It’s time to shed some light on light bulbs. Now that the incandescent light bulb – you know, the kind Thomas Edison patented way back in 1880 – is going the way of the gramophone and the Tin Lizzy, consumers are nervous about leaving the light bulb comfort zone. How will we ever manage without that little filament sizzling inside the fragile glass or the reassuring warmth emanating from the burning bulb?
Well, that’s just the thing. Those old-fashioned bulbs produced so much heat that some folks had to keep them switched off on sultry summer nights. Besides that, the filaments fizzled after only a few months. And that’s only if the thin glass hadn’t broken first.
But finally technology has advanced so that we can toss the incandescent light bulb into the dustbin of history and reap the benefits of cool and durable bulbs that will save us big bucks in the long run.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that now we have to figure out what kind of light bulb is the best replacement for the incandescent bulb, which most major manufacturers won’t even make any more because of their relative inefficiency. (Some are instead making halogen incandescent bulbs, which are basically the same lights but with halogen gas pumped inside the bulbs, which makes them 28% more efficient.)
As one of my girlfriends lamented when she was faced with the task of replacing a bulb, “OMG, it practically requires an electrical engineering degree to buy a light bulb anymore!”
Let’s break it down to make light bulb shopping less stressful. First of all, we are basically now faced with two options: CFL or LED. It’s not even necessary to know what the letters stand for, but if you really want to impress your light bulb-challenged friends, CFL stands for compact fluorescent light, while LED means light-emitting diode. Got that?
Now for the differences in the two. CFL bulbs are the ones with a little spiral tube, like a fluorescent light that’s been shrunk down and wrapped around a pencil. They are far more efficient than incandescent bulbs and are fairly cheap. The only drawback is that they contain a small amount of mercury. As any fish can tell you, even small amounts of mercury aren’t exactly manna from heaven for the environment. In fact, consumers who use CFL bulbs should accept the added responsibility of keeping spent bulbs out of the landfill and using FREE CFL recycling services, such as those at Home Depot and Lowe’s. And one more thing: CFLs don’t do well in the cold, so don’t use one as your porch light.
LED lights, on the other hand, don’t have any real drawbacks. That is, until you look at the price tag. The good news is that as the technology continues to improve, the price keeps dropping. Where the price of a single bulb formerly would have had you choosing between that and a sumptuous dinner at a fancy restaurant, now you can find LED light bulbs for less than $5 apiece. A recent check at Lowe’s website found a $4.98 bulb; Home Depot had one for $4.97 and IKEA beat them all with $4.49.
Still, that’s a steep price if you’re used to spending pennies for cheap light bulbs. But bear this in mind: Incandescent light bulbs will last no more than nine months, if even that long. CFLs last about nine years. As for LEDs, they’ll be with you for the long haul. Average life expectancy of these amazing lights is a whopping 25 years. As for savings, the yearly energy cost for a CFL bulb is $1.69 and it’s $1.14 for LEDs. In comparison, the annual cost for one incandescent bulb is $7.23.
Now that we know the two basic types to choose from, we have another hurdle. Standards for measuring light have changed. CFL and LED lights are sold as either warm or cool. As a general rule, cool light is good for task lighting, and warm light is best for accent or small area lighting.
Also, nobody’s talking about watts anymore. Now we’re talking lumens. So here’s a handy guide for translating watts into lumens, which measures the amount of light perceived by the human eye.
- 60 watts: 800 lumens.
- 75 watts: 1,100 lumens.
- 100 watts: 1,600 lumens.
One final bit of advice: Be sure to look for certifications on the packaging, including FCC, Energy Star and UL. That way, your fancy new light bulbs won’t retire before you do.