Michael Chotiner

It’s been nearly two years since U.S. manufacturers stopped making conventional 40- and 60-watt incandescent lightbulbs. While you can still find a few on store shelves, the familiar incandescent bulbs are getting harder to come by. 

2014 marked the last phase of a government-imposed plan to eliminate old bulbs in order to reduce energy demands going forward. The aim is to stem the need to build new generating plants and cut fossil fuel consumption, given its ill environmental effects. The carrot for consumers to quietly adopt newer, more efficient lightbulbs is lower electric bills — but not everybody is happy about the changes.

A lot of my older relatives and neighbors — who I frequently help out by changing spent bulbs when they ask —complain about the higher cost of the new bulbs. Some say they don’t like the quality of light they produce. Often they say that the light is “too bright” or “too cold.” In such cases, I usually offer to buy the new bulbs for them, being careful to ask which type they prefer — compact fluorescents, LEDs or halogen incandescents? More often than not they reply, “How the heck do I know?”

My folks and everybody else ought to know that the color and quality of light from each source technology differs. Unless you take the time to read and understand the color temperature information on the package, the bulbs you end up with may cast warmer or cooler light than you prefer. Here we’ll explain the options in energy-efficient bulbs, how each compares with obsolete incandescents, how to select for the color of light you prefer and why energy-efficient bulbs are good for us.

Light Bulb Options

By government and industry design, pretty soon you won’t be able to find old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. However, you’ve got a few much more energy-efficient options that can meet your lighting needs and tastes. The table below provides the essential comparisons.

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Halogen incandescent bulbs

Halogen incandescent bulbs offer greater energy efficiency and longer service life than conventional light bulbs. Standard incandescent bulbs use more electricity than necessary to produce light, because a good portion of the energy required to make the filament glow is given off as heat rather than illumination. That heat causes the filament to evaporate over time, coating the inner walls of the bulb, which dims the output overtime until the filament thins and eventually breaks, causing the bulb to fail. In a halogen gas bulb, the halogen causes evaporating tungsten to redeposit on the filament, slowing its deterioration, preserving the light output and prolonging the service life.

While halogen incandescent bulbs tend to be a little brighter and cooler in color temperature than conventional incandescents, they use approximately 25 percent less energy to produce a comparable amount of light and can last up to three times longer. Many consumers say the color of halogen lighting is most comparable to conventional bulbs, and halogen lamps work easily with dimmer switches.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)

Rather than illuminating via a glowing filament, CFLs work by driving electric current through a tube containing argon gas and mercury vapor. The heat excites a phosphor coat inside the tube to emit light. CFLs need 30 seconds to a couple of minutes to warm up, but when they do, they require about 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs with comparable output and they last 10 times longer.

LED light bulbs

Light-emitting diodes are semiconductors—as electricity passes through the chip, it turns to light. Compared to incandescent and CFL bulbs, LEDs are far more efficient and waste less energy in the form of heat. LEDs last 25 times longer than standard incandescent bulbs and two-and-half times longer than CFLs.

The question of color

Different colors of light go best in particular rooms or task applications. Most people prefer bright, white light for kitchens and hobby studios, for example, and warmer, yellowish light for living-, dining- and bedrooms.

Most people believe that incandescent light is warm by its nature, and fluorescent and LED light cool. While that may have been the case in the first generation of energy-efficient bulbs, manufacturers have worked to create color variants within each technology platform. To get a bulb with the color of light you desire, all you will need to do is read the package.

The color of light that a bulb emits is rated in Kelvins — the higher the number, the bluer the light; the lower the number, the yellower the light. Consult the table below when selecting bulbs for a particular room or purpose.

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If you’re troubled by the demise of conventional incandescent light bulbs, take heart—the brave new world of energy-efficient lightbulbs isn’t really so hard to live with. Halogen incandescents, CFLs and LEDs promise to relieve pressure on the infrastructure, the environment and on our pocketbooks. Once you learn how to read the labels, you can select bulbs that will deliver the color and quality of light that you’re most comfortable with in any room of your home and office.

Michael Chotiner writes on issues of interest to seniors for Home Depot. For more information on the LED lighting that Michael discusses, visit Home Depot’s site here.