Energy Saving Light Bulbs: Complete Expert Guide
Looking for easy ways to lower your electricity costs and cut your carbon footprint at the same time? Something as simple as switching to energy saving light bulbs could help trim around £100 ($135) a year off your bills.
These days we’re so spoiled for choice by the lighting options at our local supermarket or hardware store, it can be difficult to know where to start. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with our guide to choosing the right energy saving light bulb for your home.
What is an Energy Saving Light Bulb?
Energy saving light bulbs are an efficient alternative to the traditional incandescent bulbs which are now being phased out across the UK and Europe.
These modern light bulbs can last between 10 and 25 times as long as your old-fashioned bulb, as they use far less electricity to produce the same amount of light. By replacing your traditional bulbs with energy saving light bulbs, you could knock around £100 ($135) a year off your electricity bill. Saving money and reducing your carbon footprint - now there’s a bright idea!
However, not all energy saving light bulbs are created equal. Some will last longer, while others may shine brighter. There are two main types of energy-efficient light bulbs currently competing to replace your old incandescent bulbs:
- Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)
- Light-emitting diodes (LEDs)
Previous generations of energy saving light bulbs were hampered by the harsh, sterile and ultra-bright light that they often produced. However, over recent years this has become far less of an issue, with a wide range of soft colours and brightness levels to choose from.
Another common complaint in times gone by was that energy saving light bulbs took longer to light up a room, rather than providing their full potency at the flick of a switch. This is no longer the case unless you opt for certain CFLs, which can take a minute or two to warm up to their maximum brightness.
How do energy saving light bulbs work?
CFLs work by passing an electric current through a tube containing argon and mercury. This generates an invisible ultraviolet light which stimulates a fluorescent coating on the inside of the tube, producing visible light.
LEDs, on the other hand, produce light by sending the electric current through a semiconductor material. As electricity passes through the LED’s different components, the electrons in the current release light rays and heat.
Both CFLs and LEDs are able to produce the same amount of light as a traditional incandescent bulb by using far less electricity, which is why they are known as energy saving light bulbs.
Finding the Right Energy Saving Light Bulbs
With so many choices in different shapes and sizes, it can be a bit of a headache just trying to figure out which bulbs to buy for your home. Before venturing out to the shops, there are several points you should consider.
1. Which is the right fitting for the light you are trying to replace?
An easy mistake to make is not checking the bulb fittings needed for the various lamps in your home. It turns out that there’s not a one size fits all when it comes to light bulbs. There are countless fittings to choose from, so we recommend using our image above to match the bulb you are trying to replace and noting down the fitting reference number. Even better, if you’re able to take your old light bulb to the store with you, you can compare models directly.
2. CFL or LED?
The two most common types of energy saving light bulbs on the market are compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). To help decide which is best for you, we’ve put together a list of pros and cons for each type.
CFL Light Bulbs
- Consume less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs
- Less expensive than LED light bulbs
- Generate very bright light in an even spread
- Available in soft, warm, and bright whites
- Typically take a few minutes to heat up and reach full brightness
- Contain mercury, a heavy metal that is not easy to dispose of
- Unable to be used with a dimmer switch
- Sensitive to cold temperatures
LED Light Bulbs
- Reach full brightness immediately, similar to traditional incandescent bulbs
- Can last up to three times longer than CFLs
- More durable in cold temperatures
- Do not contain mercury or any other hazardous materials
- Some LED bulbs can be used with a dimmer switch
- Available in soft, warm, and bright white hues
- Better for producing directional light which may not spread as evenly as CFL or incandescent bulbs
- Light output decreases gradually over the bulb’s life span
- Currently cost more than CFLs
3. How bright should it be?
Now you know your fitting and the type of energy saving light bulb you’re after, the next thing you should consider is what sort of light and colour you prefer.
Think lumens, not watts
If you’ve ever had to buy an old-style incandescent light bulb, you’ll be used to determining its brightness using a measure of power called watts. This isn’t such a useful estimate of light output anymore, as energy saving light bulbs produce the same brightness using a lot less electricity.
Instead, we now need to think of brightness in lumens, with a higher number of lumens meaning a stronger light. Use this table to compare watt and lumen output for traditional incandescent bulbs and their energy-efficient equivalents.
To give some perspective, to replace an old 40W bedside table lamp, you would require an energy saving light bulb of at least 400 lumens, while the equivalent of a typical ceiling light at 60W would be 700 lumens.
Kelvin scale: Warm or cold light?
Ever brought home a new light bulb only to hit the switch and find yourself bathed by a harsh, sterile light that’s anything but cosy? The colour of light is measured on something called the ‘Kelvin Scale’. This is often referred to as the light ‘temperature’ by manufacturers, with energy saving light bulbs at the lower end of the scale giving off a homely, yellowish glow, while bulbs with a higher number of Kelvins are brighter and their light can sometimes appear cold or blue.
Getting the right colour of light can make all the difference from how adequately illuminated your room is, to your general mood and wellbeing.
An energy saving light bulb at 2,700K comes closest to replicating the warm, yellowish hue of an old incandescent bulb. In rooms such as the kitchen and bathroom, you may prefer to opt for a natural white instead, at 3,000K.
4. Which is the best light bulb shape for you?
Picture a light bulb in your head for a second. Chances are you’re thinking of the typical pear-shaped bulb with a metal base. These are perfect for most uses, but the market has moved on significantly since incandescent bulbs began being phased out, with a huge array of different shapes and sizes to choose from these days.
Each of these shapes provides a slightly different spread and angle of light, so this is something you’ll want to get right. For example, a ‘downlight’ bulb works well in recessed lighting and kitchen lights, while a ‘candle’-shaped bulb may suit a chandelier or wall sconce better.
The ‘traditional’ bulb shape is the most similar to the old incandescent light bulbs you grew up with and is ideal for most lamps and overhead lighting at home.
5. Are energy saving light bulbs worth it?
Although more expensive than traditional bulbs, you should not be put off by the higher cost of energy saving light bulbs - they could actually pay off their initial costs many times over by saving you hundreds on your energy bills in the long run. In fact, some CFL bulbs are now so cheap, you could make up the cost in electricity savings over just a few months.
Energy saving light bulbs typically last a lot longer too, as they do not contain filaments, which is the part that usually breaks when a traditional light bulb blows and stops working. LED bulbs can potentially last up to 25 years, while CFL bulbs have a typical lifespan of around 10 years.
As energy-efficient light bulbs become more common their price is slowly coming down. However, if you have never purchased energy saving light bulbs before, we recommend trialling one before going ahead and replacing all the light fittings in your home. LED bulbs, in particular, don’t come cheap, and last for a long time, so you’ll want to make sure that the fitting, bulb type, shape, brightness and colour temperature are all right for your needs.
Can I get free energy saving light bulbs?
In the past, many energy providers would subsidise and often give away CFL bulbs for free to UK households as a way to promote the technology. This is less common practice today, though you may still come across a supplier occasionally offering energy saving light bulbs as an incentive to switch your gas and electricity plan.
How to dispose of energy saving light bulbs
While energy saving light bulbs last much longer than their old-fashioned incandescent equivalent, all good things must come to an end. While LEDs can be thrown away with your regular household waste and even recycled in some parts of the country, CFL light bulb disposal is not quite as straightforward.
When CFL bulbs break, they can release their potentially harmful mercury content into the ground and nearby water sources. You should therefore take them to a proper CFL bulb recycling point, which can be found in branches of Homebase, Ikea, Robert Dyas and some supermarkets.
Which Energy Saving Light Bulbs are Best?
Ready to make the switch to energy saving light bulbs? We took a look at some of the bulbs available from a number of stores, including B&Q, Screwfix, Tesco and Wilko. Here’s our pick of the best.
Best overall LED bulb
Philips Ambient Dimmable A19 60-Watt Equivalent LED
The perfect replacement for your traditional bulbs, these energy saving light bulbs from Philips emit bright yet soft lighting in a wide arc, which makes them ideal for everything from ceiling lights to your bedside lamp.
Best overall CFL bulb
Sylvania CFL T2 Twist Light Bulb
This compact CFL bulb offers a natural white light with an average 10,000 hours rated lifespan. These light bulbs can be used in and outside the home, as long as they are covered and not directly exposed to the elements.
Best smart bulb
Philips Hue White A19 Dimmable LED Smart Bulb
For the tech-savvy consumer, Philips Hue range of smart bulbs are some of the best around. These bulbs are easy to set up and compatible with Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, allowing you to customise, schedule and even remotely control your home lighting. While this is the white version, Philips also offers a range of colour-changing Hue bulbs to suit whatever mood you’re in.
Best budget bulb
Diall E27 GLS Neutral White LED Light Bulb
Not sure you can justify the cost of higher-end energy saving light bulbs? This LED bulb from Diall gives off a neutral white light that comes close to a higher watt incandescent equivalent. While it may not last as long as some of the higher-end light bulbs on the market, it still gets the job done at a reasonable price.
Best retro chic
Fulighture Vintage Classic LED Filament Bulb
This energy saving light bulb’s retro filament design recreates the incandescent look of yesteryear using LED technology. Perfect for creating a cosy environment, these versatile bulbs can be used everywhere, from ceiling lights in the living room to your bedside table.
Cut Your Bills Further: Energy Saving Tips
Whether you decide to opt for energy saving light bulbs or not, there are additional ways you can save both energy and money. An easy start is by comparing energy tariffs to make sure if you’re on the best deal possible.
Other ways to save energy on your home lighting include:
- Turning off any lights you’re not using and making the most of natural daylight when possible.
- Keeping your lampshades and bulbs clean. It may seem obvious, but your bulbs will give off less light if they are dirty!
- Use bulbs with a lower wattage - not only will they consume less energy, but they’ll also create a warmer, more homey effect.
- Make use of dimmer switches, if you have them.
- Reconsider how much light you need. If you have a multiple light fitting in a small room, see if you can get away with taking one or two bulbs out.
- Install smart lighting that is controlled by a timer. This will save you both energy and money when not in use.