A couple screwing in their new LED lights, which are more versatile, energy-efficient and budget-smart.
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LEDs over incandescents

Understanding the New Lightbulb Guidance: Out With Incandescents and in With LED Lightbulbs

Kelsey Bourgeois
September 14, 2023

If you’re anything like me, you have carefully perfected the lighting in your home to suit your mood, task, and style at any given time. It has been a painstaking process, and your choice of light bulb has been the biggest factor. 

When you heard about the recent ‘incandescent light bulb ban’, which went into effect on August 1, 2023, you might have been worried you won’t be able to create the mood lighting your home deserves. Luckily, those headlines were a bit misleading; incandescents are not banned, just the least energy-efficient ones are. Also, most retailers stopped selling those bulbs in recent years, and you may not have even noticed!

More importantly, LED technology has exploded recently, and I’m going to show you the best LEDs for every setting. The best part? You’re going to save money on your energy bill by switching, which is the whole purpose of the new rule set out by the Biden administration.

Head to the bottom if you’re just here for the lightbulb recommendations!

A little light bulb history

Knowing a bit about the evolution of light bulbs will give you the context you need to understand why I’m only going to recommend LEDs.

While Edison’s bulb was not patented until 1879 and 1880, the world’s first incandescent light bulb showed up in 1835. Incandescent lights work by heating a wire with an electric current, which causes it to glow. Those early bulbs were expensive to make and run, and they died extremely quickly. For the next hundred or so years, there was a lot of electric light experimentation; think neon lights, used in signage but needed frequent repairs, and low-pressure sodium lamps, used in streetlights.

Important to remember about any incandescent bulb is that it will become very hot when on, which is a bit dangerous, energy-intensive, and irritating. Next time you watch an older movie, notice that the actors seem very hot and may be sweating, likely because they’re being blasted with hot incandescent bulbs. The reason is that incandescent bulbs have a good color rendering index (CRI) and, therefore, are preferable in a setting where you want to capture true color, like a movie set.

The next big advancement was the halogen bulb, a variation of an incandescent bulb that appeared in 1959 and increased the lifespan of bulbs by 2-3x. We still use halogen bulbs for certain things like the heating element in some ovens, headlights, outdoor floodlights, and more.

Perhaps the next most important and widely adopted light bulb advancement was spurred by the 1973 oil crisis. We needed lights that used less energy, and we needed them fast. Enter the compact fluorescent light (CFL), which appeared on the scene in 1976 and became commercially available in the early 1980’s. These were amazing because they could be curled, coiled, and used 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

While CFLs were great for energy efficiency, they had some major drawbacks. Their CRI was very poor, meaning they could not be used in any settings where people needed to be able to see the true colors of what they were working on indoors. This also caused people and items to look a bit otherworldly in fluorescent lighting. Almost nobody wants to be seen in this type of lighting. Lastly, CFLs tended to flicker at the time, which remained true into the 2000s in some instances, causing headaches, annoyance, and disruption.

CFLs greatly improved energy efficiency, but the real magic happened when LEDs appeared on the scene.

LEDs are king

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) appeared in the early 2000s and were more broadly available in 2008. LED lights pass an electrical current through a microchip, which lights up tiny light sources we call LEDs, making the light visible to us! They also have heat sinks to absorb heat and dissipate it into the surrounding area so the bulb won’t heat up like traditional bulbs. This thermal management is the main reason they’re so efficient.

LEDs are up to 90% more efficient than incandescent bulbs, which saves you a lot of money on your energy bill. At first, they were quite expensive, but in 2023, they’re barely more expensive than traditional bulbs and more than make up for the cost in energy savings over time and lifespan. Replacing your bulbs less often is both convenient and budget-smart.

Those early LEDs also didn’t have a lot of variety in types of light in things like temperature, color, brightness, and more. But today, LEDs have more variety than ever! I’ll tell you all about my favorite lights.

What to consider when picking out a new LED lightbulb

There are so many details on the package of light bulbs that it can be hard to know what to look for if you’re not a lighting dork. Here are the main things you should consider when buying a new LED bulb.

  • Energy-efficiency: Moving forward, you won’t be able to get super inefficient bulbs in the US for most in-home lighting. But if you want to be sure you get the best in class energy-wise and want to do a little math, here is the formula you’ll need to evaluate the efficiency of your bulbs. For those who want a quick gauge, just look for the Energy Star rating of a bulb you’re considering.
  • Cost: You can compare energy efficiency with pricing here, getting the best of both worlds!
  • Lifespan: Most bulbs nowadays offer an estimate of how long they will last you right on the box. Once you buy an energy-efficient bulb, you want it to last as long as possible, so you don’t need to replace it as often. The great news is that LEDs can last over a decade!
  • CRI: Recall that the color rendering index or CRI tells you how a bulb performs indoors compared to sunlight in regards to rendering true colors. This is a measure between 1 and 100. If you are an artist, someone who likes to do makeup, a hobby craftsperson like me (I’m a cross stitcher), or even an artistic person who has put a lot into home design, you should be buying bulbs with a CRI over 90.
  • Brightness: Different rooms require differing brightness. This is measured in lumens; you can see some recommendations here for how many lumens you need in a given space. Ultimately, this is a very personal choice and may require some experimentation to find the right fit for your space.
  • Color of light: This is measured in Kelvin; the higher the Kelvin, the whiter the bulb will be. Simply put, most light bulbs are white and are either more blue-white or more yellow-white. Daylight bulbs are blue-white and are great for workspaces or spaces you use during the day. Soft white is going to be more yellow-white and nice for a space you want to relax in the evening. Bright white is great for the kitchen, where more light is needed. Again, experimentation is key.

Our favorites

Best Smart Bulb

A product photo of Philips Hue Smart Bulbs. The bulbs are pink

Philips Hue Bulbs

I’ll say it: I’m obsessed with my Hue bulbs. Their CRI isn’t fabulous, but they make up for it with fun and the ability to set any mood: I use them in my living room, and my partner uses them in his perfumery studio. They can be turned to any color and any brightness, all from an app on your phone. The app also comes with fun pre-sets like Aurora Borealis and Tropical Twilight. They can also have set “routines,” which ensure you don’t accidentally go to bed having left your lights on.

You know we love our smart items here at OhmConnect. This is because they can be controlled with a lot of detail, even when you’re not home. Products like Hue bulbs even have out-of-town settings so you can turn lights on for a while when you’re out of town if you’re concerned about your home appearing unoccupied.

They’re a bit pricey, but I think they’re worth it. They’re also compatible with smart home devices, including audio control and other interesting add-on features.

Most versatile

A product photo of the Philips WhiteDial, 1 Bulb, 5 Shades bulbs

Philips WhiteDial LED

If you’re not sure what shade of light you want, I recommend buying these. They have a switch at the base that allows you to switch between soft white, bright white, neutral white, cool white, and daylight. This gives you the flexibility to try different things in different rooms.

Best for artists and artistic people

The first company to achieve 99 CRI with LEDs was Waveform Lighting, and we still think their bulbs are best in class. If you do anything at home that requires being able to see colors rendered clearly as though you’re in sunlight, these are worth the big bucks.

Best for the kitchen

Product photo of an Ecosmart bright white energy star rated bulb

EcoSmart Bright White 75W

Generally, you need a lot of light in your kitchen. Don’t be afraid to go for bright white if you’re not sensitive to blue-white light. These EcoSmart bulbs are ENEGRY STAR rated, meaning they’re highly efficient.

I personally prefer a Cool White Bulb that’s 3500 Kelvin for my kitchen; they’re brighter than the soft white you want to use in a living room for the evening but not as aggressive as daylight white or bright white, which can cause headaches and be generally intense for evening cooking.

As you have learned, there is a lot to consider. But most importantly, don’t be worried about the new lightbulb rules brought by the Biden administration. The rule will simplify shopping for energy-efficient lightbulbs even more, saving you money and saving the planet!

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