How to Compare Different Light Bulb Types?

 9 March 2019

One surprise difficulty of choosing light fixtures is choosing light bulbs to go in them. Some fixtures simplify the process by only taking one type of bulb, but many light fixtures do accept multiple types of bulbs. This guide is intended to help you make an informed decision about which light bulbs will work best for you.

Here are 4 key things to consider before choosing a bulb type for your home

  • Brightness - Measured in Lumens

Light output or brightness of a bulb is measured in lumens. Wattage is the amount of power needed to light a bulb. Measuring the light output of different bulb types based on wattage can be misleading.
Dimmable smart LED bulbs are always a good choice as most provide more than 700 lumens and are equivalent to a 60W traditional incandescent bulb.

  • Colour temperature - Measured on the Kelvin scale

Based on your personal preference, choose bulbs that provide 2700K or "warm white" light for relaxing and more than 4000K or "cold white" for work. Colour temperatures that simulate daylight are 5000K or higher.

Tip: Choose smart LED bulbs that can provide a range of colour from warm white to cool daylight. For more personalised ambiance, go for smart colour-changing LED bulbs.

  • Colour rendering index (CRI)

CRI measures the ability of a light bulb to accurately reproduce colors and is measured on a scale from 0 to 100. A CRI of 65 is considered poor while a CRI of 80 is considered good.

  • Lifespan - Measured in hours

The lifetime of a bulb depends on the average number of hours it is in use. Bulbs that are always on will die faster than those that are rarely used.

Choose LED bulbs that have a high lifetime (average 25,000 hours). Longer life means less trouble buying and changing bulbs.

  • Energy efficiency label (ENERGY STAR)

The energy label on the box shows the energy efficiency on a scale from A++ (most efficient) to E (least efficient).

Incandescent

These bulbs used to be the standard and for many years were the only type of bulb available. They give off a soft, warm glow similar to candlelight. Their nice ambiance isn’t enough to makeup for their terrible energy efficiency. Many countries no longer produce incandescent bulbs because of this. Even though they come in a wide range of color temperatures, shapes and wattage,  they have a short life span, contributing to their energy inefficiency. 

CFL

The term CFL stands for compact fluorescent light. CFL bulbs function by passing an electrical current through fluorene gas, which then gives off light. This design doesn’t lose much energy to heat. Originally CFLs had a limited range of color temperatures, but it’s been updated to include more colors. A wide range of wattages is available. They have good energy efficiency and a good lifespan. They do require a ballast to be dimmable. Like their larger cousins, disposal requires special treatment.

Standard Fluorescent Tubes

These bulbs are familiar to anyone who’s ever looked up in a supermarket or warehouse. Long glass tubes filled with fluorine gas are lit when an electrical current passes through them (just like with CFLs). They have excellent energy efficiency and very long life spans, but a terrible range of color temperatures. Most standard fluorescent light fixtures are fitted with ballast to regulate electricity. Unfortunately, the ballast often creates an irritating buzz. Mostly associated with institutional lighting and industrial spaces, fluorescent light is rarely looked on favourably. Its best use in the home is in utility spaces (garage, laundry room, mud room, basement, etc.). Because fluorine gas is hazardous, disposal requires special treatment.

Person holding a fluorescent tube

Halogen

Halogen bulbs are a specific variety of incandescent bulbs. They use the same tungsten filament to produce light, but the bulb itself is filled with halogen gas. This makes the light brighter and the lifespan longer. The halogen gas actually causes light to be given off across a broader spectrum that incandescent alone. This means that stones that catch light (like diamonds) sparkle more intensely under halogen lights than other types of light. Halogen bulbs are sensitive and should be installed while wearing gloves to prevent oil transfer. If oil is transferred, the oil will heat faster than the glass and burn out the bulb too quickly. While common in jewelry stores, residential applications for halogen bulbs are normally limited to outdoor floodlights since the light is often too intense for indoor fixtures. Sometimes they are used in track lighting for a professional gallery effect.

LED

Of the options on this list, LEDs have the best energy efficiency and lifespan. Although the brightness is comparable to incandescent bulbs, LEDs measure this in lumens instead of watts. They have a very wide range of color temperatures. The base of an LED bulb is designed to vent heat away from the bulb, which means only certain varieties can be used in recessed or enclosed areas. They also require special adaptations to be dimmable, so keep this in mind if you have dimmable fixtures.

Smart Bulbs

These high-tech specialty bulbs are usually LED based. They contain a Wifi or Bluetooth receiver to connect with smart devices for fine-tuning. Depending on the exact bulb you can adjust color, brightness, automated timers, and you can create lighting profiles for different lighting situations. These bulbs can be app controlled, voice controlled, or switch controlled. One thing to remember with smart bulbs is that you need to leave the light fixture switched on for the bulb to receive commands.
Learn more about how Philips Hue smart light bulbs work.

LED E27 smart light bulb

Neon Lights

Although we’ve all seen neon signs in shop windows, they’re limited to decorative use only in residential applications. Light in these bulbs comes from passing an electric current through neon gas. Neon bulbs usually have a long lifespan, but they do require specialty maintenance to replace when they burn out. They can be had in a wide range of colors and any desired shape/design.
Did this guide help you find the right bulb type for your home? The next steps to choose the right bulb is to understand the different bulb sizes.