The Great Light Bulb Debate

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The Great Light Bulb Debate
Are you overwhelmed when selecting something as simple as a light bulb? In the past, selecting a light bulb was only a matter of knowing that wattage you needed. With the new energy efficiency laws, the latest terminology, and the battle of LEDs vs CFL vs incandescents, selecting the best lighting for your home can be a challenge. What exactly do you need to know when you’re in the bulb aisle at your hardware store?  Here are some light bulb basics to get you started.

Halogen Incandescents:
These bulbs look like traditional incandescent bulbs, are dimmable, and come in a variety of sizes and colors. They meet the federal standards for energy efficiency yet provide a warm glow similar to traditional incandescents. These bulbs are inexpensive to purchase and are thought to have a life similar to the traditional incandescent bulb. Although not as energy efficient as some of the other choices, these bulbs are said to be 28% more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs. Unfortunately, these bulbs cannot be recycled since they contain halogen gas.

Compact Fluorescent Lights:
Compact fluorescent bulbs are simply a compact version of the long tube fluorescent lights we have seen in offices for years. CFLs are dimmable and available in a range of light colors, including warm tones that were not available when they were first introduced; however, some consumers complain at the slow rate at which these bulbs turn on. These bulbs use about 25 percent less energy and last 10 times longer than a comparable traditional incandescent bulb. Also, it should be noted that CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, a health hazard, and should be recycled properly at the end of their lifespan.

Light Emitting Diode:
LED bulbs are one of the most energy-efficient choices using only 75 percent of the energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. This choice is dimmable, has a wide range of colors, and can be recycled, but has the drawback of supplying only a directional light and not a diffused light.
Once you choose the type of bulb you want, you should focus on the amount of light you need based on activities in the space, the color temperature of the light desired, and the overall cost.

Amount of Light:
A Lumen is the measurement of the amount of light you get from the bulb. You may want to vary the amount of lumens in different spaces in your home. For example, a kitchen prep area will need more direct lighting than a hallway, and a reading lamp will need a bulb with more lumens than a ceiling mounted fixture that simple provides general lighting. Here is a guide that illustrates the lumens equivalent to the wattage traditionally used.

Color of Light:
Kelvin is a measurement of color of the light source. It can range from a warm 2700K to the cool 6500K.  Although using a higher Kelvin light bulb may be good for reading, it can also make the space feel cold and institutionalized.  We recommends 2700K for residential spaces to achieve the warm feeling of a traditional incandescent light.

The purchase price of bulbs range from incandescents (as the most affordable) to fluorescents and then to LEDs. Operating costs for these bulbs are estimated at: incandescent bulbs—$328.59/year; compact fluorescent bulbs—$76.65/year, and LED bulbs—$32.85 year. When you consider the life of the bulb and the energy saved by using the more efficient bulbs, you may find LEDs to be best value overall.
Lighting can be a confusing topic, but armed with these simple facts, you will have a well-lit, functional, and beautiful home in no time.—By Snezhanna Chernish

 Editor’s Note: Snezhanna Chernish is a recent interior design graduate of the Univeristy of Tennessee of Chattanooga. She is currently working as an intern at Beth Haley Design. Beth Haley Design, an urban interior design firm, focuses on remodeling and revitalizing established homes, as well as creating stimulating, functional, sustainable spaces in new homes. E-mail your questions to her at or visit

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