When Thomas Edison patented the first commercially successful light bulb in 1879, there was only one sort and it was known as incandescent. A filament was heated to incandescence by an electric current in order to produce light. More than 90 per cent of the energy produced by incandescent bulbs is actually heat, not light, which is why governments around the world are passing measures to phase them out in favor of more energy efficient alternatives.

Here is a short guide to the 3 main categories of light bulbs on the market today and their properties – CFLs, Halogens and LEDs.


CURLY SHAPE: These are the ones that look like a curlicue, constructed in long thin tubes folded back on themselves in order to generate light using the least amount of electricity. They are in fact a condensed version of the fluorescent lamps that have been used in offices, schools and factories for years.  You can also find them with the spiral encased in a glass outer casing, which is visually more attractive.

VERY ENERGY EFFICIENT: CFLs are a very energy efficient option and last 10 times longer than the old incandescent bulbs with a life span of about 10,000 hours. They will fade over time.

SLOW TO LIGHT UP: CFLs turn on more slowly, taking a few seconds to warm up to full brightness.

NOT SO DIMMABLE:  There are dimmable CFLs but many of them do not work with dimmers designed for use with incandescent bulbs. You may have to upgrade the dimmer.

MERCURY: CFLs contain a small amount of mercury and must therefore be disposed of carefully, recycled if possible, not thrown in the trash. Contact your local waste management company to learn how to properly dispose of CFLs.

COOL LIGHTING: The old incandescent bulbs produced a warm appealing glow whereas the light from CFLs can be cool and unflattering.  The Correlated Color Temperature of CFLs ranges from 2700K, the most natural, to 6000K, which is a very harsh blue light. This number is printed on the light bulbs. Choose a bulb around 2700K TO 3000K for a softer, warmer light.


BULB SHAPE: LEDS are usually bulb shaped.

SIZE ADVANTAGE: LEDs can be very compact and low profile, making them more aesthetic than CFLs for your home design.

VERY ENERGY EFFICIENT: LEDs are just as energy efficient as CFLs.

SUPER LONG LASTING: LEDs are the latest in home lighting and many lamps have a rated life of up to 50,000 hours, that’s about 17 years using your LED light for 8 hours a day. Imagine putting an LED bulb in your new baby’s room and not having to change it until that child goes off to college!

INSTANT LIGHT: LEDs activate instantly.  There is no warm up time.

DIMMERS: Many LEDs are dimmable but may not work with your existing dimmers.

NO MERCURY: No mercury or other hazardous material is used in manufacturing so there is not the same concern about disposal.

MORE EXPENSIVE: LEDs are more expensive than CFLs though technology for this lighting is improving all the time and the price is coming down.


DIFFERENT SHAPES: Halogens are available in globe, decorative and reflector shapes. They most closely resemble traditional incandescents, using a filament to create light by running electricity through it.

INEXPENSIVE: Halogens are inexpensive to purchase, costing only a few dollars.

SHORT LIFE:  Compared to the CFLs and particularly LEDs, halogen bulbs have a very short life with an average 2,500 hours. They are lighter on your wallet to start with but the savings fade over time. They are not energy efficient and you will be changing them frequently. I only use halogens in the lights next to my bathroom mirror where I want a warm, natural (and flattering) light for doing my makeup.

ELECTRICITY HUNGRY: Halogens are the least energy efficient of the three options.

GOOD COLOR TEMPERATURE: Halogens have a good color temperature and produce light that most closely resembles natural daylight.

DIMMABLE: Halogens are dimmable and should work with existing dimmers.

INSTANT LIGHT: Halogens turn on instantly to full brightness with no warm up time.

NO MERCURY: No mercury or other hazardous material is used in manufacturing so there is not the same concern about disposal.

HOT TO TOUCH: The lamp can get extremely hot to the touch and can be a fire hazard, particularly in lamps.