Food for Thought: Light bulbs – just the basics

By Nancy Schuster
Frontier District Extension Agent

Recently I went to a large discount store to buy some light bulbs. As I was standing in front of the light bulb display, I realized that I did not have the knowledge to even know what light bulb I needed! A friendly couple stopped by to help and suggested that I not buy one of the light bulbs because they exploded! I purchased what I thought I needed only to get home and realize I had the wrong bulb.

Light bulbs are improving! Newer bulbs – halogen incandescent, compact fluourescent (CFLs) and LEDs last longer and use less energy, saving money on our energy bills. Beginning in 2012, everyday light bulbs had to meet the Department of Energy standards for how much energy they use. Bulbs that didn’t meet those standards are being phased out.

foodforthoughtIn the past I chose light bulbs by looking at the number of watts the light bulb had, knowing that a 40-watt bulb was not as bright as a 75-watt bulb. Light bulbs now are designed to use less energy making wattage an outdated guideline for buying light bulbs.

The new word to look for on light bulb packages is lumens. Lumens measure brightness, watts measure energy. A standard 60-watt incandescent bulb produces about 800 lumens of light. By comparison, a CFL bulb produces those same 800 lumens using less than 15 watts.

The following compares incandescent watts to lumens:

  • 150 w (watts) equals 2600 lm (lumens)
  • 100 w equals 1600 lm
  • 75 w equals 1100 lm
  • 60 w equals 800 lm
  • 40 w equals 450 lm

Use lumens to compare the brightness of any bulb, regardless of the technology behind it, and whether it’s a halogen incandescent, CFL, or LED. Once you know how bright a bulb you want, you can compare other factors like the yearly energy cost.


A sample Lighting Facts label.

Light bulb packages have a Lighting Facts label, similar to the Nutrition Facts label on food packages. The Lighting Facts label gives you the following information:

  • Brightness (lumens)
  • Yearly estimated energy cost
  • Expected light bulb life (in years)
  • Light appearance (how warm or cool the light will look)
  • Wattage (energy used)
  • If the light bulb contains mercury

020316-energystarEarning the ENERGY STAR certification means the product meets strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Lighting products that have earned the ENERGY STAR label deliver exceptional features, while using less energy. Saving energy helps you save money on utility bills and protects the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. ENERGY STAR bulbs:

  • Use about 70 to 90 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs
  • Last 10 to 25 times longer and saves $30 to $80 in electricity costs over its lifetime
  • Meet strict quality and efficiency standards that are tested by accredited labs and certified by a third party
  • Produce about 70 to 90 percent less heat, so it’s safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling

In my next column, we will look at the new light bulbs on the shelf – halogen incandescent, CFLs and LEDs.

schustersmNancy Schuster is a Frontier Extension District family and consumer science agent whose responsibilities include providing information about food safety, nutrition, food science and food preparation. She is based in the Garnett office of the Frontier Extension District and can be reached at 785-448-6826 or email [email protected].

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