For the longest time, incandescent bulbs were what we had to work with. We had our choice of wattage or brightness, but we were pretty limited. Today, there are a number of options to choose from, all with different strengths and weaknesses. With so much to consider when deciding on the right bulb, we’ll take a look at which is best: halogen, fluorescent, or LED lights.
Mr. Edison, we’ve come a long way…
Halogen bulbs are the closest you’ll find to an incandescent bulb. They rely on a tungsten filament like their more-traditional cousins but also use a small amount of halogen gas which prolongs the lifespan of the filament. The process allows the bulb to work at a much higher temperature than incandescent bulbs and increases the light output.
To handle the extreme heat they emit while turned on, the bulbs use quartz instead of glass. This makes them much more fragile than other types of bulbs, and more sensitive to air pollutants, moisture, and even the oils on our skin.
- – Cost: They’re just about the cheapest efficiency bulb you can find, coming in at half the cost of most CFLs and one-fifth that of LED lights.
- – Brightness: Because they operate at such high temperatures, they have high color temperatures as well and can shine very bright.
- – Indoor Applications: Halogen lights are compact, fully dimmable, and turn on instantly to produce a bright, crisp light. They’re great to use for office lamps or small spotlights that highlight merchandise in storefronts.
- – Efficiency: Most of the energy used to power the bulb is wasted as heat, so they require a lot more electricity to operate when compared to CFL or LED light bulbs.
- – Lifespan: The average halogen bulb lasts approximately 3,600 hours. While that’s three times longer than incandescent bulbs, it’s nowhere near as efficient as some of the others we’ll mention.
- – Light Pollution: They produce a considerable amount of infrared and ultraviolet radiation, which can be damaging to artwork or fabrics.
Next up we have fluorescent bulbs, also known as CFLs. This type of light uses an electric current to stimulate mercury vapor inside the lamp and produce ultraviolet light. They’re much more reliable and efficient than incandescent and halogen bulbs, typically lasting around 10,000 hours.
Because they rely on vapor and not a filament to produce light, these lights need to “warm-up” before they reach full luminosity. This also means that frequent on/off operation of the lamps can significantly reduce their lifespan. However, the biggest caveat with using CFL bulbs is the materials in them. Because they contain mercury, they’re considered hazardous and need to be properly disposed of when they’re replaced.
- – Cost: CFL lights are about one-third the cost of LEDs. While more expensive upfront than halogen bulbs, the energy savings can offset that initial investment.
- – Lifespan: The approximate lifespan of a CFL bulb is 6,000-15,000 hours – much longer than an incandescent or halogen bulb. The less frequently you turn them on and off, the longer they’re last.
- – Office Applications: These lights work best when they’re left running for long periods of time, so they’re an effective solution for general lighting in office spaces or other commercial businesses.
- – Environmental Impact: Mercury is a highly toxic chemical, both for the environment and for humans. The bulbs are totally safe when in use, but if they break or aren’t disposed of properly then the side effects could be harmful.
- – Brightness: CFL bulbs not only have a “warm-up” window but also a “cool down” time as well. It can take up to three minutes for an older bulb to reach full brightness or turn off completely.
- – Fragile: They’re a lot more fragile than LEDs, and often need protective casings. They’re also sensitive to climate changes, and won’t perform well at low temperatures.
Light-Emitting Diodes, or LEDs, produce the longest-lasting most energy-efficient lighting available today. They rely on a network of conductors that produce light-emitting photons when a current passes through. This means they operate at a much cooler temperature, so they’re easier to handle when turned on.
The bulbs are made with shock-resistant materials and contain no brittle filaments. Their durability makes them the ideal light source for outdoor fixtures. While it’s true LEDs require a higher initial investment than pretty much any other light source out there, they also produce the greatest energy returns over their lifetime.
- – Efficiency: Power consumption is the lowest compared to all other lighting technologies, using 75% less than halogen bulbs.
- – Lifespan: LED bulbs can last up to 50,000 hours. That’s 13 times longer than halogen bulbs and five times longer than most CFL bulbs. They’re a great option for fixtures where changing bulbs is not easily done.
- – Applications: Because of their design, the options for LED lights are limited only by what you can imagine. They’re available in many different whites and colors and can be used in everything from small strip lights to large floodlights.
- – Cost: The biggest (and really only) disadvantage to LED lights is the cost. High starting costs often deter people from buying them in the first place. However, manufacturers are becoming more and more adept at producing LED diodes – so we’ve seen prices start to fall in recent years. In fact, consumers often save money in the end thanks to their energy efficiency.
- – Complexity: Larger LED lighting units can sometimes run into heating issues. Tens or even hundreds of diodes need to operate in a relatively small space within a fixture, generating a lot of heat in the process. This often requires a heat-sinking system which can be challenging to produce.
And The Winner Is…
LED lights have come to prominence in the market, and the potential for more is at hand. While CFL and halogen lamps won’t disappear overnight, more customers are choosing LED, and not just for energy and maintenance savings.
Smart LED lamps and fixtures are enabling intelligent environments all over the world. LED lamps with built-in sensors and transmitters can capture “data in the world” that helps businesses and cities run more efficiently and effectively.
When comparing CFL to halogen to LED, it is perhaps most important to remember everything else lighting can do now that incandescent has gone away. For more information about custom home lighting, contact Livewire at 804-212-3841.