Lights Out for Incandescent Bulbs

Incandescent ban begins. Learn about the alternatives.As of January 1, 2014, 40 and 60 watt incandescent bulbs will go the way of 75 and 100 watt incandescent bulbs: none of them will be sold in the USA after December 31, 2013.

Only 40% of Americans are aware of this.  And for those who are surprised, you really shouldn’t be. The USA began to phase out 75 and 100 watt bulbs in 2012, though they were still around for a while after the 1/1/12 deadline since funding to implement the ban was cut.

Back in December 2011, budget bickering and some genuine concern over alternative bulbs caused the House of Representative to remove funding to fully implemented the 2012 ban weeks before it was to take effect.

Not this time! So, you have two choices:

  • Get busy shopping and hoard as many incandescent bulbs as you can, and most are already sold out; or
  • Learn the pros and cons of alternative light bulbs and what to look for when shopping

We hope this post helps you understand the pros and cons of alternative bulbs and what to look for so that you buy bulbs that meet your budget and your lighting needs. There are a lot of good alternatives, but you will have to be careful not to waste your money: technology on newer bulbs advances rapidly.

Tips on what you should look for when buying light bulbs are located at the bottom of this post. Short answer: the package or salesperson should be able to equate the light bulb to an incandescent bulb. 

Like the Phonograph, Incandescent Bulbs Really Are Obsolete Technology

Thomas Edison Made First Commercially Practical Incandescent BulbThomas Alva Edison 1847-1931

Let’s thank Thomas Edison and the many others that helped the incandescent bulb be the choice of households world over for well over 100 years.

Edison didn’t actually INVENT the incandescent bulb but he did refine the technology to make them economically practical and safe. He patented the Edison incandescent bulb way back in 1877.

Lots of things have changed in the past 126 years, but incandescent bulbs really aren’t one of them.  Sure it’s the light that most people know and love, but incandescent bulbs are antiquated technology.

Incandescent bulbs they use far more electricity and burn out far more quickly than newer bulbs. The envelope was pushed as far as possible decades ago.  Many people still have old record players and vinyl records, but CDs and portable music players make the phonograph largely obsolete and impractical.  Like incandescent bulbs, better options are available in the 21st century than in the 1800s.

Basic Alternatives: Halogens, CFLs and LEDs

Get used to it. Few people were aware in 2012 when 75 and 100 versions became hard to find that the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 has set this in place.

By 2020, the goal is for China (who manufacturers 90 percent of the worlds light bulbs) to cease manufacturing of all incandescent bulbs.  Most people will choose from one of the following three technologies:

  • Halogen
  • Compact Florescent Light Bulbs (CFLs)
  • Light Emitting Diodes (LED)

Will more types be available down the road? Probably but not soon. High pressure sodium light bulbs used for street lights for example, just aren’t cost-effective for home use.

Table: Summary of Pros and Cons

Each of the three primary lights available for residential use indoors and outside are discussed in far more details below. Here’s a summary table based on our educated opinion, research and personal experience.  The summary is followed by more detailed discussions of the various light types.

Type of Bulb Pros Cons
Halogen Light Bulbs
  • Easily provide the “brightest” light
  • Most similar to color of incandescents – familiarity
  • Longer life than all incandescents and many CFLs (though CFLs and Halogens vary greatly by type and manufacturer in terms of life span)
  • More efficient than incandescents
  • Used properly, are often the best choice for exterior flood lights powered by electricity
  • Cost less than quality LEDs
  • More good quality, safer halogens are available today but you do have to pay the money to get the better ones
  • Use far more power than CFLs or LEDs
  • Halogen lights create significant heat, more heat than incandescents, LEDs or CFLs
  • Power (electricity, batteries or solar) is used to create heat not light
  • Must be replaced far more often than LEDs when used for exterior lighting
  • Great care must be used when placing Halogens lights so that the heat does not create a fire hazard or damage plants, animals or garden decorations or equipment (particularly for ponds and water gardens)
  • Halogens should not be used in sheds, garages, barns or other areas where flammable materials are stored
Compact Florescents (CFLs)
  • Easiest to buy and most affordable
  • Most use far less electricity than most Halogens and certainly far less than any incandescents
  • Low up front cost
  • Manufacturers have spent much time adapting florescent technology in anticipation of the ban on incandescents
  • CFLs are proven technology and have been used as alternatives to incandescents in other countries for many years
  • Lots of options, lots of wattages and easy to find for many different types of sockets
  • CFLs should not get hot to the touch and most generate little if any measurable heat
  • Do not generally work well with fixtures with dimmers. Many, but not all, dimmers will fry the CFL when the dimmer is used
  • They can be used in dimmer fixtures – just don’t use the dimmer function
  • Cheaper CFLs often flicker and can buzz, which can cause sever headaches
  • Most CFLs do not turn on at full power immediately when the switch is flipped, though this is improving
  • CFLs do not work well in extreme cold or warm environments
  • In general, CFLs have shorter life spans than Halogens (though improvements continue
  • CFL technology is pretty much maxed out — it likely will not any better, though creative minds will continually develop different shaped CFLs for more purposes
Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)
  • LEDs use far less energy than any alternative on the market and cost far less to operate than any alternative
  • LEDs have extremely long life spans
  • Many newer LEDs being sold right now have “estimated life spans” of 30,000 to 80,000 hours because the ones being tested have lasted for years without burning out
  • Quality LEDs provide far better light quality than in the past
  • LED technology is where much of the investments for new types, color and styles of bulbs go
  • Manufacturers are addressing concerns regarding color and more and more “warmer” LED lights are becoming available
  • LEDs will continually improve
  • LEDs are more difficult to break than other types of bulbs
  • LEDs, like CFLs, often don’t work with dimmers. Some dimmers are fine but many will fry the LED bulb
  • LEDs cost far more to purchase than any other type of light bulb
  • LEDs are more “durable” but if you drop a light bulb, it will break and that is risky for some applications (such as lamps that could tip or be hit by objects)
  • LEDs work like laser beams — without proper technology, the illumination is limited
  • Many LED light bulbs do not have the proper reflection and refraction technology to cast light effectively
  • With the popularity of quality LEDs soaring, there are many inferior knock-offs being sold with poor illumination capabilities
  • Lumen measurements are not always accurate because of the way LEDs work. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose
  • Given the cost, you need to research the lights or buy from someone you trust
  • You get what you pay for and there is a significant quantity of lousy LEDs on the market today
  • Buyer Beware!

While all three have come a long way, all three are very different technologies. They work differently, have different lifespans, use different amounts of electricity (or solar power), and have far different price tags.

All three types are used in more inventive ways all the time. But most people buy bulbs for Edison sockets which is the standard socket used in most lighting fixtures.   As shown below, the most common use of both lights are for Edison sockets (most interior light fixtures) and exterior flood lights.

different_options (Note the flood lights: the halogen and LED lights use reflectors; the CFL uses refraction technology via the scores on the top of the pane; and the halogen uses reflection and refraction technology via the mirrored and faceted housing. Most lights need these items to cast light long distances, particularly LEDs. Click on the link to find out why.)

Halogen Light Bulbs – Pros and Cons

There are many different types of halogens which use different filaments, different gases and different configurations.  Some are good, some are bad. Heat is often a concern with halogens, so care must be used with all Halogens. On the other hand, better manufacturers continue to work on improving the heat-to-light ratio.

Generally speaking, halogens are best use for outdoor applications.  Quality and safe halogens for indoor use cost far more than CFL alternatives so there is only so far manufacturers will push towards competing with CFLs for indoor use. They’d rather spend the money on developing LEDs or completely different light bulbs as CFLs largely have gone as far as they are going to.

Cheap halogens or halogens used improperly can be pose risk of burns to people and pets, and in certain situations are, in our opinion, a fire  hazard. You really have to be careful with them.

  • Pros of Halogens

Halogen lights provide the light most similar to incandescent bulbs. Though not as “golden” as incandescent bulbs, halogen lights usually cast the light most similar to incandescent bulbs that most people prefer because that is what they are used to.

Even though LED bulbs get better and better all of the time, halogen bulbs are still considerably less to purchase for outdoor use. Even the best LED will be broken if by a ball, rock or wind-strewn object. Often, the location means halogens may be a better upfront investment.

Halogen bulbs use less energy than incandescent bulbs, but they don’t necessarily use it as efficiently as possible because like incandescent bulbs a lot of energy goes towards creating heat, not light.

Halogen lights last longer than incandescent bulb and overall last longer than many CFLs. (Note: there are so many different types of both halogen and incandescent bulbs, it’s hard to make blanket statements.)

Halogens are the easiest way to replace flood lights. If purchased carefully and placed proper they can be very safe even though the emit significant quantities of heat.

  • Cons of Halogens

Though more efficient than incandescent bulbs, halogen lights cost more to operate than most CFLs and all LEDs when considering total light output.

Halogen bulbs contain household hazardous waste and cannot be disposed of in your regular trash.

Halogens have been cited as a source of “light pollution” because they are so bright. If you use a motion detected halogen flood light, adjust the settings to prevent disrupting or annoying your home or your neighbors.

The warm glow that people like is caused by the gases that heat up to create the light. Halogen glow like incandescent bulbs because while different components are used, they work much like incandescent bulbs.

A good portion of the power used by halogen bulbs creates heat, not light. How much depends on how well-made the light is and there are far more types of halogens than any other type of light bulb on the market.

Halogen lights run hot. Many halogens run VERY hot.  Most of today’s halogens are more efficient than those made 5, 10 or 20 years ago, they still use a lot of power. Light is created by the interaction of filaments and gas. (Different halogens use different gases and there are many different types of filaments used.) One of the challenges in summing up halogens is that there are so many different types.

While halogens continue to be re-engineered for less heat-to-light rations, you have to be careful of how you use them. Many engineers halogen lights are pushing the envelope as far as possible, others disagree.

New and better halogen lights are much safer and more efficient than older ones, but you need to do your homework. The cheapest halogen lights available often can be unsafe to operate in many settings.

Halogen lights are fire hazards when not used properlyHalogen Bulbs Create Great Amounts of Heat and Should Be Used with Caution

In SolarLightingSmart.com’s opinion, halogen lights present a fire hazard if not used properly.  However, our opinion is also shared in the fine print of many halogen bulbs and most halogen lights used for water gardens and pond list warnings that the heat they generate may damage “fish, plants and/or equipment.”

We know that if one wants to spend the money and use them properly, there are manufacturers of exception halogen lights that don’t burn people or furniture.  We think they are best used for outside areas where they can’t burn anything, including leaves of debris that may land on them.

Even so, we don’t like them and recommend you purchase them only after carefully reading the packages and consumer reports. As noted above, there are far many different types. We will never use halogen lights inside of our home. Period. We do use them for some flood lights, but we don’t use them for our shed or our garage.

Why? Many years ago I bought a halogen lamp and fell asleep with the light on. The smoke detector woke me up because the halogen bulb had melted the plastic shade that came with the lamp and the plastic was smoking. The lamp was right next to a sofa with lots of pillows and throws and less than a foot away from a curtained window. Was it a cheap light? Yes. Will I buy another one for indoor use even though I can buy virtually any light or bulb I want at wholesale cost? Never.

Halogen lights for water gardens and ponds often must be submerged to prevent fire. The labels state this. Halogen lights for any type of gardens usually note that “care must be used” when positioning the lights to “prevent damage to fish or plants and pond equipment.”

If you chose halogen lights for exterior flood lights (which is in our opinion the safest and most appropriate use of halogen bulbs) you should periodically check them to make sure leaves and other debris do not build up near the fixture where they could catch fire.

Halogen bulbs should not be used to light sheds, garages, barns or other areas that hold flammable materials. Doesn’t matter if it’s gasoline, paint thinners or hay.  The heat generated, especially if someone forgets to turn them off often makes them dangerous.

Compact Florescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) – Pros and Cons

For the money, CFLs are the easiest to find and use. There are far more CFL options available today that cost about the same amount as incandescent bulbs. They are the lights used in most light sockets inside our home. But, are they the best. Not necessarily. But they are the easiest. Like all light bulbs, you get what you pay for and at the end of this post is a summary of what to look for on packaging.

  • Pros of CFLs

Florescent Lights Have Come a Long Way from TubesCFLs technology is proven and steady. They have been widely used in Europe and other countries that pay far more for power than the USA for many many years.

They are a known quantity and that’s a lot to be said in this day and age.

For the average American, you have a wide range of CFLs to select from: traditional Edison sockets, smaller light sockets, tubular lights, etc. This is not yet true for halogens or LEDs.

CFLs are easily the most affordable in terms up upfront purchase cost.

Many problems associated with older florescent lights (and cheaper lights today that use older technology) have been resolved: flickering, humming, the second or two wait for the lights to turn on after the switch is flipped.

CFLs are often the easiest lights to buy. Unlike quality LED or halogen bulbs, you can pick the up at most grocery, drug and convenience stores instead of going to a home center, Target, Walmart or whatever similar chains may be in your area.

CFLs run cool the the touch, unlike incandescent or halogens.

Depending on the manufacturer, CFLs use less power than most halogens for indoor use and almost always are safer.

  • Cons of CFLs

CFLs contain household hazardous waste and cannot be disposed of in your regular trash. Instead, hold them for your area’s regularly scheduled household hazardous materials day when you toss out batteries, old paint thinner, etc.

CFLs are not great choices for exterior lights because they do not work great in either very low temperatures or very high temperatures. Depending on your home, they may not work well in the summer.  On the other hand, CFLs work fine at temperatures that most people can live with during the winter: no matter how frugal people are with the thermostat.

As the popularity of LEDs rises, more manufacturers are switching from advancing CFL technology and applications of florescent lighting towards LEDs. (But: LEDs are trickier to work with, so please read section before buying a lot of “discount LEDs.)

CFLs do not last as long as other types of florescent lights. The squiggly ones you place in light sockets do not last as long as the old tube ones that are often used for lighting under cabinets, for example.

CFLs are far more energy efficient than incandescents, but down the road LEDs will surely win the race.

While progress has been made, many CFLs still are “whiter” than many people like.  Cheap CFLs still buzz, cheap CFLs still give many people headaches, and cheap CFLs still take a second or two to light up. Basically you get what you pay for. Caveat emptor.

LEDs – Pros and Cons

When we started writing this blog, we were amazed at how many people hated LEDs even though good ones had been used in every thing from solar lights, to car headlights, to street lights.

Today, we are amazed at how many idiots on TV are telling people to go buy LEDs willy nilly and saying there are great deals out there.

The truth is that good LEDs for residential use are far harder to find than Ms. Six O’Clock news said today. Are good ones out there? Yes they are, but you need to know what to look for.  LEDs are tricky little things.

The more popular LEDs become, the more people who don’t know what the heck they are doing are making them. There are many more good options for LEDs today, but there is a lot more junk being sold.

LEDs don’t work like the other bulbs we have discussed.  LEDs work like laser beams and if the light bulb or lighting fixture does not incorporate appropriate features (which add to the price tag) you are going to get lousy illumination. We actually did a post specifically on this a few weeks ago after we had a question about a customer and hear a nitwit electrician telling us we were “stupid” to pay money for the brand names. Oh really?

Not really…not really at all.  You definitely need to spend the money and do your homework a bit more before plopping down $25 bucks or  for a good LED light bulb.

Look at the diagram below: by nature, LEDs cast light in one direction. The extra $8-20 dollars is usually worth your money especially since LEDs last for years.

Good LEDs shed good illumination, lousy ones light very limited area

If you want an LED that provides light over a wide area, odds are that is one of the reason certain LEDs can cost twice as much as cheaper ones. Since good ones used in areas where breakage is unlikely last for years, eventually you will see the return on your investment through by long life times and energy savings. But you will need to pay more for good LEDS.

And when people say 80,000 hours, this is almost always an estimate especially if you are buying an LED with new technology.  New LED are released to the public after they’ve been tested for a year or two, often less if the manufacturer has experience and is confident of the quality.

LEDs usually have not yet “burnt out” by the time they go to market. If an LED fixture is left on 24/7 for two years that means 17,520 hours: most are still going strong when they are on market. In comparison, the best halogen lights last 3,500 to 5,000 hours.

While the following video mainly discusses LEDs for solar lights, the principals that make a solar light’s LEDs “Super Bright” are the same things that make a good LED light bulb cost twice as much as a piece of garbage.

  • Pros of LEDs

Well-designed and manufactured LEDs use special features that make LEDs cast meaningful illumination. The technology used by good manufacturers is just beginning to take off.

LEDs last longer than any other type of bulbs, use less energy than any other type of bulbs and are harder to break than any other type of bulbs.

Good manufacturers are addressing concerns about the “blue” tone of older LEDs. Warm-toned LEDs are growing in popularity, though they do cost a bit more than the white ones.

LEDs are where most Research and Development is being placed. Right now, they are the light of the present (most of them) and the foreseeable future.

Two LED bulbs

  • Cons of CFLs

LEDs contain household hazardous waste and cannot be disposed of in your regular trash. I

LED bulbs need to be designed to address the fact that they don’t grow, which is why you see the light bulb above with the lights on all sides. And guess what? That LED bulb with clear glass would be infinitely brighter and cast light over a far greater area if there were some reflective reflective material. (It’s an old light bulb that has since been redesigned.)

We’re showing it because you really don’t know what’s inside the LED you buy.  Be careful. Before you buy, ask the hardware store or the home center if you can see it in action. Trust me: the good ones will be screwed in somewhere. Just like the good quiet ACs run in the stores in the summer and the obnoxious loud ones do not.

We are going to be selling LEDs soon, but we aren’t now because most of the ones we test are garbage. When the good ones are available at a price we can make a profit on, we’ll sell them.

In the meantime, don’t listen to anyone who makes blanket statements about LEDs. Go to Consumer Reports and do the research before you spend a ton of money on LEDs or buy from a store you really trust and ask them what “range” of illumination they provide. Good ones are out there, but you have to know what you’re looking for and you often have to look hard.

Also: think about where a $25-50 light bulb makes sense, even when you account for the huge energy savings. A ceiling fixture is great, especially if accessing it is a nuisance. But if you have kids, pets or clumsy people, it’s probably NOT a good idea to put an expensive LED into a lamp that gets knocked over.   If you’re going to move furniture around, take the LEDs out before you do. $25 or $50 bucks for an Ooops is a lot when you may be better of with a CFL.

Over time, LED technology will advance and the prices will come down. Be smart about where you spend your money, what you pick and where you place LEDs. They break less easily than other lights because there are no filaments but they are bulbs and they do break.

Tips to Buying Light Bulbs

Here’s a word you are going to need to get used to, to a point anyway: “lumens.” Lumens is the amount of light cast by a light and generally it can be read by a photometer.

Legally, every lightbulb sold in the US is supposed to have the lumens on the packaging. Most do. But, I’m looking a Sylvania CFL and a generic CFL and the lumen output on both packages are very different, even though they both claim to be the same as a 75 watt bulb.

And I have a Sylvania 75 watt incandescent package in front of me and a generic 75 watt bulb package in front of me. The ranges on both are very different.

And it gets more complicated than that. A white toned LED fixture will have a lumen reading far less than a high pressure sodium fixture but the LED fixture is far brighter.With LEDs, Lumens Aren't EverythingWith LEDs, Lumens Aren’t Everything. Graphic by Greenshine New Energy.

I am not going to write a physics paper: the photos above tell the story. Scale this down to the light on your living room end table or your stairwell and it’s the same basic idea. (The simple answer of why: the whiteness of the light messes up the readings. Photometers were designed to measure old fashioned lights and sunshine. Not LEDs.)

What you should look at, and many packages do and will for some time, is what the incandescent equivalent of a bulb or fixture is. Remember how poorly Americans adapted to the metric system: it’s going to take years before we stop thinking of lights in terms of incandescent equivalents and better manufacturers know this.

If the salesperson or the package can’t tell you how an LED compares to an incandescent bulb (or CFL or Halogen for that matter) and also tell you how the illumination spreads (the light’s “footprint”) don’t buy the LED or at least don’t buy it from that store.

We are certainly not saying do not buy LEDs. We’re just saying that you need to buy them very carefully so you don’t get ripped off.

Copyright 2013, SolarLightingSmart.com, SolarFlairLighting.com.  All rights reserved. This post may not be used in part or in whole without the express written consent of one of the above.

One thought on “Lights Out for Incandescent Bulbs

  1. Pingback: Are You Among the 60% of Americans Who Don’t Know Incandescents History? | SolarLightingSmart.com

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