New light bulbs
are more efficient and less expensive
The start of 2014 brought a major change in the way most
Americans use light bulbs. Incandescent light bulbs, the standard for more than
a century, have all but disappeared from store shelves as a result of new
efficiency requirements. The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act required
new light bulbs to become about 25 percent more efficient, with the changes gradually
taking effect between 2012 and 2014. Since traditional incandescent bulbs couldn't
meet the new standards, they faded from the scene over that two-year period,
starting with the 100-watt bulb and ending with the 40-watt bulb. A few types
of specialty incandescent bulbs -- such as appliance bulbs, three-way bulbs and
bug lights -- remain available, but for the most part the Edison light bulb has
gone the way of the dinosaur.
Although old-fashioned incandescent bulbs are off the table,
there's no reason to get stuck in the dark. Assuming you use a standard light
fixture with a medium-base Edison socket, you now have lots of choices in bulbs:
Types of Light Bulbs
The most efficient light bulbs on the market use light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. LED bulbs use only slightly less energy than CFLs, but their lifespan is significantly longer. Most manufacturers claim their bulbs can run for 25,000 hours -- more than 22 years in a fixture that is used three hours a day -- and switching them off and on doesn't shorten their life. Most LEDs work with dimmer switches, although not with every dimmer on the market, and come on at full brightness right away. In fact, an LED is brightest when it's first switched on; over the next half hour or so, its light output gradually drops by 10 to 20 percent before leveling off. The brightness rating on the box, as measured in lumens, is the amount of light the bulb puts out after it reaches its steady state.
For use in an overhead can fixture, experts recommend a floodlight or reflector bulb. These are identical to a standard LED bulb in every way but one: While standard bulbs ideally (see below) give off light equally in all directions, LED floodlights are specifically designed to direct all of their illumination in a single direction -- just like older, incandescent floodlights.
Compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs, have been around for decades, but people disliked their awkward shape, bluish flickering light, delayed startup and high price tag. New CFLs have resolved all of these problems. Costing as little as $2 per bulb, modern CFLs light up instantly, fit virtually anywhere an incandescent bulb can and have no discernible flicker. Soft white CFLs also match the light color of an incandescent extremely well.
light bulbs still have some downsides
While both LED bulbs and CFLs have come a long way in recent
years, there are still some issues to consider.
Although modern CFLs come on right away, they take several
seconds or even minutes to come up to full brightness, and most won't work with
a dimmer switch. Although CFLs last longer than incandescent bulbs, switching
them on and off frequently can greatly shorten their lifespan, so they're not
ideal for fixtures that are used for only short periods. Also, CFLs contain a
tiny amount of mercury, a hazardous substance. This means they have to be
recycled, not just tossed in the trash, and you must take some minor
precautions when cleaning up a broken bulb. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has
more details about disposing of CFLs.
LED light bulbs have two main problems: they struggle to
distribute light evenly in all directions, and they cost significantly more
than other bulbs. However, both these problems have improved significantly in
the last couple of years. We found many LED bulbs that earn top ratings for
light distribution in professional tests, and prices, which were hovering
between $10 and $20 just two years ago, are now generally less than $10 each.
That's still more than most CFLs, but given the long lifespan and reduced
energy use of LEDs, they're clearly the best value over the long run.
about halogen bulbs?
New halogen incandescents are another lighting choice, and are
the most similar to the old-fashioned bulb in both shape and light quality. However,
feedback (expert and user) generally says to give them a pass. They're
essentially just incandescent bulbs with a bit of halogen gas trapped inside,
which helps "recycle" the tungsten gas that burns off the filament.
These bulbs are efficient enough to meet the new standards, but only just. They
also cost significantly more than an old incandescent bulb without lasting
significantly longer. We spotted insufficient expert or user feedback to offer
a recommendation to any halogen bulb for this update.
up with wattage?
Because new light bulbs produce more light than an
incandescent with fewer watts, wattage has become an outdated gauge of
brightness. All new bulb packaging includes a "Lighting Facts" panel
that displays the actual brightness of the bulb in lumens, a measure of light
output. The panel also includes facts about wattage, color temperature, mercury
content and the bulb's estimated yearly energy costs. All this makes it easier
to compare different types of bulbs directly, rather than trying to relate them
to outdated incandescent bulbs.
Finding The Best Light Bulbs
"The Best LED Light Bulb"
"Best LED Light Bulbs of 2016"
To select our Best Reviewed light bulbs, we looked at professional
comparison tests from sources such as ConsumerReports.org and TheSweethome.com,
which measure the light output, durability and efficiency of different bulbs.
Then we checked their recommendations against user reviews at retail sites such
as HomeDepot.com and Amazon.com, which provide useful information about
real-world performance. Based on these and other sources, we identified LED and
CFL bulbs that stand out for their light production, lifespan, energy use and