Jan 252015
LED bulbs are better!

How Light Bulbs Work

Our post about LED light bulbs generated a lot of interest on our Climate for Real Facebook page, and some of the questions led us to believe people wanted more information about how different kinds of light bulbs worked. The reality is that there are a lot of different light bulbs. Some are better suited for different applications than others, but some might be chosen because they are more durable, don’t produce as much heat, or don’t use as much electricity.

How Do Energy Efficient Light Bulbs Work?

Of course, individuals and businesses are being urged to switch out old light bulbs in favor of more energy efficient light bulbs. If everybody did this, the US could save billions in dollars in energy costs a year. In order to understand how energy-efficient light bulbs work, it helps to understand how all bulbs work. Even though the newer and more energy-efficient bulbs work differently, they are better at converting electricity to light instead of heat.

Incandescent Light Bulbs

The production of almost all incandescent light bulbs has stopped in the US and other countries, but they will probably still be on the market for awhile as inventory as cleared. Even though they are less efficient than other kinds of light bulbs, some people mourn their passing because they tend to produce a brighter and something that many people consider more natural light. It may be that this kind of indoor lighting is what people are used to, and that is why they are considered more natural.

By the way, halogen lights, typically found on car headlamps, are also going extinct in the US. It is just going to take longer. Halogen lights are also a type of incandescent light bulb.

How do incandescent light bulbs work? Electricity passes through a metal filament wire and create a glow.

Fluorescent Light Bulbs

The first attempt to replace incandescent bulbs was with CFLs, or compact fluorescent lights. They really weren’t as well accepted as the government hoped because they failed to last as long as promised and don’t produce the kind of light people are used to. Apparently, warm bulbs are closer to incandescent. They may use 20 to 30 percent less power for the same light as incandescent bulbs.

How do fluorescent light bulbs work? Fluorescent bulbs produce light because an arc of electricity passes between the bulb’s cathodes and excited mercury or other gasses to create radiant energy. Radiant energy gets converted to visible light by the bulb’s phosphor coating.

High-Intensity Discharge, or HID Light Bulbs

Sometimes these bulbs are also called xenon bulbs. They produce more light with less power, and they are also supposed to stay a lot cooler to the touch. They are supposed to be much more durable than regular bulbs as well. The argument against them is the light isn’t pleasing for indoor applications, and they are usually used for outdoor lighting or vehicle headlamps.

How do HID light bulbs work? These bulbs work by passing an arc of electricity through gas, usually xenon, between cathodes. There is no filament, so they don’t tend to “burn out” like old-fashioned bulbs.

LED Light Bulbs, or Light Emitting Diodes

LED bulbs are better!

LED vs. CFL vs. Incandescent vs. HID

These are the most efficient kind of light bulb, and they are also advertised as the most durable. They are used for indoor applications, but it helps to do some research to try to find the type of LED bulb that produces the kind of light that is favorable for a room.

How do LED light bulbs work? They actually work by passing energy into a chemical “chip” that converts electricity into light.

If we left any light bulbs off in this list of how light bulbs work, let us know!


American Lighting Association: http://www.americanlightingassoc.com/Lighting-Fundamentals/Light-Sources-Light-Bulbs.aspx

Myths about Incandescent Bulbs: http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA628.html