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Light Bulbs 101: What You Need to Know Now

Light Bulbs 101: What You Need to Know Now

Our clients and other readers have told us lately that few things are more baffling than all of the new light bulb choices on the market today.  Said one, “Too many choices and too much research just to pick out a few light bulbs.”  So here’s our “Light Bulb 101” – what you need to know to choose the best lighting for your home!

First, let’s address incandescent bulbs – tried and true since Thomas Edison perfected them.  A ban on selling incandescent light bulbs officially went into effect in spring of 2014 because they waste energy – 90% of the power required to provide the desired brightness is emitted in heat rather than visible light.

Wattage Comparison

But even if you like the warm glow of these bulbs and your supply is running low, fear not.  The new alternative bulbs give you a wide range of choices in terms of power used, brightness and the actual color of the light.

Your most common alternative bulb choices are Halogens, compact fluorescent (CFLs), and light-emitting diode (LEDs) light bulbs.  Remember two terms: wattage and lumens.  In plain English, a watt refers to the amount of energy required to power a bulb. With incandescent bulbs, the number of watts represents the level of brightness, even though a watt only tells you the amount of power necessary to light the bulb. Lumens, on the other hand, indicate  the actual amount of light emitted by the bulb. For example, a typical incandescent 40W light bulb draws 40 watts of power and provides about 400 lumens of brightness. A CFL requires 9-13 watts and an LED light bulb uses 6-7 watts to provide the same amount of lumens.


Halogens look the most like the incandescent bulbs, but they offer the least value in terms of energy costs and replacement lifespan.  Additionally, halogens generate excessive heat; therefore, we don’t recommend them for most home applications.



CFLs have been around a while and offer a good value in regards to lumen output and life. And while today’s CFLs have solved some of the issues from when they first came out 15 to 20 years ago, there are still some drawbacks. For example,their light can make colors appear dull and unnatural. They also take a while to power up to full brightness. CFL bulbs also contain mercury, which can be dangerous if broken and should be disposed of responsibly when they burn out.  [CFLs are usually rated for 8000 to 12000 hours of life versus incandescents, which were in the 750 to 1000 hours range. Decorative incandescent and floodlights were rated 1500 to 2000 hours, a little longer, but still not up to CFL standards.



LEDs are our favorite and we recommend them.  LEDs offer good light output and longer life,  however they still cost more than the CFL options, but prices are dropping and will continue to do so as the technology improves. They come in a wide range of light colors or temperatures, from soft to warm (for bedrooms and bathrooms to bright and white (for offices, kitchens and garages).  The color temperature most familiar and most like incandescent bulbs is typically in the 2700 to 3000 Kelvin range.  Color temperatures higher than that tend toward bluish hues.

LEDs are rated even longer than CFLs – typically 25,000 hours – which translates to more than 20 years with average use at about three hours a day.  For recessed cans, which you might have in your kitchen or basement, floodlights are available in both CFLs and LEDs.

While some CFLs and all quality LED bulbs are dimmable, they will require a dimmer switch that is compatible with the specific bulb type.  The existing dimmers in your home may require an upgrade to allow you the lighting and mood control you are accustomed to.

Questions about the new light bulb technology?  Please give us a call.

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