Let There Be Light: A Guide to Lighting Your Home

The invention and refinement of the electric light bulb has had an enormous impact on our world. Not only has it played a significant role in increasing our society’s productivity, it has given rise to countless inventions and innovations that have literally brightened our world. Today there are an endless variety of electric light bulbs in every size and shape imaginable, each suited to meet specific needs. In fact there are so many different types of light bulbs on the market it can be difficult to know which is best for your specific needs.  Below is a comparison of the three most popular styles of light bulbs in order to help you find the ideal light bulbs for your home.

Incandescent Light

Although Thomas Edison is often credited for the invention of the incandescent light bulb it was actually Italian inventor Alessandro Volta nearly 80 years prior to Edison who actually invented the light bulb. Edison actually helped to refine the light bulb so it was practical for everyday use. An incandescent light bulb creates light by passing electricity through a special filament. The filament reaches a very high temperature which produces both heat and light. To help protect the filament from damage it is encased in a glass bulb filled with an inert gas, which greatly extends the life of the filament.

For more than a century, incandescent light bulbs have faithfully illuminated our lives. They have been produced in nearly every shape and size imaginable and in an infinite number of applications. Since they are inexpensive to produce and have a reasonably long life, incandescent light bulbs have, until recently, dominated the light bulb market.

While incandescent bulbs use far more energy and produce significantly more heat than CFL or LED light bulbs and don’t last nearly as long, they do have certain advantages. They can be dimmed unlike most CFL bulbs and don’t require a special type of dimmer switch, as is the case with most dimmable LED bulbs. In addition, incandescent bulbs are, for the most part, unaffected by the cold unlike CFL bulbs. Due to the large amount of power incandescent bulbs require compared to CFL and LED bulbs of similar brightness, governments around the world have begun outlawing them in an effort to be more energy efficient. As a result it is important to check your local laws before you buy them.

Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL)

Using one fifth the energy and with as much as 15 times the lifespan of incandescent bulbs, the CFL has helped to bring about the demise of the incandescent light bulb. Instead of relying on a filament to produce light, CFL bulbs use electricity to excite mercury atoms which in turn produces ultraviolet light. This ultraviolet light is then converted into visible light by a special fluorescent coating on the inside of the bulb.

Although CFL bulbs cost much more than incandescent bulbs, they use much less electricity and last much longer than incandescent bulbs, that they can save homeowners up to five times their cost in energy savings over the course of their lifespan. Initially CFL bulbs were only offered in one light temperature, causing many to dislike the greenish fluorescent tint they produced in favor of the soft warm glow of the more traditional incandescent bulbs. CFL manufacturers now offer CFL bulbs in a variety of color temperatures from the soft warm white of an incandescent bulb to the brilliant bluish tone of natural sunlight.

While CFL bulbs are a significant improvement over incandescent bulbs they are not without their drawbacks. They do contain trace amounts of mercury, a toxic substance making them far more difficult to dispose. Due to the process in which they produce light, CFL bulbs aren’t dimmable and can take 10 minutes or more to reach their full brightness, especially in cold weather.

Light Emitting Diode (LED) Light

Although Light Emitting Diodes (LED) have been around since the 1920’s their use has only recently gained popularity as household lighting. LEDs use electricity to temporarily remove electrons from an atom. When these freed electrons return to the spaces they once occupied, they produce photons which we see as visible light. LEDs have significant advantages over CFL and incandescent bulbs because not only do they consume a fraction of the energy of other bulbs, they also last more than 5 times as long as a CFL bulb. Unlike CFL bulbs, LED blubs are not affected by the temperature, do not need time to warm up and can be dimmed using a special LED dimmer switch. In addition, many users find that they produce a light that isn’t as harsh as CFL bulbs and more like the light generated by incandescent bulbs.

One drawback of LED bulbs for many is their cost. The average cost of an 800 lumen (approximately 60 watt incandescent bulb) LED bulb is roughly 10 times that of a similar CFL bulb and almost 30 times that of an incandescent bulb. Despite their higher than average initial cost, their modest energy consumption and exceptionally long operating life make LED bulbs the most efficient light bulb on the market.


About the Author

This is a guest post written by John Oxford, a master electrician and owner of APower Electric Service in Denver Colorado. We are qualified and experienced to provide residential, commercial and industrial electric services.

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