Buying a light bulb used to be pretty much as simple as choosing a wattage. Not anymore. Now the light-bulb aisle is stocked with a bewildering array of options. Not sure where to start? Here’s a rundown on your main choices for general-service bulbs.


CFLs, or compact fluorescent light bulbs, are sometimes called twisty or spiral bulbs. While some of the earliest bulbs turned people off with their ghastly light and hesitation to come on, these bulbs have come a long way in quality. Today’s good-quality bulbs come on instantly, warm up quickly and produce a light quality that is considered equal to incandescent bulbs.

The pluses: They’re fairly cheap, about $1.25 to $2.50 each for a 60-watt-equivalent bulb. They last a long time — about nine years with normal use, which is calculated as three hours a day. And they burn cooler than traditional incandescent bulbs and use much less energy. A CFL that produces as much light as an old-style 60-watt bulb, for example, uses only 13 watts of electricity.

The minuses: They can take a minute or more to reach full brightness, so they’re not the best choice for stairways or other places where instant brightness is important. Some CFLs can’t be used outdoors, in enclosed fixtures or with dimmers. And CFLs contain mercury, albeit a tiny amount.

Buy them if: You want to save energy and are willing to read labels to choose the right bulb, but you’re not ready to invest in LED lights.


These bulbs, illuminated by light-emitting diodes, are the newest kid on the lighting block. Until recently their use has been pretty much limited to people who eagerly embrace energy-saving technology, but recent improvements in price and quality make them worth a look.

The pluses: They last so long you may never have to replace them. Energy Star LED lights are guaranteed to last 25,000 hours, which translates to almost 23 years with normal use. They’re also slightly more energy-efficient than CFLs, using 10 watts of electricity to produce the light of an old-style 60-watt bulb. What’s more, they’re cool to the touch.

The minuses: They’re still fairly expensive, at least compared to other light bulbs. You can find some bulbs for about $10, but brighter bulbs are still in the $30 to $40 range. And experts disagree over whether they’ve reached the point where their light quality is as good as incandescent.

Buy them if: You’re committed to sustainability, or you want an energy-smart bulb for an enclosed fixture or a spot where changing the bulb is difficult. Shop at a store where you can see the light produced by the bulb before you buy.


These bulbs are the closest to old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. In fact, halogen bulbs are a type of incandescent bulb, except the filament is enclosed in a capsule filled with halogen gas under high pressure. The gas allows the filament to burn hotter with less energy, making the bulb more efficient.

The pluses: They look and perform pretty much the same as old-style incandescent bulbs, but with less electricity. They come on instantly, can be dimmed, produce a familiar warm light and can be used anywhere old-style incandescent bulbs could.

The minuses: They cost about $1 to $1.50 each for a 60-watt-equivalent bulb, which is at least two to three times as much as the old light bulbs. And while they’re cheaper than LEDs and some CFLs, they don’t give you nearly the savings on your electricity bill or the longevity. A halogen bulb that produces the same light as an old-style 60-watt bulb uses 43 watts of electricity and can be expected to burn out after about a year of normal use. The bulbs also burn hot, although not as treacherously hot as other kinds of halogen bulbs.

Buy them if: You hoarded incandescent bulbs, and your stockpile is running low.

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