Upgrading your light bulbs

Home lighting has undergone significant changes since incandescent bulbs were the norm in most households.

Upgrading your bulbs is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your energy costs - across a household's worth of bulbs, savings can be surprisingly large.   

However, the last 20 years or so has seen a much wider range of products and technologies come on the market.  There is a lot of information on bulb packaging, and a different fittings to take into account.  Add the development of products such as smart light bulbs to the mix, and there's a lot to think about.

This guide will tell you all you need to know to make sure you get it right when buying a new light bulb, so you can save money and great the ambience you want in your home. 

What different types of light bulbs are out there?

LED is the leading current lightbulb technology.  A solid-state lighting technology, they greatly outpace incandescent and halogen bulbs in terms of efficiency and lifetime, are more versatile, reach full brightness immediately, and can be compatible with digital devices and interfaces for control. The cost of LEDs has come down more quickly than expected over the last few years, making the financial case for using them in the home and workplace a no-brainer.

All common types of household bulbs are available in an LED variant, covering ceiling GLS bulbs, spot lights and candles, tubes, outdoor floodlights and panels.

Topten only recommends LEDs in our product listings.  As well as reduced purchase cost (with many spotlights now under a fiver and 100W replacement GLS bulbs available for under £10), running costs are a fraction of those from incandescents or halogens.  A 5W LED spot light will cost under £1 a year to run; the annual running cost of a 100W incandescent will now exceed the purchase cost of an equivalent LED, many of which now cost under £2 a year to run.

CFLs are a common lighting technology that works by passing a current through a tube containing argon and a small amount of mercury vapour, generating ultraviolet light; this then excites a phosphor coating inside the tube which produces visible light.

Whilst CFLs are a big improvement over traditional bulbs in terms of efficiency and running costs, LEDs are still the superior option currently due to their reduced purchase cost. This is reflected in retailers ranges that now feature a much lower proportion of CFLs than was the case in recent years.

Halogens and incandescent 
bulbs are older technologies that work by burning a filament to create light.

This results in them being much less efficient - a large proportion of the energy goes to creating heat and not light - for incandescents the amount of energy converted to light is typically less than 5%. 

Incandescent bulbs can't be sold anymore (these couldn't be placed on the market from 2012), but they still crop up in some places. A loophole enabling them still to be sold for a few years after 2012 when advertised as 'rough service' has since been closed.

The ban of this product was certainly contentious to traditional lighting purists - but the economics don't add up anymore. A 100W incandescent, on for around 3 hours a day will cost you around £15 per year to run, more than the purchase cost of all the LED bulbs in Topten UK's 100W replacement section.  With a running cost of about £2 a year, the LED bulb will pay for itself a little into its second year of operation.