Not all Light Bulbs Are Equal: Which Ones Are Energy Efficient?

A hand holding up a light bulb against sunshine and trees.
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If you've ever been down an aisle of a home improvement store, you know how many kinds of light bulbs there are. They're classified by color, clarity, brightness, size, and even bulb shape, which all play a role in determining what item gets purchased.

Recently, however, there's a new player in the game. As more and more people become indoctrinated with an eco-friendly and energy conscious way of life, a new category in light selection has been created that measures the amount of energy used in illumination. But how does a light bulb work? How do we know the eco-friendly labeling on the box is truthful? This article will explore the topic and get you started in finding the best light bulb for your home!

How Does a Light Bulb Work?

In the late 1800s, Englishman Sir Joseph Swan and American Thomas Edison each invented the electric light bulb around the same time, according to history books. Today’s versions of their inventions haven’t really changed all that much in concept or design, despite the obvious wide use and cultural adoption of the light bulb. The invention is genius because of the simplicity and ease of illuminating a room.

Simply put, the way the light bulb works is that inside a glass bulb there is an apparatus containing two terminals: one positive and one negative. When electricity is dispensed, a thin fiber called a filament begins to glow, radiating the light we know today. When a light bulb burns out it is often because this wire can no longer hold heat, losing its ability to join the two charges and disconnecting the circuit. Though we may have light bulbs in every size, shape, and color imaginable, the containment of electric luminance is at the heart of every bulb.

What Classifies a Light Bulb as Energy Efficient?

Eco-friendly light bulbs are given that name not because of the materials they contain or for the amount of packaging they're sold in—so many new bulbs are classified as energy efficient because of how little electricity they consume while still offering a usable glow. This achievement is created in a few ways, most commonly in the form of florescent lights, or in “LED” lights (light-emitting diodes).

A set of flourescent bulbs with one lit up.

Florescent lights are made by simply shrinking the large industrial lights used in gyms and office spaces into tiny, lamp-sized versions to be used at home. Through the use of chemicals, engineers have found ways to convert UV rays into standard visible light inside a coated tube of mercury, resulting in a longer-lasting, less electrically charged domestic light bulb. While there are many naysayers regarding the disposal of such products, government agencies have been quick to create disposal programs to prevent the mercury from seeping uncontrolled back into the environment. Though this is thought to be a short-term fix, many feel the benefit of electric savings outweighs potential risk.

An LED light bulb on a wood surface.

LED lights are basically small, less heated versions of the traditional bulbs of yesterday. However, these bulbs do not contain a filament—the fiber connecting the circuit within a bulb. They instead rely only on the movement of electrons in a semi-conducting material. This allows for the lifespan of these bulbs to increase by thousands of hours over competing types, using a fraction of the electricity, all without mercury.

How Do You Find the Best One for Your Needs?

Choosing the best eco-friendly light bulb for you is truly easier than ever before. Organizations such as Energy Star routinely offer ratings and approvals to only the best bulbs in the industry in regards to quality and energy efficiency. When deciding on a brand, their website is always a great place to start. As every bulb on the market has their own innate strengths and abilities, a simple trip to your local hardware store can also be an effective tool in understanding what is even possible in today’s fast-changing, eco-savvy world. Not all bulbs are created equal, but with a little time and research you can find the very best one to fit your needs.