Watt Are You Talking About: A Guide to Light Bulbs

31st Jul 2018

The light bulb has long been known as a great idea - in fact, we even use its image to symbolize… wait for it… a great idea. Innovations in energy efficiency, lifespan, and design have only served to make this great idea even better.

So what bulb is best? Let’s explore the options.

Incandescent bulbs are your most basic, traditional bulbs. They offer comfortable, ambient lighting thanks to their warm color (and a color rendering index of about 100). The drawbacks of these basic bulbs are simple: they’re less energy efficient than other options, they don’t last as long, and they’re fragile. And, they give off heat, so any AC systems will have to work harder to cool your space.

Halogen lights are based on the science of incandescent bulbs, but they include a filament that makes their light crisper. Halogens are more energy efficient than their predecessors, but they’re outclassed by LED. For example, a 60W incandescent can be replaced with a 50W halogen, but the LED equivalent only consumes 10W. When working with halogens, handle with care: the oil from your hands can shorten the lifespan of a halogen bulb, so wear gloves during installation.

Fluorescent bulbs are more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs (on average, they consume about 75% less power), but historically they have not been as aesthetically pleasing, offering a poor color rendering of between 60 and 80 (100 being the best). Recent innovations in fluorescent bulbs have made them warmer, with CRI values of nearly 90. Available in new, smaller sizes, they are great options for under cabinet lighting in task areas.

LED lights or, formally, Light Emitting Diodes, are finding more and more of a unique place in the home. They’re great for green—both the environment and your wallet, since they last significantly longer than any other bulb choice. Thanks to their sturdy construction, they are durable and perfect for under cabinet lighting in your kitchen—as well as many other places where task lighting is needed. Plus, new innovations in coloring mean that LED light can better mimic the warm glow of incandescent. They’re often considered the “smartest” type of lighting, because they achieve synergy with automatic controls while offering color adjustment and dimming. And, something to look forward to: The next generation of LED bulbs will even deliver Internet connectivity.

Xenon bulbs are more efficient than halogen lamps, but less than fluorescent and LED. They’re generally more durable than halogen, and last five times as long. They have a CRI of 100--the same as incandescent and halogen lamps. But take care- they get very hot and shouldn’t be touched until they have cooled.

Metal Halide That’s so metal: This lamp produces its lighting output by stimulating vaporized metal halide compounds. You’ll find these lamps in outdoor and industrial settings. Ceramic Metal Halide is a subtype of this lamp that uses a ceramic material instead of quartz glass, which improves the color rendering index.

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