Innovations in technology and household items have made people yearn for the “good ol’ days,” when things were much simpler. Light bulbs, for example, have become an example of a once-easy decision—picking just the right number of watts—into one that involves numerous considerations.
New energy standards have phased out traditional incandescent bulbs. The lighting aisle of stores has become more diverse, with new styles of bulbs showing a wealth of information far beyond the wattage. The good news is that new bulbs provide more choices for consumers in both the type and amount of light produced, while simultaneously reducing energy costs.
In this series we’ll take a look at the new types of bulbs, what makes them different from old bulbs, and what you need to know in order to make smart lighting choices. We’ll start with the basic bulb technologies. There are four main types of bulbs produced for home lighting today: CFL, LED, halogen, and incandescent.
CFLs are the first type of energy-efficient bulb that came on the market in a big way, and they’ve been around long enough for most consumers to be aware of them. Short for “compact fluorescent light,” CFLs use the same kind of technology as the familiar, long fluorescent light bulbs used in commercial settings—just in a smaller, self-contained form.
CFLs have had longer to become recognizable by consumers, but there are drawbacks to these bulbs as well as benefits. Early CFL technology was limited, and CFL bulbs didn’t always live up to the expectations of people accustomed to incandescent bulbs. Those early CFLs produced a different “color” of light, harsher than warm incandescent light, and they took a while to warm up and produce full light. Most CFL bulbs are also not dimmable.
New CFL bulbs have overcome many of these problems. CFLs are produced in a range of cooler to warmer light tones, some with dimming options, and the delay in reaching full illumination has been reduced or eliminated in many bulbs. With these improvements, CFLs have kept their original selling point as lasting longer and providing more energy efficiency than incandescent bulbs.
It’s taken a while for consumer LED bulbs to get up to speed, but they have become a great option to replace older bulbs. LED stands for “light emitting diode,” and this technology creates very bright light using a fraction of the energy consumed by incandescent bulbs.
While LED bulbs have been available on the market for several years, the cost of the early bulbs was prohibitive. The primary drawback of LED bulbs is still the up-front cost, which can be significantly higher than a comparable CFL or incandescent bulb. However, LED bulbs consume electricity at such a small rate and have such a long lifespan that they easily pay back the up-front cost over time, continuing to save you money. LED bulbs can last for tens of thousands of hours, meaning an LED bulb purchased today could still be working in 10 or more years.
Wait a minute. Aren’t incandescent bulbs being phased out? Not exactly. The new regulations for light bulbs don’t actually ban incandescent bulbs, they just dictate that light bulbs need to be more energy efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs. An incandescent bulb that uses less energy is just fine under the new rules, and in fact new incandescent bulbs are being produced to meet the new energy rules.
Because they basically still rely on the original 134-year-old technology of heating up a filament until it glows, these bulbs are not as energy efficient as LED and CFL technology, which produces light by completely different means. But if an incandescent bulb is truly what you want, you’ll still be able to find some.
Halogens are one example of how incandescent bulbs can be made more efficient. y could actually be called a subset of incandescent bulbs, because they use the same base technology. A halogen bulb simply contains a little bit of halogen gas. When an incandescent bulb is lit, some of the tungsten in the filament is burned off into gas. The halogen gas acts to redeposit the tungsten back onto the filament, which makes the light a little more efficient than a traditional incandescent. Again, halogen bulbs will not offer energy savings as large as LED and CFL bulbs, but they are a more efficient option for consumers who still prefer the look of an incandescent bulb.