Shedding Light on the New Lightbulbs

by Gina Blitstein · 2 comments

For decades – and up until just a few years ago – lightbulbs were relatively uncomplicated. Recently, however, technology has developed more energy-efficient bulbs which are not as straightforward to understand. Gone is the simplicity of the incandescent 60-Watt, 75-Watt, 100-Watt and 3-Way. Today there are a lot more bulbs from which to choose. New bulbs not only look different, but the light they produce, the way they’re described and their price can all be significantly different.

What makes an energy-efficient bulb different from a traditional incandescent? Standard bulbs require heat in order to light up. Less heat production means greater energy efficiency and less cost to operate.

A glossary of lightbulb terms

  • Wattage (Watts) – The amount of electricity consumed by a light source
  • Lumens – The amount of light that a light source produces
  • Incandescent – The standard lightbulb we’re most familiar with which creates light by heating up a wire filament inside the bulb
  • Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) – This is simply a curly version of the familiar tubelike fluorescent lights. While a CFL can cost five to ten times as much as its standard incandescent counterpart, it will last up 10 times longer while requiring 75% less heat to operate. Bear in mind that cheaper CFL bulbs can be particularly fragile, especially when hot, so be careful not to jostle them while in use. They’re also prone to shorter life when they are turned on and off frequently or if there are voltage fluctuations.
  • Halogen Incandescent – These look like standard bulbs but the heat they create using halogen gas is concentrated to light an area within the bulb, instead of being dispersed throughout the bulb. These bulbs cost about the same as CFLs. Compared to a standard incandescent bulb, they last three times longer and, over the course of a year, cost approximately $3.50, versus $4.80.
  • Light-Emitting Diode (LEDs) – These bulbs operate when electrons are moved through a semiconductor material. They are the most expensive bulbs on the market but they last the longest – up to 25 times longer than a standard incandescent bulb – while costing just $1 to operate over the course of a year.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, all newly-manufactured lightbulbs are labeled to indicate the number of lumens, rather than watts, since it’s the lumens that actually indicate the bulb’s brightness. This information will help you compare different types of lightbulbs to achieve your desired level of brightness. A helpful resource for choosing the right bulb for the purpose is the EnergyStar Choose a Light Guide. Also, refer to this handy chart to compare the lumens and cost of operation among various lighting sources.

Among other things, the new Lighting Facts label will provide information about the bulb’s:

  • Brightness
  • Energy cost
  • Life expectancy
  • Light appearance (for example, “warm” or “cool”)

To wrap up this enlightening discussion, let’s answer a couple final questions:

Why are new lightbulbs so expensive, compared to traditional incandescent bulbs? Because of the technology necessary to develop and manufacture these new bulbs, the cost is higher to the consumer. The American Lighting Association recommends, “Just as you would invest in an appliance you expect to use for years, buying a light bulb today requires more of an initial investment but yields much greater returns in terms of energy savings and operating life.”

How much money do new lighbulbs save over time? According to the U.S. Department of Energy, upgrading 15 incandescent bulbs in your home could save you $50 per year.

These facts will help you choose the right bulb – and with energy-efficient bulbs, you’ll save no matter which you choose.

What’s been your experience with energy-saving lightbulbs?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Archinede Ziviello Jr March 5, 2013 at 7:14 pm

I do not like the new light bulbs. They are not bright enough when first turned on and still not as bright when left on like the old style bulbs were. As for the longer life of the new bulbs I have yet to have one last nine months of constant use. As for the much higher cost for the new type bulbs I feel they could come down in cost for me to want to continue using them. I expect that will never happen as the decision to go to the new style is set in stone. I’ll have no choice then to purchase them.

Stephen Bolter March 30, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Expanding on what has been written, I use LED’s everywhere and in 12volt mode (don’t have a transformer on every bulb).. You can drive a 12 volt system with old cell phone chargers (they manage their own load) You will need an elecrician to isolate the lighting circuts and install the phone charger, from then on you are working in 12volt and not subject to the dangers of 240 or 110. Also it’s legal to work with 12volts.
By isolating the lighting to 12 volt LED’s you save a lot of money on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) as well as provide the oportunity to install a connection to a car power supply for lighting the house during Power Network failure.. (everything else is out execpt you can make the lights go, all you need is a lead and a switch to redivert the source..
I have also explored using Infra Red detectors to turn the lights on & off as you enter or leave the room, this saves power and effectively solves the problem of family members that know how to turn lights on but don’t know how to turn them off…. using Red LED’s in the bathrooms and warm low brightness LED’s in the hallways solves the problem of waking up too much when getting up in the night, Red is very soothing…

If anyone has any questions please email…

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