As of 2014, there are three major types of lighting solutions available for the general public that include halogen incandescent, fluorescent, and LED lamps. Each one is unique and has their own advantages and disadvantages that it offers and this article will explore them in detail. This article will give you the information to help you make an educated and well-informed decision to purchase your next type of lamp for your home or business.
Halogen Incandescent, Fluorescent, and LED bulbs
Incandescent lamps were the first type of electrical lighting solution created in the early 1800s and popularized by Thomas Edison. This type of lamp creates light by super heating a filament wire inside the lamp until it glows by passing an electric current through it; because of it’s low production cost, compatibility with alternating and direct current, and simplicity of integration, this is the most widely used form of light in automotive, commercial, and residential lighting and is available in a wide assortment of sizes, output, and voltage ratings.
Typical incandescent lamps are filled with an inert gas such as argon and nitrogen to reduce the evaporation of the filament wire due to the high heat. Halogen incandescent lamps use halogen elements such as iodine or bromine inside the lamp to create the halogen cycle when combined with the tungsten filament wire; this redeposits the evaporated material back onto the filament wire to improve it’s life span.
Because this type of light super heats a metal filament wire until it glows red hot to produce light, nearly all the electricity (~95%) used is converted to waste heat instead of light. In other words, incandescent lamps produce more heat than visible light output so there is a lot of wasted energy. In addition to the wasted energy, incandescent lamps typically have a short life span of about 750-1000 hours which may require frequent replacements for applications where the light is constantly on 24/7. Frequent operation of the light such as turning on and off all the time will eventually reduce the life of the lamp as well.
While these incandescent lamps may be inefficient, they are very simple and cheap to produce which explains why there are so many on the market today. Due to their inefficiency, many governments around the world are beginning to implement “phase-out” regulations to ban the manufacturing, importation, and/or sale of incandescent lights in favor of more efficient forms of light such as compact fluorescent and LED lights.
Incandescent Light Bulb
Next, we have fluorescent lamps which are low pressure mercury-vapor gas-discharge lamps; these types of light use an electric current to stimulate the mercury vapor inside the lamp which produces UV (ultraviolet) light which then causes the phosphor material coating on the inside of the lamp to glow. The method of light production is known as fluorescence and is created when a specific material absorbs light or electromagnetic to produce light.
Fluorescent lamps are much more efficient at converting electricity into visible light than incandescent lamps and are also much more reliable, typically lasting up to 10,000 hours. These lights have a high efficacy (lumen output to watt power consumed) and can exceed 100 lumens per watt of power consumed compared to the lower efficacy of incandescent lamps which are closer to 16 lumens per watt. Fluorescent lights require a starter to initially turn on the light; this is because the mercury vapor atoms need to be ionized to begin the process of fluorescence and a ballast to maintain and regulate the power to keep it running. Unfortunately just like incandescent lamps, frequent on and off operation of the lamp will reduce it’s life span because these lamps require a “warm up” time.
There is a choice of color available with fluorescent lamps because the amount and combination of phosphor material inside the lamp can be adjusted according to what correlated color temperature (CCT) is desired; this ranges from 2700K (warm white, typical incandescent lamp color) to 5000-6000K (natural daylight).
While fluorescent lights are much more ideal than incandescent lights in many ways such as output, energy consumption and long term savings, they are generally more expensive to produce thanks to the external components and material required and is considered as hazardous waste thanks to the usage of poisonous mercury vapor. These lights have to be properly disposed when it is no longer used and is recommended to be thrown away separately from general waste. Fluorescent lamps also produce a small amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation which may be harmful for those who are sensitive. These lamps are also limited to the shape and size of the application because of the design.
Fluorescent Light Bulb
Last, but not least there are LED lamps which stand for light-emitting diode; these lamps produce light by passing an electric current through a semi-conductor. LED lights are very desirable for applications that require a constant and reliable light source that can operate in undesirable conditions that include extreme cold weather and applications that have excessive vibrations.
LED lamps are very efficient at converting electricity into light so they have a very high efficacy rate of over 90 lumen per watt of power consumed for an average quality LED bulb. The small and compact nature of LED diodes allow these to be used in a variety of locations and be integrated into existing fixtures without excessive modification required. LED lights can also be controlled very precisely so they can be used for a wide variety of applications that have specific needs; color and output can be easily manipulated during production by simply changing the semiconductor material to change the color and using drivers to increase the output.
Unlike the previously mentioned lighting solutions, LED lamps are unaffected by frequent operation such as turning on and off and can last up to 50,000 hours or more; some LED lights made in the 1970s and 80s are still around today and working. There is also very little thermal radiation emitted from LEDs which make them ideal for usage in heat sensitive applications. These lamps are able to direct light in very focused areas which is ideal for specific area lighting and reduced glare. And since LED lights do not require a warm up time, full brightness output is available within a millisecond of turning on the light.
However, the disadvantages do include the high initial price that will eventually be returned over time in the form of money saved in energy costs to operate. The voltage input is very temperamental as well since LED lights have a sensitive threshold to minimum and maximum electrical input which may require a regulated power supply. Other disadvantages include the need for a heat sink to dissipate the heat created from the electrical components and the direct light LEDs produce may not be ideal for applications that require a large coverage of light around the entire bulb.
Summary of Advantages and Disadvantages
Honorable Mention: HID Lamps
HIDs stands for high-intensity discharge lamps and is a type of electrical gas-discharge lamp that produces light output by creating an arc of electricity between two tungsten material electrodes; the arc of electricity ignites the metal salts inside creating plasma which is the light source. Other variants include metal-halide, sodium-vapor, xenon, and mercury-vapor lamps.
HID Bulb (Automotive)
HID lamps are typically not available to the general public and is not as common as incandescent, fluorescent, and LED lamps in general lighting which is why it as not mentioned above. However, HID lamps are still available in many other applications which is why it should be mentioned in this article. These lamps are typically much brighter than the above mentioned list, but are more specialized in its uses.
These lamps are typically used in application that require a huge amount of light that needs to be spread across a large area such as gymnasiums, warehouses, stadiums, and more. HID lamps are also common on many automobiles for headlights as well as aircraft and underwater diving. Unfortunately, HID lamps produce large amounts of UV light and require UV-blockers to limit exposure to humans and animals and can be costly to produce a reliable and efficient system.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the three light sources mentioned in this article; it is entirely up to the owner of the application to determine which one would suit their needs the most. For example, a household owner who wants to replace that one basement light that they never really turn on wouldn’t benefit from an expensive LED bulb, a regular incandescent or fluorescent bulb replacement would suffice. However, the owner of a major warehouse that operates 24/7 would greatly benefit from upgrading all their costly incandescent or fluorescent lamps to all LED. Many variables will have to be considered before purchasing a specific lamp to determine if it will benefit them in the long run or not.