You can now get a wide range of low-energy light bulbs that use about a fifth of the energy of traditional bulbs, for the same amount of light. Although they cost a little more to buy initially, they will last over 10 times longer than traditional bulbs, and will quickly pay for themselves over and over again by saving you money on your energy bills.
What types are there?
There are two types of energy saving lightbulbs; CFL or LED, while standard bulbs are either incandescent or halogen (for spotlights).
CFL bulbs come in a wide range of different designs; such as candle, spiral and spotlight, depending on the way that the glass tubes are folded. Usually, the tubes loop out of the base unit two, three or four times. Spiral-coiled designs distribute the light more efficiently. Sometimes the tubes are encased in a glass globe to make them look like conventional bulbs.
LED lamps are normally only found as spotlights or on strips.
They are available in a wide range of brightness, sizes and fitting types, so you should be able to find a low energy bulb for most applications. However low energy lights are not normally suitable for dimmer switches - see below for more info. Two fittings you will be familiar with are the edison screw (ES) and bayonet (BC) as these are used for standard incandescent bulbs. Spotlights generally have either MR16 (two prongs) or GU10 (two prongs with a knobbly bit on the end) fittings.
More information on choosing your spotlight is available here.
How do they work?
CFL stands for 'compact fluorescent lighting' (just like those long strip-lights). The cleverly-folded glass tubes contain a gas, and are coated on the inside with a layer of phosphor. When electricity passes through the gas, it emits ultraviolet rays which cause the phosphor coating to glow. This is more energy efficient because most of the energy is turned into light instead of wasteful heat (which conventional bulbs produce a lot of).
A LED lamp uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as the source of light.
What about the watts?
Because they are more efficient, they can produce the same amount of light with less wattage. For example, a 20W low energy bulb is equivalent to a 100W conventional bulb, and a 15W low energy bulb is roughly equivalent to a 60W conventional bulb.
How much do they cost?
Energy saving bulbs cost more to manufacture, so are a bit more expensive to buy. However they quickly pay for themselves, and thereafter save you money through lower energy bills and much longer life spans. Typical prices are around £5 - £20, depending on the wattage and manufacturer. If you're looking to buy then Your Welcome supply a comprehensive range of affordable, energy saving light bulbs.
Dimmable energy saving light bulbs
We often get asked whether our energy saving bulbs are compatible with dimmer switches. In most cases low energy light bulbs can’t be dimmed because of the way the circuit is designed.
As standard CFL bulbs work best and last longest if they are turned on for a minimum of 15 minutes each time they are used - they are not compatible with modern dimmer switches which work by turning the power on and off many times a second.
Recently some CFL bulbs have started coming onto the market that are compatible. Previously the key obstacle to dimmability was the ballast - the component in a CFL bulb which sends electric current through the gas filled tube causing it to emit light.
The basic ballasts found in old CFL bulbs caused a certain amount of flickering which put a lot of people off CFL lighting. Modern electronic ballasts overcame this problem, and have since been improved to enable dimming (down to as little as 2% of maximum light level) and to allow CFL bulbs to be switched on at a low light level (rather than having to be turned on at maximum light level).
Dimmable CFLs have very long lifetimes - up to 10x that of standard incandescent bulbs, and lower power consumption (around 25% of standard bulbs).
We currently stock a 25W dimmable candle bulb in our shop.
Frequently asked questions
Do fluorescent lights use more energy to turn on and off - is it best to leave them switched on?
It's a complete myth! Low energy bulbs definitely do not consume more energy to turn on, the only difference is that they can take a short while to reach full brightness. It’s always best to turn off any lights if you are not using them.
Are low energy lights dimmer?
No! Low energy lights can seem dimmer when you first turn them on because they may take 30 seconds or so to reach their full brightness. When they were first available, low energy bulbs were pretty rubbish, but the newer top quality designs we stock start up and get bright much quicker.
Don’t low-energy lights produce a cold, white light?
When they were first developed, low energy lights produced a cold, harsh light, unlike the warmer, more yellow glows of the traditional light bulbs. Today, however, technology has improved, and you can get them with a 'light temperature' of 3000k where the light is called 'warm white' (yellower), as well as the standard 'cool white' (bluer) at 4000k.
I heard that energy-saving bulbs have mercury inside them?
Yes, mercury is an essential ingredient for energy-saving lamps, but modern designs contain only very very small quantities. Mercury content depends on the manufacturer, and the European eco-label permits a maximum of 4 milligrams per bulb.
When you start looking into it, there's a load of jargon to do with lighting. It's not really necessary to know most of it, but for those who like this kind of thing, here's a run down of what the tecchie names actually mean...
Dichroic coating is a special chemical coating on a bulb's reflector designed to let infrared energy escape. This is a good thing because its the infrared which causes objects under the light and the bulb itself to heat up.
Lumen (lm) is the unit of luminous flux, which is the measure of the total power emitted by the source. This is a standard way of measuring the brightness of a light. To give you an idea, a 100W light bulb is approximately 1700 lumens and a 40W bulb is about 500 lumens.
You may have seen on a bulb specification the letters mcd, this stands for milli-candela and its the unit used for "luminous intensity". Crikey. We think that this is a bit too much science.
- Colour Temperature (Kelvin)
The colour temperature number tells you the colour of the light produced:
Ordinary light bulbs are usually about 2800K on the scale above, and for comparison, a candle is around 1850K (much yellower). Colour temperature is important with energy saving bulbs, as they are sometimes criticised for being too white, or even blueish. If you are choosing bulbs in our shop you will often see a choice between 'cool white' which is 4000K and 'warm white' which is 3000K.
The reflector controls the direction and spread of the light cast from the lamp, this can vary between 120 degrees (wide), to 45 degrees (medium), to 7 degrees (very narrow). Therefore you can choose if you want to focus your light on something or have it to light up the whole room.