 2,700 K, that is pretty close to an incandescent bulb. So, it's just important to look for that number so that you can see that. And a lot of that number is now on the packaging. It's required on the packaging of Energy Star bulbs.

SIEGEL: Well, Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman, deputy home editor of Consumer Reports. Thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN: It was my pleasure.

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SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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