In 1879, Thomas Edison changed the world by developing an electric light bulb in his Menlo Park shop. That first oblong shaped incandescent bulb lasted a mere 13.5 hours. Now, nearly 140 years later, the variations in lighting solutions are seemingly endless, with more efficient, customizable lighting solutions being developed every year.
Modern bulbs can be sorted into four basic groups: LED, incandescent, fluorescent and halogen.
LED Lighting: These are the most advanced, energy-efficient and customizable light solutions on the market today. LED stands for light-emitting diode. The way they work is relatively complex, but they essentially consist of a silicone electrical component that emits light.
LEDs are currently available in 9 and 12.5-watt variations, ranging from 400 to 1000 lumens. They emit a wide range of color temperatures, and their light output and color can even be controlled using smart lighting systems. LEDs are the most efficient lighting solution, at $1.25 a year. They are also the longest lasting by far at an average of 25,000 hours, or 25 years.
Incandescent: This is the traditional light bulb - a wire filament encased in a round glass bulb filled with a colorless gas. An electric current passes through the filament, heating it until it glows. These lights are commonly available in 40, 60, 75 and 100-watt variants, producing between 400 and 1800 lumens. Their color is warm, and they last about 1,000 hours or 1 year.
What’s the catch? These bulbs are notoriously energy inefficient, costing about $6 a year to use. This is because so much of their energy is released as heat. While these are still the cheapest bulbs to purchase, there are other options that will save money in the long run.
Fluorescent: This energy-sipping lighting has been the standard for home use in recent years, most commonly as the twisted, incandescent-sized bulbs known as compact fluorescents or CFLs. Fluorescent bulbs consist of a continuous glass tube filled with mercury gas. When an electrical current is run through the tube, the gas glows.
These bulbs range in wattage from 9 to 30, while still producing similar brightness to incandescents. This translates to a very low cost of use: about $1.50 a year. These bulbs also have longer lifespans, lasting about 8,000 hours or 8 years on average. While known for emitting bluish-white light, these bulbs can range from warm to cool depending on need and desire.
Halogen: Halogen lamps are a specific type of incandescent lighting that contain a small amount of halogen gas. When the filament glows, it creates a chemical reaction with the gas, allowing these bulbs to produce brighter light than traditional incandescents at the same power level.
For example, a 41-43 watt bulb produces up to 1000 lumens—the same as a 60-watt incandescent. They also last about three times as long.
Halogens are still fairly inefficient, costing about $4.25 annually. Higher upfront cost means these are not commonly found in most homes. However, they are the most common bulb used in automobile headlights.