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Lighting 101

Incandescent bulbs are history

Incandescent Bulbs May be Cheaper to Buy, But They're Much More Costly to Use

As the government’s standards for bulb efficiency have increased, some consumers have shown a reluctance to shift from familiar incandescent bulbs, but there’s a big problem with incandescents. They’re incredibly inefficient. Approximately 90% of the energy consumed by an incandescent bulb is emitted as heat, a huge waste of energy and your dollars.

New technologies like LED and CFL bulbs use far less energy to generate the same amount of light. LED bulbs save more energy than CFLs, and last up to 20 years.

Some incandescent bulb technologies—including halogen—are promoted as energy efficient, but they’re not much better than traditional incandescents. Look on the packaging to determine the actual wattage. To be sure you’re buying lighting that’s truly energy efficient always choose ENERGY STAR.

The light is much better now

For decades, household lighting technology stayed the same, more or less. Recently that’s all changed—dramatically. Here are the primary lighting technologies now used in homes:

Incandescent. This is the original light bulb technology; it didn’t change much for 100 years. Electric current passes through a thin metal filament, creating light. Unfortunately, most of the energy consumed is wasted as heat. The federal government is currently phasing out incandescent bulbs.

Halogen. Halogen bulbs are a form of incandescent lighting. They do use less energy than standard incandescent bulbs. However, compact fluorescent lights are nearly three-times more efficient than halogen.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs). CFLs are fluorescent lamps designed to fit into light fixtures formerly used for incandescent lamps. Compared to general-service incandescent lamps emitting the same amount of visible light, CFLs use one-fifth to one-third the electricity, and last much longer. CFLs may cost more than incandescents, but they typically save over five times their purchase price in electricity costs over their lifespan.

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are the newest technology to be introduced on a broad scale for residential lighting. LEDs offer significant advantages over incandescent light sources, including lower energy consumption, longer lifetime, physical robustness, smaller size, and faster on-off switching. LEDs tend to be more expensive to purchase, but are cheaper to use over their lifetime, due to their long life and remarkably low energy use.

Did You Know?

Interesting facts about lighting and bulbs.

What kind of lighting did people use before the advent of electric lights?

Fire was the earliest form of artificial lighting in the form of campfires or torches. Prehistoric people used primitive lamps made from naturally occurring materials such as rocks, shells, horns and stones, and filled with animal or vegetable fats and used a fiber wick. Then came candles, glass and pottery lamps.

Who invented the incandescent light bulb?

Humphry Davy created the first incandescent light by passing the current through a thin strip of platinum, chosen because the metal had an extremely high melting point. It was not bright enough nor did it last long enough to be practical, but it was the precedent behind the efforts of scores of experimenters over the next 75 years. Thomas Edison often gets the credit because he was the first to make it practical to manufacture on a mass scale; he also created the electricity infrastructure to supply the bulbs with electricity.

Who invented the LED?

Russian Oleg Vladimirovich Losev reportedly created the first Light Emitting Diode in 1927, but no practical use was made for decades. In 1961 American researchers Robert Biard and Gary Pittman of Texas Instruments received the patent for the infrared LED. The first practical visible-spectrum (red) LED was developed in 1962 by Nick Holonyak, Jr., while working at General Electric . Commercialization of LEDs didn’t take off until decades later.

What is the difference between incandescent and halogen lamps?

Also known as a tungsten halogen lamp or quartz iodine lamp, halogen lamps are incandescent lamps that have a small amount of a halogen such as iodine or bromine added. Halogen lamps can be operated at a higher temperature and produce light more efficiently.

Where did the word lumens come from?

From Latin word for light, airshaft or opening. Luminous is another word with the same root.

What materials are used to make filaments?

Filaments have been made from carbon, graphite, tantalum and osmium. Since the early 1900s, most incandescent light bulbs have used tungsten or tungsten alloys for their filaments.

What gases are used in light bulbs?

Usually incandescent bulbs have inert gasses surrounding the filament. These include primarily argon and nitrogen, and less often xenon and krypton.

What is full spectrum light?

Full-spectrum light, also called “natural light,” is light that covers the electromagnetic spectrum from infrared to near-ultraviolet, or all wavelengths that are useful to plant or animal life. Sunlight is considered full spectrum, even though the solar spectral distribution reaching Earth changes with time of day, latitude, and atmospheric conditions. "Full-spectrum" is not a technical term when applied to an electrical light bulb but rather a marketing term which implies that the product emulates natural light. Full-spectrum light is often used for aquariums, growing plants, and color matching in the graphic arts. It’s also used to treat people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder.

Can proper lighting make you smarter?

By itself, proper lighting won’t make anyone any smarter. Sufficient and appropriate lighting can make it easier to read, perform tasks, learn, pay attention, and be understood. So, indirectly, proper lighting can make you smarter.

Last Updated: 06/20/2014