When asked why he was struggling to invent the first light bulb, Thomas Edison famously said I haven’t failed — I’ve just found 10,000 that won’t work!” As we know he eventually persevered and gave birth to the first incandescent light bulb. Since that time, electrical infrastructure and technology have evolved to the point that today there are several different types of light bulbs sold in stores and found in residential homes as well as commercial properties.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the good old fashioned incandescent light bulb and make of the new bulbs available to today’s consumers.
The Incandescent Light Bulb
For decades this was the only viable option for providing light in homes, offices, and businesses. When an electric current flows through a filament made from thin tungsten wire, the inherent resistance causes the filament to heat up. This, in turn, causes it to heat up, glow and produce light.
Halogen Light Bulbs
For all intents and purposes, halogen light bulbs were invented to be a natural upgrade from incandescent bulbs. They tend to emit a spectrum of light that is very close to natural daylight Sometimes referred to as “White Light” it makes colors appear sharper. At the same time, halogen bulbs can also be dimmed.
When it comes to energy efficiency, they are slightly better than traditional incandescent light bulbs. However, the bulbs themselves tend to be more expensive and the also burn at a higher temperature. You often see halogen bulbs being used in under-cabinet lighting, as well as things like pendant lights, track lights and recessed “Can Lighting” fixtures.
Important Safety Tip: You should never use bare hands to change a halogen bulb. This includes the burned-out bulb in the fixture, which may be exceedingly hot, as well as when installing the new halogen bulb. Even a minor amount of residual oil from your skin can damage the new bulb when it’s turned on. It could even cause the bulb to shatter.
Fluorescent Light Bulbs
Fluorescent bulbs have long had a place in schools, offices, and commercial settings. They tend to give off a cold or “Flat” light that is sometimes blue-shaded and can be harsh on the eyes. There are some people who spend prolonged amounts of time in settings with fluorescent light who complain about it contributing to eye strain.
In recent years fluorescent bulb manufacturing has evolved. There are now bulbs available with descriptors like “Warm” “Cool” and “Soft-White.” With a little shopping around you can even find colored fluorescent bulbs in “Black Light” as well as blue, red, and other shades. There are even so-called “Day Light” fluorescent bulbs that can be fixed to a fish tank with natural plants or used as an improvised way of keeping spring seedlings alive.
Yet even with these advancements, fluorescent light bulbs cannot be dimmed like halogen and other light bulbs. This is due to the way they work, by ionizing mercury vapor within the glass tube. As the process continues the gas starts to release electrons that emit photons. This largely ultraviolet light is then converted into standard visible light, which is perceived by the human eye, via a phosphor coating on the inside of the tube.
Your average fluorescent light bulb typically produces more light and will also last longer than an incandescent light bulb. Today they are being phased out in favor of other more efficient light fixtures that produce more pleasant shades of light. Yet you will still find them in workshops or large areas that need simple light such as an attic or a basement.
Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs
Also known as CFLs they use some of the basic principles of a fluorescent light bulb yet employ upgraded materials and engineering. They produce light by driving an electric current that is driven through a specially coiled tube that contains argon gas as well as a small amount of mercury vapor. The CFL bulb then generates invisible ultraviolet light that excites a phosphor coating on the inside of the tube. This, in turn, emits the visible light our eyes perceive.
CFL tend to be more energy-efficient than their standard fluorescent bulb forefathers. They also tend to last many times longer than incandescent light bulbs. This often makes them great replacement bulbs for indoor light fixtures and lamps.
Originally developed as a “Light-Emitting Diode,” LED bulbs are a relatively new lighting technology that has evolved to be longer-lasting than other types of light bulbs while also being very energy-efficient.
However, LED bulbs aren’t ready to fully supplant or even replace other bulbs. At least not right now. In their current iteration, this type of bulb is only capable of producing single direction light. The human eye tends to prefer diffused light. This makes the current version of LED bulbs better suited for under-counter task lighting, rather than full room illumination. There are even some LED grow light arrangements being used by exotic gardeners and horticulturalists.
Yet this new technology continues to evolve, with more and more manufacturers coming up with innovative ways to overcome the single direction light issues. Some new models employ large arrays of LED light bulbs that are clustered together. Unfortunately, the price for these lighting devices is currently on the order of five to six times higher than that of CFLs.
What’s The Best Type Of Light Bulb For My Home Or Business?
It’s important to keep in mind that not all light fixtures can take any bulb. You might be able to physically screw one type of bulb into a fixture meant for a different bulb and get away with it for a few hours, or perhaps even a few days.
Still, if you take a closer look at even a simple household lamp, you will likely find a sticker or some stamped metal telling you the maximum wattage that fixture is capable of. Inserting a bulb with a higher wattage requirement into that fixture could eventually cause problems, burn out the fixture, or even pose a fire risk.
If you are thinking about upgrading the light bulbs and fixtures in your home or office, it’s best to consult with a qualified electrician. We can help you understand your options, while also making sure that all applicable safety codes are being met.