Light bulb choices have come a long way in the past 20-years. Bulbs are much more complex than they used to be. In that time, we have seen the standard for lighting, the incandescent bulb, go nearly extinct. As the incandescent bulb has started to fade in popularity, new options such as the Compact Fluorescent Light bulb (CFL), and Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs). Within each of those options, there is a further breakdown depending on the intended use for the bulb. Let’s see if we can shed some clarity on all of this.
Your light bulb choices will be one of the simplest ways in which you can make a meaningful impact to the environment and go green. Let’s dig in deeper to see what this means.
Light Bulb Choices: The Incandescent Bulb
The incandescent bulb has been the dominant bulb of choice since its design was improved upon by Thomas Edison in the 1870s and 1880s. His design for a carbon-based high resistant thread became the standard that we all grew up with. By passing electricity through the filament is grows hot and begins to glow. While effective, this process wastes a tremendous amount of electricity. Approximately 90% of the energy used in this process is lost to heat rather than transferred into illumination. Only 10% of the electricity becomes light. This is why more modern light bulb choices have come into existence – they have more efficient ways to convert the electricity into light.
Since most electricity is produced through coal-fired plants in the United States, your light bulb choice will have a direct relationship on the electricity used. Less electricity means less demand from the power company, less coal burned, less greenhouse gases such as CO2 pushed into the air, and less climate change.
Light Bulb Choices: The CFL
CFLs revolutionized lighting by producing light in a completely different way from the incandescent bulb. CFLs have a phosphor coating on the inner surface of the glass that converts ultraviolet energy into light. As electricity is passed the bulb, the coating becomes electrically excited and glows. Significant advantages of CFLs include:
- Efficient – these bulbs are 4-times as efficient as an incandescent and last up to 10-times longer (10,000 – 15,000 hours).
- Reduce air pollution through the use of less energy.
- High-quality and range of lighting options. Newer options mimic the light range seen in incandescent bulbs – both warm and cool lighting options are available.
- Can be used in a wide range of applications with progress made in 3-way and dimmable options.
- Replacing a single incandescent bulb with a CFL can result in 500 fewer pounds of coal being burned over the life of that bulb. If every home in this country replaced one incandescent bulb with a CFL, the greenhouse gases that would NOT be released would equal the annual emission of nearly 800,000 cars. Converting to CFLs is a good light bulb choice!
Now that we understand the advantages, here are some of the primary disadvantages to CFL light bulb choices:
- Higher initial purchase price than incandescent.
- CFLs have a reduced lifespan if used in circumstances where they are turned on and off frequently. Ideally, they need to remain on for 15-minutes to not have this impact.
- CFLs do not tolerate low temperatures which makes outdoor use in much of the country a challenge. Read the label to see where your bulbs can be used.
Light Bulb Choices: LEDs
Light-emitting diodes (LED) are electronic light bulb choices with advantages over both incandescent and CFLs. High purchase price still exists; however those prices continue to decline. The advantages of LEDs are undeniable:
- LEDs produce more light per watt than incandescent bulbs.
- LEDs produce a range of color choices.
- LEDs can be dimmed.
- LEDs are very small which provides a wide range of applications.
- LEDs handle frequent turning on and off without the challenges experienced by CFLs.
- Produce little to no heat.
- LEDs have an exceptionally long life (35,000 to 50,000 hours).
- Handle vibration well without damage.
- Contain no mercury.
What About Mercury?
Mercury is certainly a factor for many people when making their light bulb choice. As you decide, consider this, coal power plants emits 10mg of mercury producing the power to light an incandescent bulb. This compares to 2.4mg of mercury to light a CFL over the same number of hours. If you want to have the lowest impact overall, then switch to LEDs bulbs which contain no mercury.