Light bulb comparison

Just like buying eggs at the supermarket, buying light bulbs can turn into quite the task with the stupefying selection provided. Luckily, we have come up with an idea.

Here is a comparison of the light bulbs you are likely to purchase for your house or business, including their lifespans, energy efficiencies, and general workings — just don’t forget to check if it’s a bayonet or screw cap...

A household that invested $90 in changing 30 fixtures to [Compact Fluorescent Lights] would save $440 to $1,500 over the five-year life of the bulbs, depending on your cost of electricity. Look at your utility bill and imagine a 12% discount to estimate the savings." - Money US News


How common?

Let’s start with the basics: incandescent bulbs. These are your classic light bulbs that are in most houses and probably yours right now. These bulbs also feature commonly in torches and car headlights, not to mention in cartoons above heads with bright ideas. They are also used as those small "candle"-like lights in multi-bulb candelabras.

How do they work?

They have a generic bulbous shape with a characteristic metal filament inside. This metal filament is made of tungsten and is a bridge for electricity to surge over. As the electrons flow over the filament, it heats up so much that it begins to emit light.

This is comparable to heating up a cattle brander or other metal implement where it glows red and eventually white-hot. Well that’s your light: white hot (have you ever tried to change one while it was still on? Youch!).

  • Cheap to produce; cheap to buy
  • Short lifespan: ~1000 hours
  • Bright and pleasant warm light
  • Wasteful: 95% of energy is wasted as heat rather than light (which would be fine if it were a heater and not a "light").

Bonus information

Incandescent bulbs are not as fire hazardous because there is no oxygen inside to catch alight — it’s a vacuum or some inert gas. Their ubiquity is owed to their cheap production costs. Incandescents are so wasteful that many countries are in the process of banning them. ‘Incandescence’ means to emit light from being heated. And since this process is so characteristically wasteful, it’s a helpful way to remember the name for these common, scorch bulbs.


How common?

Also known as ‘tungsten halogen lamps’, halogens are quite common. Because they can be made smaller than incandescents, they are used for smaller applications such as in penlights.

How do they work?

Halogens work similarly to incandescent bulbs, but instead of having a vacuum or some other gas inside the bulb, halogens contain...you guessed it, a halogen gas. Normally, the tungsten filament inside an incandescent evaporates, weakening the filament and eventually leading to a blown light. The halogen gas that fills the interior of halogens ‘feeds’ the tungsten filament, thus prolonging its lifespan.

  • Longer lifespan than incandescents
  • Extremely hot and thus fire hazardous
  • "Whiter" more outdoor-like light


How common?

Fluorescents lamps or tubes are common. These are the ones that flicker in long corridors, largely in horror films.

How do they work?

These lamps use an entirely different process for light generation. Where incandescent lights heat metal up till they emit heat and light, fluorescents take advantage of a chemical reaction known as fluorescence. Fluorescent lamps contains mercury gas at a low pressure. Electricity is run through the system, exciting the mercury temporarily. The mercury calms down, emitting light on ‘its way down’.

  • Last quite long, 10x - 20x longer than incandescents
  • Artificial looking light
  • Efficient (convert ~22% of energy into light)
  • Cannot be dimmed
  • 1/5th the heat of incandescents
  • Broken lights are toxic for you and the environment
  • Frequent usage can shorten lifespan considerably
  • Elongated and space consuming
  • Flicker a lot – bad for photography

Bonus information

Fluorescence occurs when a body with special properties absorbs energy and is boosted into another state before coming down again. This is analogous to letting go of a blown up balloon: it emits a farting sound (fluorescence) as it deflates once more to a stable state.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL)

How common?

These fluorescent lights are more efficient than regular fluorescents. Some are designed with a characteristic "helical" or coiled pattern. They are increasing in popularity as their value and lifespan are increasingly recognised.

How do they work?

CFLs work the same as the tubular fluorescents, but they are more compact, with the tube coiled in to form a compact shape.

  • Long lifespan, 6,000-15,000 hours
  • Produce less light as they age
  • Energy efficient 1/7 -⅓ the power of incandescents
  • 3-10x more expensive
  • Not as hot as incandescents
  • Not particularly compatible with dimming
  • Can interfere with infrared appliances such as TV remotes and phones
  • May not start in cold weather
  • Warm up time before optimal brightness
  • Contain mercury and emit UVs

Mercury-vapour lamps

How common?

Common, but not in the household. These are the bulbs that are found in streetlights. They are in the process of being banned worldwide due to their poor efficiency.

How do they work?

They also work by exciting mercury vapour inside an enclosed bulb.

  • Very long lifetime – 24,000 hours
  • Casts "creepy" light, distorting colouration
  • High intensity white light
  • Can take over five minutes to turn on
  • Can emit harmful UV radiation


How common?

Light-emitting diodes are very common, but not commonly as a lighting source. LEDs are a common component of circuitry such as TVs, traffic lights, and smartphone camera flashes.

For more information on how different LED bulbs stack up, check out our comparison of LED light bulbs.

How do they work?

LEDs utilise a process known as electroluminescence, using a material known as a semiconductor. Electrons are ‘coaxed’ to enter electron holes within the semiconductor, thus becoming excited and emitting light.

  • Can be tiny (a mm2)
  • More expensive than most types of lighting
  • Lower energy consumption
  • Cold light
  • Longer lifetimes: 25,000-100,000 hours
  • Robust
  • Flexible colour options, simply
  • Easily dimmable

Bonus information

The first LED was only developed in the 60s. LEDs were mostly red. When the blue LED was finally developed, the inventors were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2014. And though LEDs seem modern or new, they’ve been around for 60 years.

Edison bulbs

How common?

Not very. These bulbs have long and characteristic filaments, giving a vintage look.

How do they work?

Edison or vintage bulbs are incandescents. LED imitations are being produced to maintain the look of these globes, but upkeep the energy efficiency and longevity of LEDs.

  • Cheap
  • Inefficient
  • Look nice
  • Short lifespan
  • Hot

Bonus information

Edison bulbs began their resurgence in the 80s.

There you have it. To find the best light bulb for your household consider how often you turn on and off your switches (affecting their lifespans), and which type of light you’d like: warm, cool, natural white. Now next time you stumble into the formidable light bulb aisle you’ll have a much better idea!

Light bulb comparison table

MeasurementIncandescentHalogenFluorescentLED (Generic)
Electrical power (W)60421410
Light output (lm)860650800800
Luminous efficacy (lm/W)14.314.4257.1480
Color temperature (K)27003100[96]27003000
CRI (Colour fidelity; 100 = natural colouration)100100>75>85
Lifespan (hours)1,0002,5008,000+25,000

*Source: Wikipedia

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2 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    AlanMay 23, 2017

    compare led lights to incandescent

    • finder Customer Care
      LouMay 24, 2017Staff

      Hi Alan,

      Thanks for your question.

      LEDs have longer lifespan and lower energy consumption than incandescent lights, but they are also more expensive.


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