All About Light Bulbs

by on January 15th, 2014

As you might have noticed, light bulbs have undergone quite a change over the past few years. Thanks to new laws, the inefficient incandescent bulb is on its way out. You haven’t been able to find 100 watt bulbs for the past few years and this year, the 60 watt incandescent bulb will be phased out as well.

What options do you have and how do they work? Here’s our rundown of what’s available now and best uses for each.

Incandescent Bulbs

While most standard incandescent bulbs 40 watts or greater will be phased out, there are some types of these bulbs you’ll be able to buy over the long term. Candle base bulbs under 60 watts, 3 way bulbs and several other specialty, stage and utility bulbs will still be available though they may need to meet new energy standards in some cases in later years.

The reason they’re being replaced is because they’re energy hogs requiring a high wattage to operate.  A more energy efficient bulb requires less than half (halogen) up to only 10% (LED) of the wattage to produce the same amount of light. Even with the many incandescent bulb types that still will be around, the savings from not using all those standard bulbs in US households is expected to save billions in energy costs and usage.

CFL Bulbs

CFL – or compact fluorescent bulbs – were the first energy efficient incandescent replacements on the market. Shrinking the big, industrial florescent tubes we’ve always seen into something that would work in smaller fixtures seemed like a no-brainer.  But early versions weren’t so good taking a while to reach full strength or producing a rather cold, unflattering light. Those sensitive to florescent flicker – and those who didn’t know they were – complained about the headaches. And let’s not forget, they’re pretty ugly.

Advances have improved CFL bulbs and you can now find them in various light temperatures (warmer, 2700K ranging to cooler/daylight 5000K), “instant on” versions and a variety of shapes that suit most purposes. They’re also relatively cheap (but also easy to break…) and much longer lasting (up to 10 years) than incandescent bulbs. The biggest downside is that they contain small amounts of mercury so you can’t just throw them in the trash.

Use them for covered outdoor lighting, basements, hallways and general purpose lighting. Avoid using them in lamps in rooms where you spend a lot of time, particularly if you’re sensitive to the flicker.

LED Light Bulbs

In what could be considered a “duh” moment, manufacturers realized people were not likely to take precautions in disposing of CFL bulbs. Enter LED bulbs which contain no hazardous materials, are brighter, sturdier and have no brightness, flicker or slow to warm up issues. Even better, these bulbs are available in a variety of temperatures (2700K for something similar to an incandescent bulb; around 5000K for cooler, daylight) and they last 20 plus years!

On the downside, they’re currently not available in brightnesses equivalent to a 100 watt bulb. And they’re expensive, though you can now find a 60 watt bulb equivalent for around $10.  Plus some designs, like the one pictured, are only suitable for “directional” lighting. If you notice, the lower part of the bulb contains a casing. So these types of bulbs are best used in downward or upward facing light fixtures particularity in hard to reach areas.

Table lamps and certain ceiling fixtures, however, work best with omni-directional bulbs which are hard to find – and the most expensive of this type right now. But expect to find more variety in LED bulbs and lower prices over the next few years.

Halogen Bulbs

Halogen bulbs are no where near as efficient or as long lasting as LED or CFL bulbs but you’ll still be saving up to 30% in energy costs and the bulbs last twice as long as regular incandescent lights. They’re also available in a variety of brightnesses including 100 watt equivalents.  Their main attractions is that they’re easy to fashion into various sizes and shapes, including the good old incandescent bulb style.

But with an average cost of $3-$4 per bulb, shelling out for LED or using CFL bulbs are a better deal over time. Still, they’re useful in hard to reach fixtures that require specialty size bulbs that aren’t available in CFL or LED designs or where you just have to have a good looking bulb.

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