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Energy-Saving Light Bulbs - a definition

Author: Paul Marchant
Published: March 21, 2013

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The light bulb was invented by Thomas Alva Edison in 1879. Back then, the UK population was a significantly less than what it is today, there were no cars on the roads and no planes in the sky. Any overseas holiday was a cruise of sorts.

The world has changed hugely since 1879, and so has the technology that goes into light bulbs. However, traditional incandescent bulbs were only truly usurped as the go-to bulb by energy-saving light bulbs a handful of years ago. This was well overdue, as incandescent bulbs expend over 90 per cent of the energy they suck-up in outputting heat, rather than light.

In an increasingly energy- and environmentally-conscious world, those old bulbs have no real place – and are in the process of being forcefully phased out.

Rules of energy saving

Although there’s no hard and fast rule in terms of the exact savings required by these new light bulbs, compared to the old type, to define them as ‘energy saving’, the two most popular technologies use between 70 per cent and 85 per cent less. And as they last much longer, the savings will be felt in your pocket as well as by the environment.

CFL - the good, the bad & the ugly

The most common type of energy-saving light bulb is the CFL bulb, which stands for compact fluorescent lamp. Oddly enough, the first type of compact fluorescent lighting was developed not that long after the first incandescent bulb – back in 1890 but never made it into bulb form until 1976, some 84 years later.

However, it’s only in the last decade or so that they’ve gained real prominence on the high street. In 2007 when the UK government announced the UK phase-out of incandescent bulbs, the backlash against CFL bulbs said that they produced weak, ugly light that took an age to get up to full power. CFL bulbs were admirable in their aims, but not always so admirable in their performance.

Today, that’s simply not true. Most domestic bulbs are “instant on”, giving near-full power from the moment you flick the switch, and you can pick the colour temperature you’re after. Warm, or with a cool blue-ish tint – whatever you want.

There are many types of CFL bulbs out there. Perhaps the most familiar is the spiral. It’s cheap to buy and as there’s no extra layer beyond the fluorescent tube, its light output efficiency is excellent.

If you’re after something that has a look a little closer to the incandescent bulbs of old, we offer CFL bulbs that emulate both the traditional rounded bulb shape and the more elongated candle type. The latter is particularly strong as a decorative bulb – with a more elegant look than the slightly more efficient spiral shape.

CFL derivatives

There are CFLs that look almost nothing like light bulbs too. 2D bulbs unwind the fluorescent tube of other CFL bulbs to give even better light dispersal. They’re perfect for stair well, wall light or bulk head fittings, where function takes a lead over form.

Most CFL bulbs are designed to fit in exactly the same housings as old incandescent bulbs, but there are also pin-fit bulbs for fittings that incorporate everything but the bulb itself. The benefit of these bulbs is that they’re cheaper to produce – and hence cheaper to buy.

LED bulbs – not perfect but getting there

The other main type of energy saving lightbulb is CFL’s competitive and plucky younger brother - the LED bulb.

LEDs work in a completely different way to fluorescent bulbs, but offer comparable levels of energy efficiency. One of the key benefits of LED lights is that they do not contain Mercury, a poisonous substance found in CFL lights.

LED lights also solve one of the lingering problems of CFLs, whose lifespan drops significantly if they are turned on and off frequently. They also often offer better lifespan in general – LED lamps can last for up to 30,000 hours where some CFLs are only rated at 8,000 hours. However, this remains light years – or at least light days - ahead of incandescent bulbs.

The downsides of LED bulbs include that they’re generally significantly more expensive than the CFL type, and while they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, they’re not always available in as high-power variants as CFL. For example, you won’t find a 60W-equivalent LED candle bulb... yet.

Halogen – a low energy alternative

There’s a third type of energy saving bulb too. CFL and LED are the kings of energy saving, but we can’t forget humble halogen. We offer energy saving halogen bulbs, which don’t contain harmful mercury and generally cost peanuts compared to CFL of LED bulbs. However, they remain much less energy-efficient.

The savings speak for themselves

Forgetting their life-spans for a minute, the clearest way to work out the energy efficiency of a bulb is to calculate its lumens per watt rating. A lumen is a standard unit of brightness. CFL and LED bulbs work out at around 50-70 lumens per watt.  Halogen bulbs can manage around 20, while old incandescents will struggle to reach 15 lumens per watt.

Over the space of a year, the energy benefits of using CFL and LED lights is obvious – especially as they tend to last 5-10 times as long. Consumer body ‘Which’ has calculated that a single energy-efficient bulb will save you over £30 on your power bill over five years, and their calculation didn’t factor-in rising energy prices or inflation.

As incandescent bulbs continue to be phased out across the world, we’re only likely to see improvements in today’s energy-saving bulb technologies. What we should all be looking forward to is improvements in LED lights that’ll see prices of LED bulbs start to tumble. For now, why not check out our huge selection of energy saving LED bulbs?

Take a look at our full range of energy saving light bulbs.

Alternatively, if you are looking for more inspiration, advice and news take a look at our Lighting Advice section.