Light Bulbs

Sunday, 13 July 2008

While most of us canít live without light bulbs, their invention in the late 19th century has created loads of glass and metal debris in our garbage dumps. We talk to the experts to find out more about the different types of bulbs, what contributes to their longevity, and whether itís worth spending more on brand names.


The Basics

  • Before going to the store, look at the socket and check the wattage sticker to find out what you need to buy. Most bulbs are 120 watts, but some lamps and items only require 60 or 80 watts.

  • If your bulb is an odd size or type, consider taking it with you to the store so that you can be sure you’re buying the right replacement.

  • Some of the most important features to consider in a light bulb are:

    • Longevity: if it’s a hard to reach place, you’ll want a bulb with a long life so you don’t have to replace it very often.

    • Eco-friendliness: since most bulbs are not recyclable and/or their manufacturing process is not eco-friendly, you may want to keep an eye out for brands that claim “green” business practices.

    • Setting/usage: while compact fluorescent bulbs are more energy efficient, they give off a colder light than incandescent bulbs. Halogens, on the other hand, can be warmer than CF bulbs, and longer lasting than traditional incandescent, but may not be as efficient.

  • There are many different types of bulbs available on the market, and more are being developed every day. Some of the key bulb types to be aware of are:

    • Incandescent bulbs produce light by sending electricity through a thin coiled wire. Lasting between 750 and 1000 hours, the lifespan of these bulbs is misleading since about 90% of the energy used up by them is released as heat (which means they are not very energy efficient at all.) They come in clear glass, frosted, soft white, reflector and long life models. Long life models are dimmer per watt but are good in areas where the light level is not critical for precise tasks.

    • Tungsten Halogen bulbs contain a small capsule of hydrogen gas and are very popular in the current market. Producing a whiter light than incandescent bulbs, they last 2000-3000 hours, use slightly less energy, but are still not efficient and release about 85% of the energy as heat. These bulbs are considered fire hazards.

    • Compact fluorescent bulbs are like mini, gas-filled tubes. About 40% of its energy converts into light and it uses 75% less energy than incandescent bulb while lasting up to eight times longer. They come in a range of brightness and color, but make sure the shape you choose fits your lamp shade. They cost more than incandescent bulbs, but claim better value in the long run. However, because they contain mercury, they must be disposed of properly.

    • Metal halide bulbs are the most efficient and longest lasting bulbs on the market at this time, but they are expensive and require time to turn on and off. Apart from commercial and outdoor use, manufacturers sell versions of these bright lamps for seniors to read by.

    • LED bulbs are now being developed for household use. They are even more energy-efficient than other bulbs discussed, but adapting them to fixtures requires a lot of engineering, making them on the expensive side. However, developments are being made on this front and LEDs or a similar bulb may soon be widely available for household use.

Other Considerations

  • Scientists are constantly developing new lighting technologies with energy efficiency and eco-friendliness in mind. Before you go and invest a lot in a new type of bulb and special fixtures, make sure you do all your research to ensure your product has staying power in the market.

  • To save energy, consider changing your fixtures. Task lighting works for areas where the whole room doesn’t require being lit up. Painting walls a lighter colour helps reflect light. And switch to lower wattage bulbs wherever possible.

Be Aware

  • It’s important to realize that lights all create heat and are therefore potential fire hazards. Always obey the maximum wattage, keep flammable items away, and keep them clean to avoid build up of dust and debris.


We tested 3 pairs of 60-watt incandescent bulbs to compare longevity, and whether any of them stood up to the 1000-hour claim on the package. We tested:

  • Generic brand: $0.50/bulb
  • Mid-range brand: $1.00/bulb
  • High-end brand: $1.25/bulb

Longevity Test

  • The generics were inconsistent: one was the first to burn out, the other was the last to burn out.

  • The high-end bulbs lasted longer than the others, but as more than twice as expensive, they didn’t last twice as long.

  • None of the bulbs lasted 1000 hours.


Until scientists are able to develop the bulb to end all other bulbs, we think the generic incandescent bulbs give you the best value overall. However, when you calculate in energy inefficiency, incandescents will probably cost you the most money over time.



top of page | | back to posts |
  • Subscribe to the A&K Newsletter