It is hard to imagine in today’s high tech world that the standard common light bulb was invented over 140 years ago.  People don’t think twice about lighting a room or packing a flashlight for their next camping trip in the wilderness.  Bulbs have evolved over the years to emit brighter lighting, improve energy efficiency, and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

Here are the most common bulbs on the market today:

Incandescent Bulbs

The incandescent light bulb (invented in 1879), also known as a standard light bulb, is a source of electric light that works by incandescence, which is the emission of light caused by heating a Tungsten filament inside the bulb which in turn creates a glow. This bulb is available in a wide range of sizes, wattages, and voltages.  In general, incandescent bulbs last for about one year (700-1000 hours) and can be used on a dimmer switch.

To cut down on emissions of greenhouse gases, the Canadian federal government joined many other countries and banned the import and sale of 75 and 100 watt incandescent bulbs, effective January 1, 2014. One year later, 40 and 60 watt bulbs were also banned.  That being said, retailers are still allowed to sell their existing inventories that were imported before the bans.  This is why you can still buy them at your local dollar store and/or liquidation outlets.

Halogen Lamps

The halogen light bulb or lamp is a type of incandescent lamp which uses a halogen gas in order to increase both light output and rated life, but it uses less energy.  Halogen bulbs usually last two times longer (2000 hours) than standard incandescent bulbs but have a much shorter lifespan than compact fluorescent lamps or LED lights. They are also capable of producing brighter light than standard incandescent bulbs.

As they are much less efficient, many countries have implemented new energy standards to phase out the import and sale of all incandescent bulbs as noted above.  In Canada, halogens are still available for sale at your local hardware store.

Fluorescent Lamps

A fluorescent lamp is a low-pressure mercury-vapour gas-discharge lamp that uses fluorescence to produce visible light.  An electric current in the gas excites mercury vapor, which produces short-wave ultraviolet light that then causes a phosphor coating on the inside of the lamp to glow. A fluorescent lamp converts electrical energy into useful light much more efficiently than incandescent lamps.

Fluorescent bulbs (tubes) come in a wide variety of lengths, diameters, wattages and colour temperatures.  They are long lasting and known for being highly energy efficient.

Fluorescent lamp fixtures are more costly than incandescent lamps because they require a ballast to regulate the current through the lamp, but the lower energy cost typically offsets the higher initial cost.

Because they contain mercury, many fluorescent lamps are classified as hazardous waste and must be recycled accordingly.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL)

A compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb — easily identified by its hallmark curlicue design — uses a fraction of the wattage incandescent bulbs use.  This bulb comes in a wide variety of wattages, sizes, color temperatures, and base types, and it is known primarily for its efficiency, long life, low cost, and ease of upgrading.

These bulbs are designed to replace incandescent bulbs and work on the same principle as fluorescent lamps — the CFL bulbs produce the same amount of light but with much less power.  They consist of multiple tubular loops filled with mercury and have a longer lifespan of up to 10000 hours, are more energy efficient, and have higher luminous efficiency.  However, the mercury in the loops makes them difficult to dispose of.  Also, these types of bulbs do not work with dimmer switches and aren’t particularly well suited for light fixtures.

Light Emitting Diode (LED) Bulbs

LED light bulbs are solid-state lighting (SSL) devices that fit in standard screw-in connections but use LEDs (light-emitting diodes) to produce light.  LED light bulbs are a more environmentally-friendly alternative to incandescent bulbs.  LED bulbs use a semiconductor device that emits visible light when an electric current passes through it. That property is known as electroluminescence.

LEDs themselves have been around since the early 1960s but only recent improvements in efficiency, cost and output have made them viable for the larger-scale lighting used in households, businesses and other environments.  Due to the rapid progress in LED technologies, products exist with wide ranges of efficiencies and life spans.

The bulbs can work up to 50000 hours and offer many benefits:

  • Cooler than incandescent bulbs in operation
  • Instant on, unlike compact fluorescent bulbs
  • Available in dimmable and non-dimmable
  • Broad range of color possibilities
  • Customizable lights can be controlled through a Bluetooth connection
  • Lowest cost over ownership of all lights
  • No mercury and minimal toxic materials required
  • A single lamp represents a reduction of hundreds of pounds of CO2, compared to the use of incandescent bulbs

Final Thoughts on Watts versus Lumens

When people buy light bulbs, they tend to think about wattage when in fact, lumens are the true indicator of brightness!  What are lumens, exactly? Lumens are now THE way to find out how bright a lighted bulb or integrated LED lighting fixture is. And if you want a fixture with bright, luminous personality, it’s the key to choosing the perfect piece for your lighting scheme.

The lumen definition is: “a unit of luminous flux in the International System of Units, that is equal to the amount of light given out through a solid angle by a source of one candela intensity radiating equally in all directions.”

In other words, Lumens equal brightness.  Watts measure energy use, not light output. With new, energy-efficient LED technology, we can no longer rely upon wattage to indicate how bright a bulb is.

Here is a comparison chart for how many lumens you need to output the same light as incandescent bulbs:

Click here to learn more about electricity usage and how your electricity bill is calculated based on the number of kilowatts per hour you consume during peak and off-peak hours for one billing period.