Ultimate Guide To Light Bulbs: Types, Best Uses, & How To Save Money

Many people do not pay attention to their light bulbs – until one blows out. That is when they begin to fumble through the many choices and different terms used to describe bulbs in the market today.

To such a person, it could be shocking to discover that there are so many different types of light bulbs out there. Whether a shopper looks at wattage, energy-efficiency, color or shape, it’s easy to get confused and buy wrong ones. This guide is here to help with some tips for choosing the best light bulbs for different home needs.

Types of Light Bulbs

There are four fundamental categories of light bulbs: Halogens, Incandescent, CFL, and LED


The traditional types of light bulbs are known as incandescent. They are designed with a tungsten filament housed in glass. Light from these bulbs is produced by electricity heating the filament until it glows. During this process, the bulb emits a lot of heat, a quality that makes incandescent bulbs poor in terms of energy efficiency.

Incandescent light bulbs are still being used in domestic applications such as table lamps, hallway lighting, closets, accent lighting, desk lamps, and chandeliers. Their color rendering index (CRI) is excellent, making them the base for measurements of other lamps’ CRI. It is also easy to dim them.

Now, it is crucial to note that the original incandescent light bulbs are currently being phased out. The new entries in the market must meet certain guidelines aimed at making such bulbs more energy efficient. Generally, incandescent bulbs can be cheap at face value, but their long-term use is expensive since 90% of their energy converts into heat.


Their design is similar to incandescent bulbs but have some halogen gas housed with the tungsten filament. Electricity flowing through the filament heats it to white hot so that it can give off light. Halogen gas inside the bulb helps in recycling the depleted tungsten thus reducing the amount of electricity used to produce light.

Halogen bulbs are environment-friendly, more energy efficient than incandescent, and can last between 3,000 to 4,000 hours. Like incandescent, they are completely dimmable and light up at an instant. They are suitable choices for reading or doing tasks that require visual concentration since their bright light is efficient in reducing eye strain.

If the white light is concentrated on a focal point it illuminates colors excellently. This is why halogen bulbs are the best choices for display lighting. They cause colors in artwork, architectural designs, and photos to appear livelier. They are also a suitable addition to outdoor lightings, such as security and floodlight fixtures.

Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs)

CFLs are among the energy efficient bulbs in use today. They require low wattage compared to incandescent to produce equal light thus saving energy. The main component of CFLs is argon and fluorspar coating enclosed in a tube. When electricity passes through, it electrifies argon which produces ultraviolet light. The UV interacts with the fluorspar coating to emit visible light. This process takes a while and that’s why CFL bulbs take several minutes before they attain full brightness.

One unique feature about CFLs is that they blow out easily if they are used in short intervals. This makes them suitable for office establishments where they will remain lit for long. They can last up to 20,000 hours, but their lifespan deteriorates if users keep switching them on and off. They are not suitable for outdoor lighting since they can easily fail during cold seasons. Their energy efficiency is higher than incandescent and halogen bulbs, but lower than LEDs.

Light Emitting Diode (LED) Bulbs

A LED is a small semiconductor that can transform electricity into light. The LEDs are enclosed in a safety ring that can sometimes be coated to improve the quality of the emitted white light. Their growing popularity relates to their ability to produce “cold light” whose production doesn’t involve heating. They are the most energy efficient bulbs in the market today.

They do not flicker or delay to light up even at extreme ambient temperatures. LEDs withstand shock and vibration, and can last up to 50,000 hours. They contain no filament and thus won’t blow out easily.  

What’s more, LED technology continues to grow, creating bulbs that are more energy efficient. Because of their designs in widespread shapes and bases, they can be used in many household lighting purposes. There are plug and play tubes in the market today which consumers can use to adapt fluorescent fixtures for LED.

How to Save Energy and Money with Light Bulbs

It is possible to enjoy the same amount of light in a home for less money. If homeowners choose energy saving light bulbs such as CFL, LED or Halogen incandescent, they could lower their lighting budget by $75 a year. Reputable bulbs are rated ENERGY STAR.

The initial cost for energy-saving options mentioned above is higher than traditional incandescent bulbs. However, they use low energy, thus enabling consumers to save money in the long run.

Another option is to invest in controls like photocells and timers. These turn lights off automatically when no one is using them. Dimmers can also help reduce light levels and save on electricity. It’s important to choose dimmers that match the energy efficient bulb that is going to be dimmed.

Finally, a homeowner could save energy and money by ensuring they replace bulbs inside light fixtures that have to be on for long with energy efficient options. For instance, replacing incandescent bulbs in flood lights with LEDs or CFLs, where applicable, will save electricity.

About the author: Vitaliy Vinogradov has been the lead lighting designer and project manager for various projects throughout the US and Canada. He currently works for Modern.Place, where he designs and manufactures modern lighting.

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