Light bulb fast facts

Authored By Ashley Hopkins

Proper light bulb disposal

Incandescent bulbs can be thrown into the regular garbage because they contain no toxic materials, but it is good to put the bulb in some sort of bag in case it breaks. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that CFLs, fluorescent bulbs and other bulbs that contain mercury be recycled so the mercury doesn’t end up in the environment.

Some states and jurisdictions have more stringent regulations than the EPA and require that you recycle CFLs and other mercury-containing light bulbs. Click here to find a list of recycling options near you. Many hardware supply stores, home improvement stores and other retailers offer in-store recycling.

A few years ago came the news that incandescent light bulbs were being phased out because they didn’t meet federal energy-efficiency standards. Now, they can only be purchased until supplies run out but as of 2014 are no longer being made in the U.S.

This news led many of us to realize that not only do we not know what “incandescent” means, exactly, but also that other lighting terminology is also lost on us. What exactly does “soft white” mean? How do we know how much wattage a particular lamp needs?

But in this day of energy conscientiousness and conservation, it’s important to know light bulb specs and needs, said William Young, EPB engineering tech, which means not only where you are going to use the bulb and what you expect out of it, but also a familiarity with terms. 

Wattage is how much energy the bulb consumes. Multiplying the wattage by the number of hours you are going to use it gives you the kilowatt-hours-which is what your utility bills you for. Lumens measures how much light a bulb produces. The life figure indicates how many hours the bulb is expected to last.

Terms such as “soft white,” “daylight” and “cool white,” which fall under the color temperature umbrella, are a bit more complex but just as necessary for consumers to be familiar with. Essentially, these terms tell the consumer the warmth of the light, and they’re important because they dictate the suggested applications for each. A daylight bulb is wonderful in an art gallery or museum but may be overpowering in a home.

The table below breaks down what the color temperature means as far as moods and applications go. 

Kelvin range  2,700 K  3,000 K  3,500 K 4,100 K   5,000 K
Color temperature  Warm  White  Neutral  Cool  Daylight
Associated effects/moods  Warm, cozy, open Friendly, intimate, personal,
exclusive 
 Friendly, inviting  Neat, clean, efficient Bright, alert, exacting coloration
Appropriate applications  Restaurants, hotel lobbies, boutiques, homes  Libraries, office areas, retail stores  Public reception areas, showrooms, bookstores  Office areas, conference rooms, classrooms, hospitals  Galleries, museums, jewelry stores, medical examination areas

Data: Philips Lamp Specification and Application Guide, 2008-2009

Color rendering index, on the other hand, describes not the light given off but how the light source makes the color of an object appear and how well variations on color shades are revealed.

“The higher the CRI, the better the color rendering ability,” Young said. “Light sources with a CRI of 85 to 90 are considered good at color rendering; light sources with a CRI of 90 or higher are excellent at color rendering and should be used for tasks requiring the most accurate color discrimination.”

Of all the specs and terms, though, perhaps LED is the one consumers should be the most familiar with. LEDs are the latest and most efficient lighting options available to consumers. They have an operating life of 50,000 hours; they are durable, rugged and can withstand the roughest conditions. They’re 100 percent recyclable and contain no toxic materials. Although they cost a little more, most experts agree the benefits outweigh the extra money.

“As technology improves and prices continue to come down, LEDs are worth the extra cost,” Young said. “They can help reduce your carbon footprint by up to a third, which contributes to environmental sustainability, and they can be switched off/on frequently without affecting the LED’s lifetime or light emission.”

Although consumers may prefer to spend less on bulbs for certain lamps, LEDs can’t be beat for hard-to-change bulbs, outdoor lights and bulbs placed in cold areas, as they don’t require a warm-up period in cold temperatures as compact fluorescent lights do.

However, Young recommends doing homework before committing to the purchase.

“Purchase a quality LED bulb,” Young said. “The market is flooded with cheap LED bulbs that do not last. Organizations such as Energy Star, Design Lighting Consortium and Lighting Design Lab certify light bulbs. While geared mainly toward the commercial and industrial market, their websites can assist you in making an informed decision on which bulb to purchase.”

Click here for more on choosing the best light bulb for your needs.

John Pless is the public relations coordinator at EPB.

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