How to buy the best light bulbs

Compare the pros, cons and running costs of different types of bulbs, from LED to halogen and energy-savers. Plus, how to dispose of the old ones

LED light bulbs

LED light bulb

LED lights use very little energy, are claimed to last a very long time and, unlike regular energy-saving bulbs, are instantly bright when switched on. Most smart light bulbs are LEDs.

They produce light through the use of a semi-conductor that emits light energy when an electrical current is passed through it. They are the most energy-efficient option, using 90% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, which were phased out in the UK in 2009.

LEDs also have a significantly longer lifespan than halogen and CFL light bulbs, estimated at around 25,000 hours compared to 2,000 hours for halogens and 10,000 hours for CLFs. 

Plus, prices are getting lower all the time. While the brightest bulbs can still set you back around £20, most cost less than £10, and the energy savings they provide make them well worth considering.

Pros of LED bulbs

  • LEDs use 90% less energy than traditional incandescents, and can sometimes pay for themselves through energy savings in just a couple of months.
  • They last for 25-30 years, depending on which ones you buy and how you use them.
  • They give out light almost instantly when you flick the light switch, so you don’t have to put up with dim light while your LEDs get going.
  • They work fine in low temperatures.

Cons of LED bulbs:

  • Some people don’t like the quality of light given out by LED light bulbs, as they can produce a cooler, bluish light.
  • To dim them, you might need to upgrade to a dimmer that recognises low electrical loads. The packaging should say whether LEDs are dimmable.
  • It’s tricky to get a consistent look in your home if you mix different LED brands and types. The colour temperature and colour rendering index (CRI) can vary more than with traditional light bulbs.

Energy saving light bulbs (CFLs)

Energy saving bulbs, also known as compact fluorescent lamps (or CFLs) were the original energy-efficient alternative to incandescent bulbs. CFLs typically use 60-80% less energy than incandescent lights.

CFL bulbs use an electric current to excite gases within the bulb, causing a phosphorus coating on the inside to glow, producing light. Through this method, less energy is lost to heat and the bulb is more energy efficient. Some CFLs take a few minutes to reach full brightness.

Most modern dimmer switches should work with CFL bulbs, although some older ones might not be compatible.

We anticipate that CFLs will gradually become harder to find with the wider industry and new government legislations shifting towards LED usage.

Pros of energy saving light bulbs

  • CFLs are reasonably cheap, with prices starting as low as £3.
  • They pay for themselves in energy savings fairly quickly.
  • They have a long lifespan of around 10,000 hours (or roughly about 10 years of use).

Cons of energy saving light bulbs 

  • They take a bit of time to warm up and brighten when they’re first switched on. This means CFLs aren’t always the best choice for stairs or bathrooms.
  • Some CFLs aren’t suitable for use with dimmer switches.
  • These bulbs tend to work poorly in cold temperatures, making them less suitable for unheated rooms or outdoor spaces, such as a garage.
  • Some CFLs look significantly different compared with old-style bulbs and it can be tricky to get them in certain shapes and sizes, such as small candle bulbs.
  • We expect they’ll become harder to obtain over coming years as the industry shifts its focus more fully on to LEDs.

Looking for more ways to make lower your energy bill? Read our advice on how to make your home more energy efficient.

Smart light bulbs

Used philips hue 468896

Smart light bulbs are internet-connected, meaning you can control them from a connected device – from anywhere in the world if you needed to – as long as you have a data or wi-fi connection. Most are powered by LEDs, and therefore have cheaper running costs than other types of bulbs.

You’ll usually need a smart hub to set up smart light bulbs, which allows your bulbs to communicate with your internet router. Make sure your bulbs and smart hub are compatible – for example, Philips smart bulbs will only work with a Philips Hue Bridge.

You could set up one hub to control multiple devices in your smart home, such as your security system or radiator valves.

Some smart bulbs will still function without a smart hub. For example, certain bulbs from LIFX have built-in wi-fi, which means they work independently.

Other smart lights work over Bluetooth as well as (or instead of) wi-fi. This means that although you can control the bulbs remotely using a phone or tablet, you need to be within a specific range. You won’t be able to control Bluetooth bulbs from outside this range (often around 30ft).

Most smart lighting systems are compatible with voice commands through Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa, making them a good hands-free option.

Many smart bulbs can also change colour. You can expect to spend up to around £50 for a single colour-shifting smart bulb. If you’re shopping for a smart bulb that just switches between warmer and cooler white tones, expect to pay £10-£30.

Pros of smart light bulbs

  • You can control smart light bulbs while out of the house, which is handy if you accidentally leave a light on.
  • Smart bulbs are made with existing lamps and light fixtures in mind and most come with Edison caps, bayonet caps or both.
  • As an extra layer of security, you can turn on your lights remotely to deter burglars.
  • Many smart home hubs come with motion sensors – you can set them so that your smart bulbs turn on when they detect movement.

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