Choosing light bulbs for the home

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Choosing light bulbs for your home can be surprisingly tricky! There are four main types of bulbs used in Australian homes: we look at their properties and how they compare on efficiency, cost, and environmental sustainability.

Home lighting goes through trends just like any other home furnishing, but in vogue lighting doesn't necessarily mean it's the best for your home, electricity bill, or the environment. Knowing which light bulbs are best and installing these in your home can save you on energy costs and may also minimise the number of times you have to change them.

Choosing CFL over incandescent can save you money and reduce your impact on the environment.

Incandescent lights

Incandescent lights are cheap to buy but expensive to run. The warm colour lighti they produce is ideal for areas where lighting is used occasionally and for short periods of time, such as laundries and bathroomsii. They are not recommended by the Government for general home lighting because of their inefficiency and comparatively expensive running costsii, iii. The Australian Government is a long way into the phasing out of incandescent bulbs through the introduction of minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) for lighting products in order to promote more efficient and cost-effective bulbs such as Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL)iii. Only lighting products that meet these standards will be allowed to be sold in Australiaiii.

Halogen lights

Halogen lights are a type of incandescent light that uses a tungsten elementii. Halogen lights are more efficient and longer lasting than incandescent bulbsiv, but their shortcomings substantially outweigh their advantages. Although halogen lights are most suited to lighting a small or focused areaiv, they are frequently used to light a large space, resulting in higher levels of energy being consumed than necessary. Like incandescent bulbs, some varieties of halogen lights are being phased out by the Australian Government and will no longer be available for sale in Australiav.

There's an additional safety worry that halogen lights present to homes: they have been isolated as a cause of household fires. A combination of poor insulation, installation and maintenance of these lights with the high levels of heat that they produce has resulted in a number of household fires across NSW over the last five yearsvi. Fire and Rescue NSW has emphasised the importance of ensuring that halogen down lights are never installed near structural timber members (such as the roof, ceiling or floor beams)vi. Furthermore, halogen lights must also be kept away from pulped paper, rock wool, fibreglass and polyester batts, as these materials may be flammable under high temperatures.

Halogen downlights are best suited to lighting a small or focused area.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL)

Compact fluorescent lamps are a widely available energy efficient solution for household lighting in Australiaii. They can last between four and ten times longer than an incandescent bulb and they use only around 20% of the energy in order to produce the same amount of lightvii. With the phasing out of less efficient household lighting and choosing CFLs instead, Australia is expected to save around 30 terawatt hours of electricity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 million tonnes between 2008 and 2020. In essence, this is the equivalent of shutting down a small coal-fired power station or taking more than half a million cars off the roadviii.

Although CFLs are initially more expensive to buy, in the long run they are much cheaper to run and can last for a far greater time than incandescent and halogen lightsii. Although you can't usually use them with dimmers, they're available in a variety of tones such as cool, neutral or warm, which are perfect for places that are always kept lit like the hallway or kitcheni. Choosing CFLs over incandescent lights can save a household on average around $50 per year on electricity billsv.

There have been some concerns about the minor amounts of mercury found in fluorescent lamps and its impact on the environment. This amount is inconsequential, however, when compared to the amount of mercury that is produced by the use of incandescent lamps. Burning coal to produce electricity releases mercury into the environment, and although incandescent lamps do not contain mercury themselves, they require more electricity than any other lamp. As a result, the process of producing enough electricity (by burning coal) to power these types of light bulbs actually releases greater amounts of mercury into the atmosphere than is contained in a CFLviii.

Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights

LEDs can be an efficient alternative to traditional incandescent bulbs and even CFLsix. Despite their generally higher initial cost, their efficiency and long life span can make them a viable option for household lighting. They require minimal maintenance and replacement.

The household LED light market is still in its infancy so it is important that you check the quality and efficiency rating of any product before purchase. Some sub-standard LEDs may not produce enough light, may flicker, change colour or fail prematurelyx.

Light Bulb Running costxi Purchase costxii, xiii Duration (hours)xiv, xv, xvi, xvii Energy efficiencyii, ix Impact on environmentviii
Incandescent High Low 1,000-2,000 Low High
Halogen High Low 2,000-5,000 Low High
CFL Low Low-Medium 10,000-15,000 High Low
LED Low Medium-High 25,000-50,000 High Low

Next time you're choosing light bulbs, don't just reach for the cheapest. Consider the proven benefits of a more expensive bulb to both the environment and your electricity bill. Your home might even seem brighter for it!

i Elle Decor, Lightbulb Buying Guide, viewed 19 July 2013,

ii Your Home, 6.3 Lighting, viewed 19 July 2013,

iii Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, Incandescent light bulbs phase-out, Australian Government, viewed 19 July 2013,

iv Business Recycling 2010, 'Halogen Lamps', Planet Ark, viewed 19 July 2013,

v Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, Lighting, Australian Government, viewed 19 July 2013,

vi Fire & Rescue NSW 2010, Halogen Downlights, viewed 19 July 2013,

vii Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, Frequently Asked Questions, Australian Government, viewed 19 July 2013,

viii Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, Environmental benefits of phasing-out incandescent light bulbs, viewed 19 July 2013, Australian Government,

ix Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, Energy efficient alternatives, Australian Government, viewed 19 July 2013,

x Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, Buying good quality LEDs, Australian Government, viewed 19 July 2013,

xi Your Power QLD, Replacing halogen downlight bulbs, viewed 19 July 2013,

xii Barnes, C 2010, ‘Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs’, Choice, viewed 19 July 2013,

xiii Bunnings 2013, Light bulbs, viewed 19 July 2013,

xiv Earth Easy, LED Light Bulbs: Comparison Charts:, viewed 19 July 2013,

xv Your Home 2010, 6.3 Lighting, Australian Government, viewed 9 October 2013,

xvi Philips 2012, Visual appeal with energy savings, viewed 19 July 2013,

xvii Taub, E 2012, ‘How long did you say that bulb would last?’, The New York Times, viewed 19 July 2013,