Light bulbs are a common part of our everyday lives. And as you may have noticed, there are many, many different types of light bulbs on the market. It can get pretty confusing if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Continue reading as we shed some light (pun intended) on the different styles of light bulbs out there. Then, discover which style can save you the most money in the long run.
The 4 major different types of light bulbs
Today, the most well-known types of bulbs are:
- Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL)
- Light-Emitting Diode (LED)
As technology has progressed, the energy efficiency of light sources has improved — in some cases, dramatically. We’ll take a look at each type now.
Incandescent light bulbs
Incandescent bulbs are what many of us grew up using in our homes. Thomas Edison patented his incandescent light bulb in 1879. But scientists had been working on this type of bulb since as early as 1835.
The word “incandescence” is defined as “the emission of visible light by a body, caused by its high temperature.” An incandescent light bulb typically has a glass enclosure containing a tungsten filament. As an electric current passes through the filament, the filament heats to a temperature that creates light.
Common wattages of these types of bulbs are 40 watts, 60 watts, 75 watts and 100 watts. Although they’re very affordable, a typical incandescent light bulb’s lifespan is just 1,000 hours. This works out to about one year, when used for three hours each day.
Only about 10% of an incandescent light bulb’s energy is converted into light. The remaining 90% is lost as heat. This makes them incredibly inefficient, which is bad for the environment and also costs consumers money on both replacement bulbs and energy bills. On August 1, 2023, the Department of Energy banned the sale of most light bulbs that emit less than 45 lumens per watt (which is most incandescent bulbs). Over the next 30 years, it’s estimated that this new rule will save U.S. consumers nearly $3 billion on their utility bills and cut carbon emissions by 222 million metric tons.
Halogen light bulbs
A halogen light bulb is similar to an incandescent bulb, with a few key differences. Like an incandescent bulb, a halogen bulb uses a tungsten filament. However, instead of a glass bulb, the filament is contained within a smaller quartz “envelope” and halogen gas.
At a high enough temperature, a reaction between the halogen gas and tungsten vapor occurs, redepositing the tungsten onto the filament again. This “recycling” process greatly extends the lifespan of the bulb, making it last longer than an incandescent bulb.
A halogen bulb gets hot to the touch, meaning it loses much of its energy to heat. Halogens are about 20-30% more energy efficient than an incandescent light bulb. A 60-watt equivalent halogen bulb consumes about 43 watts.
CFL light bulbs
In the 1970s, researchers at Sylvania and General Electric developed compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). However, the designs were shelved until the mid-1980s because mass producing CFLs proved to be too expensive.
How does a CFL bulb work? An electric current is driven through a tube that contains argon and mercury vapor. It generates invisible ultraviolet light that reacts with the inner fluorescent coating of the tube. The result is visible light emission.
Since the 1990s, improvements have been made to CFL performance, price, efficiency and lifespan. Today, a CFL is known to reduce replacement costs and is an energy saver. It also lasts 10 to 20 times longer than the incandescent bulb. A 60-watt equivalent CFL bulb uses about 13 watts, making it an economical choice for replacing incandescent lamps.
LED light bulbs
Even more economical, in the long run, are LEDs. And they’ve actually been around for more than 60 years! In 1962, Nick Holonyak, Jr., invented the first visible spectrum LED in the form of red diodes.
How do LEDs work? They use a semiconductor to convert electricity into light. They’re very small in area — about the size of a fleck of pepper. Because they emit light in a specific direction, they don’t need reflectors and diffusers to trap light. They also emit very little heat, making them extremely energy-efficient bulbs.
Thanks to constant innovation in LED technology, the price of LEDs has gone down. And though they’re still more expensive to buy than other types of light bulbs, LEDs can last around 25,000 hours and cost less to use — a 60-watt equivalent LED uses only about 8.5 watts.
A recap of energy consumption for the different types of light bulbs can be seen below:
|Bulb Type||Watts||Average Lifespan, Hours (Usage: 3 hours per day)|
|Halogen (60-watt equivalent)||43||2,000-4,000|
|CFL (60-watt equivalent)||14||10,000|
|LED (60-watt equivalent)||8.5||25,000|
The LED light bulb color chart
You can buy LEDs in just about any color imaginable. However, for typical room lighting, you’ll want to be familiar with the Kelvin (K) temperature scale.
On every LED box, you should see a number between 1,000K and 10,000K. Lower K numbers mean you’re getting a warmer, yellowish color (similar to traditional incandescent light). The higher the K numbers go, the more the light emits a cool, blueish color.
Which of the different types of light bulbs is the most cost-effective?
It’s true that LEDs cost more upfront than other types of light bulbs. However, given their long average lifespan and superb energy efficiency, it’s no surprise that in the long term, LEDs are usually the most cost-effective type of light bulb. You can view the cost comparison in the estimates below:
|Average lifespan||1,200 hours||10,000 hours||25,000 hours|
|Average cost per bulb||$1||$2||$5|
|Bulbs needed for 25,000 hours of use||21||2.5||1|
|Equivalent 25,000 hours bulb expense||$21||$5||$5|
|kWh used over 25,000 hours||1,500||350||212.5|
|Cost of electricity (@ $.15/kWh)||$225||$52.50||$31.88|
|Total cost for 25,000 hours||$246||$57.50||$36.88|
As you can see, over 25,000 hours of use, it’s more than $200 less to use an LED than multiple incandescent bulbs. And this chart only demonstrates the long-term cost of buying and running a bulb in one fixture. Imagine the long-term savings of replacing all of your incandescent lights with LEDs.
Lumens and shopping for different types of bulbs
Though we’ve been speaking in terms of watts up until now, a more effective way to think about bulbs when you’re actually shopping for them is in lumens. A lumen is a measure of the amount of brightness of a bulb. The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the lightbulb will be.
So, when you need to purchase a lightbulb for your bedroom lamp, you’d consider how many lumens you need for your space. Different lumen levels work better for different spaces.
Here is a general guide to lumens (brightness) and how many watts of power each light bulb type needs to produce that level of brightness:
Now that you know more about the different types of light bulbs, their energy consumption and price, you can shop with confidence and get the right type of lighting for any room in your home.
And while you’re feeling like a savvy shopper, check out your electricity options with Everything Energy. Our innovative search tools are free, easy to use and help you find the right power plan for your home.