You may think buying light bulbs get more complicated every day. Even  home improvement store employee Samantha Supplee thinks so — snd she’s a light bulb specialist.

“We have an entire aisle dedicated to straight light bulbs. There’s so many choices. So many different sizes, so many different shapes. I mean, everything,” Supplee says.

Supplee says people come into her home improvement store with questions all the time. Supplee says she does see more people buying energy-efficient lighting.

There are the compact fluorescents – those pigs tail looking lights. The LEDs – they look a little more traditional, but many have cooling “fins” on the side. And then there are the usual incandescent lights.

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have analyzed each of these options. They’ve studied the entire lifecycle of LED, compact fluorescent (CFL), and incandescent bulbs. The study took into account everything from the mining resources  used to make the bulbs to the environmental impact of their disposal.

The study projects that in the next five years the technology to make LED light bulbs more efficient will dramatically improve. That’s while compact fluorescent light bulbs, an older technology, remain pretty much the same, says Marc Ledbetter, a manager of emerging technologies at the lab.

“The LED lamps are a very new technology, and so they are improving very, very rapidly. Every year, you can go into the store and find lamps that are significantly improved over the lamps that were available last year,” Ledbetter says.

But don’t go throwing away your compact fluorescent bulbs just yet. Ledbetter says the technology currently on the market is similar. And disposing the CFL bulbs creates waste.

“If it’s working, and it’s working well, it’s best to let that lamp operate until it no longer works, and then replace it with an LED product,” Ledbetter says. “However, the same cannot be said of incandescent lamps.”

One of the trade-offs between LED and CFL bulbs: currently LEDs are more expensive. They can cost $20 to $50 for a light bulb, but they will last about 20 years. That’s compared to CFLs that cost around $10 and are designed to last about 10 years.

Because 20 percent of the nation’s energy use comes from lighting, Ledbetter says, it’s important to understand the different options available.

Ledbetter says right now LEDs work better in directional lighting, like a recessed light, while compact fluorescent lights work better in omnidirectional uses, like a desk lamp.

He says his own lighting choices vary at home because one type of light does not work for every situation.

“I have some LED lamps. I have a number of compact fluorescent lamps, and I also have a number of incandescent lamps. … I need an omnidirectional lamp in my closet, and the thing is hardly ever on. So I use an incandescent lamp, not a compact fluorescent,” Ledbetter says.

Next, researchers will analyze the chemicals found in all three light bulbs and if they meet waste disposal regulations.

By Courtney Flatt