When it comes to energy efficiency, not all light bulbs are created equally. Many of you have probably stood in the bulb aisle at the hardware store or superstore and felt an overwhelming sense of confusion by all of the options. Don’t worry; you’re not alone.
Light bulb technology has seen a boom in the last decade or so, which has left many consumers in the dark (pun intended) regarding which option is best for them.
To help alleviate some of the confusion, we’ve put together a quick light bulb 101 guide, which outlines the differences, pros and cons of each.
The four basic light bulb categories for interior lighting are Incandescent, Fluorescent, Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) and Halogen.
Incandescent bulbs are the standard bulbs that most people are familiar with, the bulb that most lamps require and typically the most inexpensive option. Only 10% of the electricity flowing to the bulb actually produces light. The other 90% is lost as heat. These bulbs are popular because they are inexpensive and have excellent color rendering abilities.
Pros: They produce a warm and steady light that complements skin tones. They can be used with a dimmer. They come in a large variety of colors, shapes and sizes.
Cons: They are not as energy-efficient as some of the other options. Although they can last for 700-1,000 hours, other bulb options far outweigh this feature. Incandescent bulbs are the most inefficient source of lighting available.
Halogen bulbs provide the closest approximation to natural daylight, known as “white light”. These bulbs come in various shapes and sizes and are very energy efficient – they generate up to 30% more light and last longer than incandescent light bulbs. Halogen bulbs are a variation of incandescent bulb technology. They work by passing electricity through a tungsten filament, which is enclosed in a tube containing halogen gas. In order for the chemical reaction to take place, the filament needs to be hotter than what is needed for incandescent bulbs. Thus, the bulbs need to be constructed of a thicker, but smaller glass which then translates to a higher cost. Due to the smaller glass bulb, the halogen bulb gets quite a bit hotter than other bulbs. A 300 watt bulb can reach more than 572°F.
Pros: Pure, white light. Produce more light than incandescent, which make them great for general lighting.
Cons: More expensive than incandescent. Attention must be paid to where halogen bulbs are used, so that they don’t accidentally come in contact with flammable materials. Care must be taken not to touch the glass part of the bulb with fingers. The oils from fingers weaken the glass and shorten the bulb’s lifespan. Many times this causes the bulb to burst when the filament finally burns out. Thus, always use a clean rag when handling halogen bulbs.
Compact Fluorescent Lamps
Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) are the most energy efficient of all light bulbs. They actually use 67% less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last longer – some up to 10,000 hours!). Most CFLs either consist of a number of short glass sticks, or two or three small tubular loops.
One of the most confusing things when choosing a CFL is understanding the wattage and how it compares to an incandescent bulb, which most sockets continue to list. Here’s a quick breakdown:
Incandescent Bulb CFL Bulb
40 Watts 7–10 Watts
60 Watts 15-18 Watts
75 Watts 20 Watts
100 Watts 20-25 Watts
150 Watts 32 Watts
Pros: They use less wattage than incandescent, thus improving energy efficiency.
Cons: They are more expensive than incandescent. But, because their life span is typically six times longer than an incandescent bulb they are without question an economically smart choice. CFLs contain small amounts of mercury and therefore cannot be tossed out in your trash like other bulbs. Instead, contact Lightbulbrecycling.com or Earth 911 to find CFL recycling availability.
Long considered the ugly stepsister of lighting, Fluorescent bulbs have moved beyond the notion of producing cold, clinical light. There are many choices today that produce warm hues that will do a wonderful job lighting your home (or office). Fluorescent bulbs generally produce more light per watt and have a longer lamp life than incandescents. If your home or office environment requires you to spend many hours in front of a computer, Fluorescent lighting may not be the best option as it is often associated with helping contribute to eye strain.
Pros: Great for lighting entire rooms. Very energy efficient.
Cons: Fluorescent bulbs typically come in a linear format so they are not used in most home decor lighting, but there are circular and u-shaped options as well. Color has been an issue for fluorescents bulbs in the past but now there are more options for varying indoor lighting needs (i.e. black lighting, sunlight, cool white, soft white, natural color).
Of course, always make sure to observe the wattage requirements for any socket you are selecting a bulb.