Incandescent Lights

October 01, 2015

Many have asked about stockpiling incandescent light bulbs since the government “...has outlawed regular light bulbs.” Well, the government has not outlawed any bulbs. They have outlawed inefficiency. To continue producing any particular bulb, the manufacturer has to meet certain lumen per watt requirements.  Many of our old incandescent bulbs cannot, in fact, meet those requirements, and will fall by the wayside. But new, exciting technologies are unfolding. Let’s look at the three most common light sources, and review the pros and cons of each.


Incandescent light remains the standard by which we evaluate other sources. It is what we grew up with. But it is short-lived (a standard 60 watt bulb lasts about 800 hours) and is very inefficient (over 85% of the energy produces heat rather than light). It is very yellow, or warm, in color, and because we are accustomed to that, it is what we expect of all sources. It makes things feel cozy, but it does a rather poor job of lighting tasks well, unless we move to quartz halogen versions. Quartz halogen bulbs produce a very crisp light, with excellent color rendering characteristics and great contrast. The downside is they produce a lot of heat, are more expensive than other incandescent bulbs, and some of the best ones require a transformer. But they do a very nice job of lighting things. Look for quartz lamps to replace many of the standard incandescent  bulbs you have been buying.


Fluorescent lighting remains very controversial. People either hate it or love it. The advantage is the efficiency of fluorescent sources. They produce a lot of light for the energy consumed and they last a long time (a four foot tube can last 20,000+ hours). But many people dislike the color options with this type of lighting. And some are neurologically sensitive to the cycling of fluorescent bulbs, which are turning off and on many times per second, so fast that we cannot consciously see the flashing action. Also, responsible disposal of fluorescent light bulbs is a challenge. The mercury in fluorescent bulbs requires that they be taken to a site for hazardous material disposal. They should never be thrown in the trash. If you are going to use fluorescent, look for 3500K ( a measure of the color of light), and a CRI (color rendering index) of 85 or more.


The LED, light-emitting diode, is arguably the most exciting development in lighting. Big light bulb companies are pumping huge money into the research and development required to make it a common, everyday commodity. Already we have a 10 Watt MR16 lamp that replaces a 75 watt quartz halogen bulb. LED lamps produce more light per watt than almost any other source, and the good ones last a long, long time (25,000 to 50,000 hours). The downside is initial cost, though it is dropping rapidly. Yes, LED sources are expensive compared to incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. But factor in life expectancy and energy savings, and the cost can actually be cheaper than other sources. LED does not produce as much heat as incandescent (saves on air conditioning) and produces no ultra violet rays, which is good news for people lighting art or fabrics. UV light degrades both. One big challenge in buying LED devices is the vast array of choices. Not all LED’s are created equal, and some are clearly inferior to others. When considering LED, get advice from a lighting consultant or designer you trust. The big box stores are there to sell product. The designer is there to help properly light your space.

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