Common Types of Lightbulbs


 Selecting a light bulb is not as straight forward as it seems. If you recently walked into a hardware store, whether a small local business or a cooperate "big-box" store, you are visually bombarded with light bulb options. Let's decipher some of the lingo and confusion.

First we should cover the Big Three regarding light bulb light sources. These three are Incandescent, Fluorescent, and LED bulbs.

Incandescent Bulbs

Average cost $1.50

 Incandescent bulbs were the "go-to" bulb 15-20 years ago. These are the bulbs that operate by having electricity run through a filament in the glass section to create the light source. Disadvantages to these bulbs far outweigh the benefits. Benefits of this type of bulb can be summed up as only one: These bulbs are cheap, and that is only initially!  Drawbacks and disadvantages to the archaic incandescent are:

Incandescent bulbs create waste and heat

1 Short bulb life of only around 1000 hours.  This leads to higher waste in landfills because not all townships and cities can recycle an incandescent bulb.

2. Higher lifetime expense.  You need to replace an incandescent bulb 10 times in the same lifespan of a LED bulb. That wipes out that single benefit of a "cheap" bulb.

3. Energy Consumption.  This is where thigs get even more ridiculous. A 60w incandescent bulb will use 60 watts an hour. If you remember science class from high school, energy and power have a by-product and that is called heat. 

This emery consumption and heat has a compounding affect as well. In warmer climates where buildings and homes use an air-conditioning system, keeping incandescent lights on will affect the temperature of the building and create a higher need for air-conditioning usage. 

You can easily understand why the cheap bulb is not actually less expensive, right? 


Fluorescent Bulbs

Average Cost $2-$3


Compact Fluorescent

Fluorescent bulbs are still being used widely. More typically they are used in commercial applications, garages, warehouses, and areas that use long fixtures.  Fluorescent bulbs for the home are often the "compact fluorescent" bulb that has a swirl style to it. 

Fluorescent bulbs work by electrifying mercury and argon vapor. This causes the phoshpor  coating inside the glass to react and glow.

Cool thing about these bulbs is that they use far less energy compared to the old incandescent. Using the 60 watt example from above, a 60w equivalent for a compact fluorescent uses about 15 watts. That is 25% of the usage of the incandescent.
Another benefit is that they last about 10,000 hours. That's a huge lifetime increase. 
What about the disadvantages?  Fluorescents have them. They have a few disadvantages:
1. Not easily recycled. These bulbs contain mercury. Many recycling centers do not accept fluorescent bulbs. To dispose of a florescent bulbs properly, often you need to physically take the bulb to a local hardware store that accepts them for recycling. The dangers of these bulbs exist with the Mercury.
According to the World Health Organization regarding mercury exposure "The inhalation of mercury vapor can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal. The inorganic salts of mercury are corrosive to the skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract, and may induce kidney toxicity if ingested.
2. Not always Bright. The less expensive fluorescents take time to warm up to full light.  Some options are "instant on" but they cost more. 
3. Difficult to find. Fluorescent bulbs are not as easy to find anymore. The assortment of fluorescents is fairly limited.

LED Bulbs

Average cost is $3 and up.

Lastly we have LED light bulbs. LED is an acronym for "Light Emitting Diode"
Electrons in the semiconductor recombine with electron holes and release energy in the form of photons, or what we see as light. 
60W LED bulb comparison
In the simplest terms, a light-emitting diode (LED) is a semiconductor device that emits light when an electric current is passed through it. Light is produced when the particles that carry the current (known as electrons and holes) combine together within the semiconductor material.

Since light is generated within the solid semiconductor material, LEDs are described as solid-state devices. The term solid-state lighting, which also encompasses organic LEDs (OLEDs), distinguishes this lighting technology from other sources that use heated filaments (incandescent and tungsten halogen lamps) or gas discharge (fluorescent lamps).

The most prevalent disadvantage to an LED bulb is it's initial cost. Depending on your needs, such as if the bulb needs to be dimmable or not, costs have a bit of a range.  It's low life long cost however, far makes up for it. 

  • Using the 60w example again, an LED equivalent uses less than 10 Watts. 
  • LED bulbs can last upwards of 25,000 hours.
With a cost of .15 per kWh (Kilowatt per hour), the differences are staggering:
Accounting for replacement and electricity cost over 20 years:
Incandescent bulbs can cost up to $240 
CFL bulbs can cost around $60
LED bulbs will cost around $35


This is a basic estimate for one bulb.   How many bulbs do you have in your house? The costs over time really adds up.