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Lighten Up, Would Ya! or: A Guide to Light Bulbs

Light Bulbs: The Ultimate Home Guide

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Mar 28, 2017

By now, most people probably know that the incandescent light bulbs that we grew up with cost more money and used more energy than their CFL and LED counterparts. But old habits are hard to break, and it is all too easy when walking through the supermarket aisles to grab a 4-pack of the cheapest bulbs on the shelf. Environmentally responsibility, however, requires us to break some of the habits and behaviors to construct a sustainable and healthy home. Fortunately, many sustainable upgrades to a home, like changing your light bulbs, are simple and straightforward decisions beneficial for the environment and your wallet.

a guide to lightbulbs infographic

Types of Light Bulbs, Pros, and Cons

For people who get confused by all the acronyms surrounding lighting options for your home below, we break down the pros and cons of the most common types of light bulbs on the market.

incandescent light bulb

What Are Incandescent Light Bulbs?

Incandescent bulbs have been the most common type of lighting in homes since electricity was invented. They function through conducting electrical current along a filament made of tungsten metal. This filament heats up to around 2,300 degrees Celsius to glow and emit a hot (yellow) light. In terms of efficiency, this type of bulb produces a lot of heat. Still, it can only transform an average of 10 percent of the electricity used into visible light, making them the most energy-efficient lighting option.

While these light bulbs are much cheaper upfront than other options, they also can heat a home during the hot summer months. Since January 2014, incandescent bulbs are no longer manufactured in the United States, making them harder to find and purchase at retail stores.

CFL light bulb

What Are CFL Light Bulbs

CFL stands for compact fluorescent lamp. These bulbs are made from glass tubes filled with gas and mercury and function through the mercury molecules, becoming agitated as electricity moves through the two electrodes at the bulb's base. Mercury emits ultraviolet light that is invisible to the human eye, though the white coating inside the CFL bulb makes this light visible to the human eye.

These lights are much more energy-efficient than their incandescent counterparts and do not emit heat inside the home. While mercury exposure can cause several dangerous health effects, the amount of mercury in each CLF bulb is about 100 times less than old-time thermometers.

LED Light Bulb

What Are LED Light Bulbs?

LED stand for light-emitting diodes and function as a two-lead semiconductor light source. When an electrical current is applied to the leads, electrons reconnect with the electron holes inside the device and release light in the form of photons. LED is the most energy-efficient form of lighting on the market today through the individual bulbs do cost more upfront.

Why Should You Use LED Lights?

While most homeowners around the country would welcome a 93% reduction in their yearly energy bills, not every family will have roughly $13,000 to finance a 6 kW residential rooftop solar system. However, almost every family can afford to pay an extra dollar or two for more energy-efficient light bulbs that will pay for themselves within months.

What Is the Cheapest Light Bulb to Use?

The average price of an incandescent light bulb is around $1.00. Your light bulb will use 60W of energy for that dollar and should last for an average of 1,100 hours. In comparison, the average CFL light bulb costs $3.00, lasts 8,000 hours, and will pull 15W of energy when turned on. LEDs, the most energy-efficient option on the market today, might cost you around $5.00 per bulb, but only use an average of 10W of energy while having an expected lifetime of 15,000 hours.

Simple math should show us that LEDs are the most economical choice. For 15,000 hours of light in your home, you would only need one LED bulb ($5.00), two CFL bulbs ($6.00), but 14 incandescent bulbs ($14.00). In terms of electricity cost, 15,000 hours of use at an average of $0.10 per kWh would cost you $15.75 for a LED bulb, $22.50 for two CFL bulbs, and an outrageous $90.00 for those 14 incandescent bulbs.

Since the average home in the United States has 45 light bulbs, homeowners could save around $3,300 on their energy bills over the 15,000 hours of use that is the typical lifespan of LED bulbs. Unfortunately, the EIA reports that only 1 percent of all homes use all LED lighting fixtures, while 71 percent of homes use no bulbs of this type.

What Is the Most Environmentally Friendly Light Bulb?

LED light bulbs require up to 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, while CFL fixtures use 75 percent less. While LEDs and CFLs use much less energy, they also emit the same amount of light as measured by lumens, or the total amount of visible light to the human eye. Since LED and CFL light bulbs will also last much longer, this also means that fewer light bulbs will end up in the trash. CFL lights, however, contain between 3.5 to 15 milligrams of mercury, which is a potent environmental toxin that can end up in landfills when bulbs are disposed of incorrectly. LED light bulbs do not contain mercury and, as mentioned above, will last much longer than their incandescent competitors.

If every household in the US replaced just one incandescent with an LED light, we could collectively save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year while preventing upwards of 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Each LED light bulb can prevent an estimated 450 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over its lifetime, equivalent to 200 pounds of coal burned in a power plant.

What to Consider When Purchasing Light Bulbs

The most important consideration when choosing light bulbs for your home is to find the option that will save you money while also limiting the amount of energy your home uses. If you decide to go for CFL light bulbs, it is important to recycle or properly dispose of these bulbs because of their mercury content. 

When comparing different CFL and LED bulbs, make sure to choose the bulbs that have the highest lumens rating as this will emit more light. Energy Star-rated light bulbs will also be among the most efficient products on the market. Both CFL and LED bulbs come in a wide array of color temperatures. If you do not like the cold, white light often associated with more efficient lighting options, you can also find LEDs and CFLs that offer yellow or soft-white tones that mimic the light of incandescent bulbs. 

Some of our Favorite Light Bulbs

While there are hundreds of different light bulbs on the market today, below, we look at three of the top options that combine high-performance lighting with incredible energy efficiency. 

Phillips Dimmable Light Bulb

This dimmable LED light provides 800 lumens of soft white light while only consuming 9.5 watts of energy. These bulbs are dimmable, and the light temperature can be adjusted between 2,200K and 2,700K, allowing you to create a unique lighting ambiance within your home. A six-pack of these bulbs only costs $23.67 on Amazon or roughly $4 per bulb. 

Lifx A19 LED Light

Energy-efficient lighting doesn’t have to be boring, and the Lifx A19 LED light is one of the most versatile and fun lighting options for your home while still achieving excellent energy efficiency ratings. This bulb emits 75 lumens of light per bulb and works with your smart home system to allow you to choose from 16 million unique colors and hues to light different parts of your home. This light is compatible with Google Home and Alexa for voice control, allowing you to change the light's color and intensity in each room of your home with a simple voice command. A four-pack of these lights currently costs $195 on Amazon. 

Cree Soft White Bulb

For homeowners who want more energy-efficient lighting options without changing the lighting in their home, the Cree soft white bulb looks and lights just like their incandescent counterparts. These lights provide omnidirectional light distribution like incandescent bulbs at a fraction of the energetic cost. These bulbs are some of the most efficient on the market, only using 6 watts of energy. They are also dimmable with standard dimmers. A four-pack of the Cree soft white light bulbs cost $21.99. 

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-10T04:34:19+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.