When you drive through cities and towns at night, lights fill the night sky. Building after building, store after store, home after home, all with lights blazing.
Years ago, a light bulb was a light bulb, the same light bulb your grandparents used, and their parents before them. Today, you’re faced with a zillion choices when you look to replace the bulb in the lamp by your nightstand or the overhead light in the bathroom. Incandescent bulbs (the old standby), compact fluorescents (CFL) and LED bulbs are side by side on the shelf. The technology of each doesn’t matter; all that matters is which one is the best and which will use energy most efficiently, saving you money?
Incandescent bulbs have been around since Thomas Edison sold the first one. No one needs to tell you how they work – turn the switch and it comes on. Turn it off, and the light goes out. It’s that simple. Except it’s not. Incandescent bulbs are horribly inefficient and in the lamps you use most often, have to be replaced at least every year, if not more often.
Then came fluorescent bulbs. Remember Grandma’s kitchen with the big overhead fluorescent light? It took what felt like a year for it to come on and it buzzed while it was on. When it was burning out, it would flicker and give you a headache, like the ones at work often do. The drawback? Well, you’ve seen it. It takes forever for them to warm up, they flicker badly when they’re burning out and you can’t just throw away a fluorescent bulb – they contain mercury and are considered hazardous waste.
Next up was CFLs, those little squiggly bulbs that came out a few years ago. CFLs use about 70-percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last several years longer. The problem? They’re still considered hazardous waste and the light they give off is really white. Try reading a book or using your tablet next to a lamp with a CFL in it and you’ll see. They haven’t changed so much from the long fluorescent tubes, either; it still takes longer for them to warm up and become fully lit, so you can’t use them outside at night, when you want full light. You also can’t use them in other areas of your home where you need immediate light. And the dimmer switch in your dining room won’t work with a CFL; they’re either sort of on, on or off. They may last a year or two, but look out when it comes time to throw them away.
Environmentally, while CFLs cost less to use and last longer, they’re very bad for the environment. They still contain the mercury of their older parent fluorescent bulbs, so you can’t just throw them in the trash; they have to be specially recycled. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests using local drop-off sites to get rid of CFLs when they burn out; for more information, click here.
When they first came out, years ago, light-emitting diodes (LED) were used in watches, televisions, toys and, ultimately, light bulbs. While they were expensive in the beginning, it was great to see the potential. Soon, everyone had at least a few things in their home that had LED in them, just not light bulbs. Why? Because they were expensive and the light they gave off was too blue. That perception has followed the LED bulb down to today, when it’s assumed they’re the same as they were back then – too expensive and too blue. But nothing could be further from the truth.
As technology has changed and progressed, so have LED bulbs. The newest LED bulbs can fit right into your existing lamps and fixtures, or you can buy lamps and fixtures that take fullest advantage of LED technology. According to Consumer Reports, LEDs use 80 to 85-percent less electricity than standard incandescent bulbs; the cost savings in electricity more than pays for the bulbs, especially because you can find LED bulbs for less than $10 each.
Another key advantage to the newer LED bulbs is how long they last – more than 20 years. Think about it – the only reason to change your bulbs is if you just want different bulbs, not because they’ve burned out. When they do go, they don’t flicker or pop; LEDs will dim as they get toward the end of their lifespan, no longer giving out as much light as before. With a lifespan like that, chances are technology will have improved the bulbs even further by the time you need to make a change and you’ll be able to get even more efficient bulbs at half the price.
Unlike CFLs, LED bulbs don’t need to warm up; they’re off or they’re on. And where incandescent bulbs and fluorescents give off heat, raising your air conditioning bills in the summer, LED bulbs give off no heat at all. The perception that LEDs are too blue has even been take care of, with LED bulbs available in different colors, shades of white and even programmable to change colors entirely, depending on the mood.
What about disposal? Throw them into the trash. There are no hazardous chemicals, so they’re environmentally one of the safest alternatives to plain sunlight.
Take a look around your home. There are so many places where LED bulbs can fit into your life right now, saving you money, saving the environment and saving your eyes. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at how LEDs are changing the way public places will be lit, starting with the street where you live.