Everyday enviro with Elise: lightbulb moment

Everyday enviro with Elise: lightbulb moment

By Elise Catterall  February 24th, 2022

Not all lightbulbs are created equal. Here, Elise explores the best (and worst) options for your budget and the environment.


Lightbulbs are a part of everyone's life, no matter how much natural light you have in your home. And they are worth thinking about because — aside from their environmental impact — they form a large part of our household expenditure. In fact, lighting accounts for 10 per cent of an average household's electricity bill.

Just like batteries, which we also looked at recently, lightbulbs have evolved significantly in recent times. Until recently, you had very few choices to make when buying a lightbulb. If you were looking for a standard household bulb, your only option was incandescent bulbs (aka tungsten filament bulbs), you just had to decide between fitting (screw in or bayonet), temperature (cool or warm), and wattage (40W, 60W, 75W, etc.).

Incandescent bulbs are almost a thing of the past due to their short lifespan and energy inefficiency — they waste approximately 90 per cent of the energy they produce as heat. Although you can still buy them from some specialty stores for things like vintage lamps.

Now, the lightbulb market is split between LED, CFL and halogen bulbs, with LEDs making up the majority. Let's look at each in turn.

Halogen bulbs

Halogen bulbs, like incandescent bulbs before them, are in the process of being phased out for household usage, though they are still widely available to buy. While they are more energy efficient and longer lasting than incandescent bulbs, they are inefficient, expensive and short-lived when compared to LED and CFL bulbs.

CFL bulbs

CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) are just like the long fluro tubes used in industrial and commercial buildings, only compact, hence the name. The 'tube' in CFLs is twisted around to concentrate the light, which means they don't generate much heat, making them quite energy efficient. 

CFLs are better for the planet than halogens and incandescent bulbs — they use 75 per cent of the energy that incandescent bulbs use and last 10 times longer — but they have their disadvantages. For a start, they brighten slowly and don't cope well with vibration, which that means they can't be used with fans, for example. They also don't play nice in cold weather and only last half as long (or less) than LEDs.

The biggest issue, though, is that they contain mercury, up to 5 per cent in some bulbs. That means they have to be disposed of very carefully. They can be recycled, but not in your kerbside recycling bin. Don't handle them if broken and absolutely don't put them in with your regular rubbish, broken or unbroken, as they pose a real risk of contamination.

LED bulbs

We are left with LEDs, or Light Emitting Diodes, which are the most energy efficient and eco-friendly option on the market. While LEDs have a higher upfront cost than the other options, they are actually less expensive in the long run, due to their long, long lives — between 15,000 and 50,000 hours!

LEDs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with options for almost every use. But, lucky for us, there is a great app to help navigate the spectrum of LED options called BulbSaver. This app provides conversion tables, guides for lighting different rooms, the best alternatives to your existing bulbs and estimates of energy savings of switching to LED bulbs.

Something to consider: 'smart' LED bulbs, the ones you can control via an app, aren't as energy efficient as regular LEDs because they are energy hungry when in standby mode and have been found to be comparable in efficiency to old-fashioned incandescent bulbs.

Hopefully this has been a lightbulb moment for you! For more information, check out the Energy Rating Light Bulb Buyers Guide.

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


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Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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