Light bulb buying guide: how to buy the perfect light bulb for your needs?

When it comes to light bulbs, there are a bewildering array of options now available on the market, as the old style incandescent bulbs are slowly phased out in favor of many new models that aim to be more efficient, greener and longer lasting. In the face of this changing landscape, finding a suitable light bulb might look like a daunting task, but never fear! We are here to help you navigate this tricky terrain, and find the best lighting option for YOUR needs. Read on, as we explore ALL the factors you need to consider in finding the perfect light bulb.

What sorts of bulbs are out there?

First of all, we need to consider what sort of light bulbs are out there on the market. No longer is the grand old incandescent light bulb – that relies on the simple mechanism of heating a tungsten filament to the point where it glows – the undisputed king of the light bulb world; there are now several ‘new kids on the block’ technologies that it has to contend with, and that YOU must become familiar with as well to get a clear picture of the modern light bulb landscape.

Light emitting diodes (LED), are a major category here – and the most recent arrival. These light bulbs take advantage of the light energy (photons) emitted by electrons when they are ‘excited’ by an external power source, and jump from one state to another. Because of their efficiency and long life expectancy (more on this below), these bulbs are the major candidate for taking over the incandescent throne.

light bulb evolution

Before LEDs, there were compact fluorescent lights or CFLs. Like all fluorescent lights, the concept behind these involves ‘ionizing’ mercury-containing vapor in a glass tube, which causes the electrons in the gas to emit light energy or photons.

And then there are the ‘new and improved’ incandescent lighting options. A common myth that needs to be dispelled is that incandescent bulbs are being ‘phased out’: that is not strictly true, actually they are just required to upgrade and become more efficient. One such type of enhanced-efficiency incandescent bulb is the halogen light bulb, which is essentially an incandescent light bulb but with a little bit of halogen gas inside the bulb; this gas prevents the tungsten filament from vaporizing too much and thus burning out, making for a longer lasting, more efficient light.

These then are the different sort of light bulbs out there. Which of their characteristics should you be looking at to determine what is the right bulb for you?

Brightness

Naturally, you want a bulb that is sufficiently bright for your purposes. Brightness is now measured in lumens: the higher the lumens count, the brighter the light. Lumens is a relatively recent measure, replacing that of wattages, which we have long been accustomed to measuring the strength of a light bulb by. This is actually kind of misleading, though, since wattage measures something quite different from lumens, namely the power used by the light bulb, not its brightness. However, there is still somewhat of a relationship between energy usage and brightness, and thus a relationship between wattage and lumens. For example, an old style 40 watts bulb emits about 450 lumens of light, whereas a 100-watt bulb will emit around 160 lumens. If you can though, look for the lumen rating of your light bulb; most modern light bulbs will have one.

Color

The possible colors of light emitted by a bulb range from a cool white tint verging on blue at one end of the spectrum, to warm whites and yellows at the other. Incandescent lights, traditionally, have sat at the yellow end of the scale, whereas LEDs and CFLs have been thought to tend towards the blue side of the spectrum, though now ‘warmer’ colored LEDs and CFLs are appearing on the market too, so if your taste prefers a warmer, cozier yellow-colored light to illuminate your porch or private study, and you are afraid that the phasing out of incandescent lights may remove that option, then think again.

Energy efficiency

The efficiency of a certain light bulb measures how many lumens of light output you get per watt of energy/electricity input. The higher the lumens count for a given wattage, the more efficient the bulb is at converting power into light. LED bulb efficiency Whereas generally speaking ALL incandescent lights have exactly the same efficiency, because of the fact that a given wattage of power will invariably heat the tungsten filament to a particular temperature, which will, in turn, translate into a specific output of light; with LEDs and CFLs, which utilize a completely different method of converting electricity into light, the efficiency will differ greatly from bulb to bulb.

For the most part, LEDs use a small fraction of the power required to light up an incandescent bulb and thus are dramatically more efficient in energy terms–cost too. A 10 watt LED that emits 800 lumens of light beats the stuffing out of a traditional 60 watts incandescent light bulb that has the same output. Meanwhile, CFLs use between only one fifth to one-third of the power that incandescent light bulbs do, so they are on the upper end of the efficiency scale too. As we have seen, traditional incandescent bulbs just don’t cut it when it comes to energy efficiency, but with new varieties – like the halogens considered earlier – they are starting to lift their game as well.

Lifespan

When you go out and get yourself a light bulb, you will want to buy something that’s going to last and won’t burn out the moment you’ve taken it home from the store. Here again, LEDs take the cake. These kinds of bulbs are rated to withstand tens of thousands of hours’, translating into multiple decades’, usage. Compare to your traditional incandescent bulb whose filament burns out within a year or so, and the difference is obvious. Here is a bulb that can pay for itself via sheer energy savings in a matter of months, then steadily go on saving you money for years to come. LEDs do deteriorate (read: become dimmer) over time but do not tend to burn out suddenly like incandescent lights – another boon of these lights. Some of them do fail, naturally, but fortunately more and more LED light bulbs are protected by multi-year warranties in the event of mechanical failures.

CFLs also do well in terms of lifespan, compared to incandescent light bulbs, although less so compared to LEDs. One particular criticism of CFLs is that their life expectancy diminishes significantly when they are used frequently for only short periods of time. If you want to extend their lifespan, you’ll want to use them only when you plan on keeping the lights on for a longer period of time.

Cost

When it comes to the cost of a bulb you’ll want to look over the whole lifespan of the product, not just the initial outlay. Though incandescent lights have the cheapest upfront cost, when you take the broader perspective they are clearly a losing option. What with their superior efficiency and long lifespan, LED lights are to take the prize again; these lights will be saving you dollars counting into the hundreds compared to conventional incandescent bulbs. No wonder these bulbs are all the rage!

Environmental friendliness

The very reason incandescent lights are being phased out is that of their inefficiency, which translates into higher electricity usage, MORE harmful fossil fuel emissions, and greater damage to the environment. LEDs minimize this damage because of their far superior efficiency, and the same is true to some extent of CFLs. Concerns have been raised about the latter, however, insofar as, like all fluorescent lights, they contain the toxic substance mercury, which raises the specter of pollution where they aren’t disposed of properly. When your CFLs come to the end of their lifespan, be sure to take them to a recycling plant for proper disposal.

LED eco friendly

Versatility

Do you want to be able to use your light bulbs outside as well as indoors, in cold temperatures as well as on sweltering summer days? Here LEDs may be your best bet yet again. A lot of CFLs are not designed for outdoor use; some, in fact, will fail to turn on at all in really cold temperatures. LEDs, however, have a sturdy durable design that will stand up under all weather conditions.

Conclusion

If you want a light that is economical, efficient, versatile AND eco-friendly, then the modern LED is our light bulb of choice. LED lighting technology is constantly improving as well, so you can be sure these lights will just keep getting cheaper and more efficient over time. Don’t take our word for it though – go out and try them for yourself, and see what you think!

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Arthur

Blogger, editor, developer who loves green living. Interested in photovoltaics and solar lighting. Reviewing solar products since 2013.

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1 Response

  1. Sarah Lancaster says:

    I really like how you mentioned that colored light bulbs are coming into style and are appearing on the market! Yellow colored light bulbs are really nice for a room that is trying to give off a chilled and relaxed vibe! I think this is something that will eventually become a bigger trend in the United States and possibly in other countries, if not already! I really am considering purchasing yellow tinted light bulbs for my library! It would be a great way to make the room more relaxed! Thanks for sharing this great information! I will use all of this for when I change my lighting in my home!

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