Four Steps to Choosing the Right Energy-Efficient Light Bulb

The old-style incandescent light bulbs we all grew up with are being phased out of the marketplace in favor of more energy-efficient technologies. It’s a change that will go a long way in helping us reduce energy waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and the amount we spend on energy costs. But it also means familiarizing ourselves with new technology and a new way of shopping for light bulbs.

Step 1: Know the Types of Bulbs Available and the Type of Fixture You’re Shopping For

Here are the Primary Lighting Technologies Currently used in Homes:

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

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)—LEDs are the newest technology to be introduced on a broad scale for residential lighting. LEDs offer significant advantages over incandescent bulbs, 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.

Halogen—Halogen bulbs are a form of incandescent lighting. While they do use less energy than standard incandescent bulbs, CFLs are nearly three-times more efficient.

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. These were phased out by the federal government and are no longer available.

Know your fixture

Energy-efficient light bulbs come in many shapes, sizes, and functions to fit virtually any application in any room of your house. Be sure to read the bulb packaging to see where and how a bulb should be used.

Application Bulb Type
Small fixture (ceiling fans, chandeliers, etc.) Globe
Soft, warm for living rooms Spiral
Crisp bright white for tasks Reading Lamps
Daylight/full-spectrum light Dimmable
Recessed & track lighting 3-Way
Outdoor (security, spot, patio, ground) Pendant

Learn more about the many styles of ENERGY STAR certified light bulbsLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page. and how to best use them around your home.

Step 2: Look for the ENERGY STAR

Only light bulbs that achieve the highest levels of energy efficiency earn the ENERGY STAR label from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). ENERGY STAR is a government-backed symbol for certain products that demonstrate significant energy savings while delivering the product performance and features consumers want.

Looking for the blue ENERGY STAR label is the easiest and most reliable way to identify and purchase energy-efficient light bulbs that offer savings on energy bills without sacrificing performance, features, convenience, or comfort. Plus, they tend to last far longer than non-ENERGY STAR bulbs and come with a minimum warranty (two-year for CFLs and three-year for LEDs).

Step 3: Use the Lighting Facts Label

The Lighting Facts Label makes it easy to compare and buy the most energy-efficient bulbs that suit your needs. The label, which appears on the packaging, includes important information such as lumens (brightness), energy used (watts), estimated energy cost, lifespan, and light appearance (warm or cool).

Step 4: Choose the Brightness and Light Color (Appearance) You Want

Determining brightness

More efficient CFLs and LEDs use lumens (lm) as a measure of brightness, which is a truer indicator of brightness than watts. Almost all packaging indicates the equivalency between lumens and watts for new technology bulbs and watts for incandescent bulbs.

Choosing Light Color

Light bulbs also come in a range of light colors. Bulbs that give off a soft, yellowish glow are considered warm, while bulbs that emit a crisp bluish light are considered cool. Light color is measured in degrees Kelvin. The lower the Kelvin range, the warmer the light. The chart below explains the light color that corresponds to different Kelvin ranges.

Location Ideal Lighting Kelvin (K)
Living room, den, bedroom, or hallway Soft white (warm, yellowish glow) 2,500-3,000K
Kitchen, bathroom, or work area Bright white (crisp, white light) 3,500-4,100K
Reading area, detail-oriented workspace, or outdoor Daylight (cool, bluish light similar to natural sunlight) 5,000-6,500K

Light color is also a major component to consider when creating effective, energy-efficient lighting designs throughout your home. Check out these lighting design ideas for inspirationLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page..