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LED vs CFL: Which Grow Lights Are Better?

Last updated: May 30, 2020

LED vs CFL

As an indoor grower, the lights you use are arguably your most important investment. They will be providing the ‘sun’ your plants need for optimum growth. The lights you choose to invest in, will dramatically affect both yields, and electricity consumption.

So the question every new grower wants to know is, which lights are the best? Both LED and CFL lights have their pros and cons, and the question has a lot of factors to be addressed in order to be adequately answered. Every grow situation is unique, every growers needs are unique, and the lights that are right for you depend on a few factors, including:

  • Your budget (long-term/short-term affordability, electricity expense)
  • Level of expertise (beginner or experienced)
  • Grow room size (one plant in your cupboard or commercial grow)
  • Goals (are you germinating seeds, growing clones, flowering?)

Here, we will analyze both types of lighting and have a close look at each light’s Pros and Cons.

LED Lights

LED stands for “Light Emitting Diode”. These lights are well known for being extremely power-efficient and for giving off very little heat. Up until recently, LEDs were not really an option for indoor growers; they simply weren’t powerful enough. But now with improved technology, LED lights have been optimized specifically for indoor grow usage, and their popularity has soared amongst growers. They have become popular for good reason, as they have distinct advantages over CFLs.

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Efficiency

LED lights are far more energy efficient than CFL lights, in terms of the simple math of converting energy usage into useable light for you precious plants. So, for the same amount of electricity usage as CFLs, your yields will be significantly higher. This is good for your pocket, and great for the environment, too. Your grow lights can be operating for up to 12 hours a day, and so the less power your lights draw, the more your utility bill gets spared.

Light Spectrum

Full-spectrum LED lights will provide light delivery across the full spectrum of visible light, just like the sun does. Plants need the full range of light spectrums from red, blue, infrared, and violet in order to grow optimally. A full spectrum LED lives up to its name by mimicking sunlight and providing the light spectrums needed by your plants to ensure maximum growth.

Temperature

Because LEDs operate at a cooler temperature and work using tiny “diodes” instead of traditional globes or tubes, they can last up to 50,000 hours or more, making them far superior than CFLs from a longevity standpoint. This also reduces the need for additional grow room cooling with extractor fans, less likelihood of ‘burning’ plants, and fire-hazard reduction. They can also be used effectively in a smaller room, provided there is enough height.

Cost

As with any type of artificial lights, there are distinct disadvantages to LED, too. LED lights are a big upfront investment as they are far more expensive than CFL, and this is what puts many growers off. Even though the maths shows that in the long-term LEDs will save you money over CFLs, growers on a budget are often put off by the initial cost outlay.

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Other Factors to Consider

CFLs are generally standardized across manufactures, making it easier to compare and choose products. With effective LEDs being fairly new to the indoor cannabis market, there is a lack of standardization and it can be difficult to know exactly what you are buying. However, this will likely change in the near future.

While LEDs are much cooler and make heat burn very unlikely, light burn is a very real possibility. LEDs placed too close to your plants will cause the leaves to curl and turn white, and the plant will lose both its aroma and potency. This will eventually cause bleached flowers, which no grower wants. While this is an easily mitigated problem, if you have a smaller room this can become a real issue. In light of this risk, LED lights are not suited for small rooms unless there is adequate height.

LED Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Power efficiency
  • Light spectrum
  • Long lifespan
  • Low temperature
Cons
  • Cost
  • New to the growing market
  • Light burn risk
  • Not good for smaller grows

Should You Buy LED lights?

LED lights are a great choice if you have the initial capital, want to keep utility costs low, grow in a place where heat is an issue, and have long-term goals for your grow room. Although they are pricey, the investment is well worth it in the long run, as your lights will last longer, save you money on electricity, and increase your yields.

CFL Lights

CFL stands for “Compact Florescent Lighting”, and are a common choice amongst veteran growers. These lights are especially suited for sprouting seeds and growing up clones. If you are a grower with limited space and a limited budget, CFLs low initial cost outlay allow for a low-risk, toe-dipping into indoor growing. They come in both standard spiral bulbs, and T5 tube bulbs.

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Cost

CFL lights are very affordable and widely available, making them an easy point-of-entry for interested growers who are on a tight budget.  Although they create more heat than LEDs, its likely not enough to have to spend additional money installing extractor fans to cool your grow room. CFL’s are not as power efficient as LEDs, but are still fairly light on consumption.

Convenience

Another great advantage to CFLs is they allow you to have a very simple small setup in a tight space, so you can experiment with techniques without forking out too much money. They have the unique advantage of being able to get close to your cannabis plants without burning them, which makes them perfect for ‘closet’ grows. Because of their low-heat intensity, CFLs are great for seed germination, rooting clones, and small plants in a vegetative state.

Efficiency

A major disadvantage to CFL lights is they have significantly less power output than LED’s, which means an overall slower growth rate, and less than ideal yield. You will likely need more lights, and thus more electricity. Because they need to be placed fairly close to your cannabis plants, you will need to constantly adjust and raise them as your plants grow taller, increasing labour and taking up time. There will also be the additional cost of installing an effective system to raise and lower them.

CFL Pros and cons

Pros
  • Low cost
  • Widely available
  • Great for small spaces
  • Great for seedlings and clones
Cons
  • Power output
  • Need constant monitoring and adjustment
  • Not optimal for larger grows

Should You Buy CFL Lights?

CFL’s will not perform as well in a big grow room situation as LED’s, as you will need a lot more of them to get adequate power for growing. This will consume more electricity, drastically rising your utility bill. They also need constant adjustment as the plants grow taller, which is easily manageable on a small scale, but for a bigger grow requires far more additional work.

If you are a grower on a budget, are wanting to test the indoor cannabis waters before diving in, or are limited on space and specifically want to grow smaller plants, CFL’s are the lights for you.

Conclusion

So, which grow lights are better? The answer comes down to what you, the grower, need and expect from them. Are you an experienced grower looking to up your yield, or completely new to indoor cannabis cultivation? Do you have a large budget to kick start your grow room, or are you needing to slowly start up. Some other questions to consider are; the size of your growing space, if your grow is a long-term plan, and how complex your grow will be.

All in all, LED lights are the better option, offering faster growth rates, higher yields, and less power consumption. However, CFL’s still have a place in the market and are a definite consideration if you’re limited on funds and still getting started in the cannabis growing world.

Featured Image Credit: VIVOSUN, Amazon