Skip to main content

Come on, it’s just a light bulb

Light bulbs – worth fighting over? Image via Wikipedia

by Lauren Pope

Light bulbs have been in the news recently…not the most exciting topic, but it seems to have got a few people very hot under the collar.

Take a look at these two articles from the Daily Mail and The Telegraph and their comments sections…almost 300 comments in total, on articles about light bulbs.

So what’s the reason for all this fuss? At the end of this month (August 2011) traditional 60w incandescent bulbs will no longer be available, under an EU ruling. (100w bulbs have already been phased out.)

Now, I’m not here to talk EU politics, but I will lay my cards on the table when it comes to light bulbs:

I’m glad 60w light bulbs are being phased out.

There, I said it.

I can only see this as a positive change and I can’t understand why there’s such resistance to something so small and insignificant.

The main gripes are:

  1. ‘Energy-saving light bulbs aren’t as bright/the light is too cold’
  2. ‘Energy-saving light bulbs take a long time to turn on’
  3. ‘Energy-saving light bulbs are ugly’
  4. ‘Energy-saving light bulbs are too expensive’
  5. ‘Energy-saving light bulbs are dangerous, they’ve got mercury in them’

As far as I’m concerned, these are all myths. So let’s take a look at them one-by-one…

1.Energy-saving light bulbs aren’t as bright/the light is too cold’

This myth that energy-saving bulbs are dim and ‘cold’ has come about because there’s some confusion over exactly what new bulb to replace your old bulb with. Many people chose or were given the wrong kind and, as a result, blamed the bulb.

The factors to consider when it comes to getting the brightness and light you want are:

  • Watts – as a rule of thumb, divide by five, so if you want to replace a 100w incandescent bulb, pick a 20w energy-saving bulb.
  • Colour temperature – colour temperature is measured in °K (Kelvin) and : 2700°K is a very warm, ‘cosy’ light like you might get from an old-fashioned incandescent bulb; 3000°K is about the warmth of a halogen bulb; 4000-6500°K is a cooler light, more like natural daylight. Energy-saving light bulbs with a colour temperature of 2700°K are available, so you won’t notice the difference.
  • Lux – it’s also good to look at the lux rating (another measure of light) – the higher the lux rating, the brighter the light. 12 lux is equivalent to a clear 60w bulb.

2. ‘Energy-saving light bulbs take a long time to turn on’

This was true of the first-generation of energy-saving bulbs, but it’s just not true anymore.

Most energy-saving bulbs now take under 30 seconds to reach their full brightness, with the best taking under a second.

3. ‘Energy-saving light bulbs are ugly’

Energy-saving light bulbs come in plenty of different shapes and styles and don’t look much different to traditional light bulbs:

You can even get beautiful designer energy-saving light bulbs:

Nothing ugly about these three, is there?

4. ‘Energy-saving light bulbs are too expensive’

This myth makes me the most frustrated of all.

Yes, energy-saving light bulbs cost a little more to buy, but they save you a lot of electricity and they last for a long time.

Installing five low energy light bulbs will cost about £15 and could save you as much as £32 a year on your electricity bills in the space of a year. Your investment will pay for itself in less than six months.

Plus, a typical old-fashioned incandescent bulb lasts 1000 hours (one year’s use) while energy-saving bulbs last 6000-15000 hours (6-15 years’ use).

You can’t argue with those savings.

5. ‘They’re dangerous, they’ve got mercury in them’

Yes, they do have mercury in them, but only about five milligrams (enough to cover the tip of a Biro), but that’s compared to three grams in a thermometer, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Even if you break an energy-saving bulb, they’re unlikely to be dangerous. DirectGov says that if you do break one, you open the windows for 15 minutes and leave the room to air, then carefully gather up the broken bulb with kitchen paper (not a brush, or vacuum cleaner), using rubber gloves. Then wipe the area with a damp cloth, put the broken pieces of glass and the cloth into a plastic bag and seal it. Take the bag to your local waste and recycling centre.

So, what I’m trying to say is that there’s no need to mourn inefficient incandescent bulbs or try to stockpile them – energy-saving bulbs really are better.

And if you’re still having trouble coming to terms with losing the old bulbs, why not have a look at this post about energy efficiency and embracing change?

  • I’m glad to see that so many of your voters support the phasing out of this wasteful technology.

  • Anonymous

    I think anyone who can’t live without something invented over a hundred years ago & which turns more of our scarce resources into heat than light is a bit sad & needs to grow up. Do you want your grandkids living/dying through wars to see who gets access to the overpriced fuel that’s left? Climate change totally out of control? That wouldn’t be down to just light bulbs but the attitude of these idiots & the refusal to accept that new technology can basically save our asses, If we carry on like lemmings then third world living conditions will spread far & wide & only the elite would enjoy the lifestyle that a lot of us take for granted now.

  • Adrian

    Why should I be told what bulbs to use or not to use? My electric, I pay for it.
    i live on my own so the amount of energy I would save by using these horrid things would be minimal, thankfully I got a load of normal bulbs.

    I am fed up of the unelected or the elected for that matter telling me what to do and what not to do.

  • Barbara

    I use a minimal amount of energy so what I would save would not make much difference. However, I do agree with everyone trying to be energy efficient and I have nothing personally against energy efficient light bulbs BUT … half of the light fittings in my flat don’t take them. These means that I am going to have to replace my wall lights and my spotlights in the kitchen and bathroom. And the amount of energy that I will save from using these light bulbs is NOT going to cover the cost of buying new light fittings.

    By all means phase out the old light bulbs but please can the manufacturers make sure they provide a range of sizes and fittings.

    • Lauren Pope

      Hi Barbara,

      What kind of lightbulb do you use in your bathroom/kitchen the moment? There are energy-efficient bulbs for most fittings these days. Are they halogen GU10 bulbs – if so, you could try something like these



    personally i dont like them ,my hall needs a good light, and the energy saving ones are not giving me this , also some of my fittings dont take them .

    • Lauren Pope


      As I say in the post, when it comes to getting the light quality you want, it’s all about choosing the right bulb – the energy-saving ones are just as good, but only if you’re using the right one for your needs.

      Which light fittings are you struggling to find energy-saving bulbs to fit? We may be able to help…


  • Linden Crundall

    Let’s be quite clear about this. Energy saving (e.s.) bulbs are mainly hype. They cost many times the cost of incandescent ones because they use more energy and are more expensive to manufacture. They use materials that cannot be easily recycled and will eventually end-up putting more toxins into landfill, or whatever other method of disposal is available. Ever tried leaving fluorescent lights at the municipal tip? They need special handling for disposal. Special handling equates to enhanced costs. Also, to match the power of 100watt incandescent you really need a 25w e.s. bulb, but they do reduce their output over a year.
    I am on my second 30watt e.s. bulb in six years. It gives out reasonable light, but costs £15 or so and only lasts 5 years. Do the maths. You could buy enough incandescents to last that long and still have change to pay your electricity bill for that.

    Incandescent bulbs do not require opening the windows for 15minutes (in Winter) should you accidentally break one, neither would you need to wear rubber gloves to clean up the debris. The comparison with a mercury thermometer is pathetic. How often do we try to recycle a mercury thermometer, I ask you?

    To summarise, I do use e.s. bulbs where I can around the house, but generally don’t see the same brightness. I would suggest the ‘rule of thumb’ ratio of equivalence is more like 4:1 or even 3:1 after a year’s use. Politicians of all persuasions and nationalities have jumped on this bandwagon so that they are seen to be diligently following Green credentials. Naturally, it is we, the end user (tax-payer) who will bear the cost of this folly.

  • Charles

    Yes we should save energy in every way that is sensible. However, energy saving bulbs are not sensible in a walk in cupboard, a cloakroom, a desk lamp used only occasionally and for a short time etc.

    Like an earlier poster I resent such compulsion, particularly by an un-elected body.

  • Hazel

    I am not too keen on them due to the fact that sometime late last year the curly wurly one (as I call it) which I had in my small bedroom that I house my computer suddenly exploded in the light fitting and the whole lot came tumberling down. It just missed my head and I had glass all over the place. It had been in the light fitting for two years and was perfectly fine until that day. With that I went around the house taken out these energy bulbs and put the good old fashioned ones in.

  • Anonymous

    I bought several hundred Philips bulbs at about 9p each, when they were practically giving them away at DIY stores, so they were actually cheaper than incandescent.
    The factor of 5 is a bit optimistic to my eyes, 4 would be more realistic. Try what I do, ie wire 2 or 3 bulbs into one fitting, but be careful if you are not an electrician. Base this on a factor of 3 to 4 eg 3 eleven watt lamps to replace one 150 watt lamp in a large standard lamp.

    • Sam

      Whilst I’m all for saving electricity energy saving bulbs aren’t a panacea
      For example I have a timer switch it needs a bulb that draws at least 50w to function so a standard energy saver is simply not an option and halogen energy saving bulbs are simply unreliable and expensive.
      We’ve yet to see an led es light either the led gu10’s now they are great but just the problem with these is dimming possibilities
      In my view all current lights have pro’s and con’s why can’t I have the normal light bulb for the odd occassion I need it?

  • Sean

    The issue of disposal and slow warm up, plus the unsightly look of the es CFL bulbs means that they will be history this time next year. Expect big sell offs of stock from retailers because LED bulbs are dropping in prices all the time. You can save 90% on your electricity costs using 3W or 6 W spotligts (GU10, MR16), they last 50,000+ hours, save you approx €20 per year per bulb ove the existing Halogens (25W and 50W).
    Likewise the standard lightbulb (B22 bayonet clip or screw in E27 type) now come in LED technology. These 4w and 6W bulbs offer light output (e.g. 360 lumens) equivalent to 40-60W incandescents and last 20 years (100,000 hours), saving 90% power. So with prices now reaching down to £10 they make financial sense.i.e . invest £10 to save at least £20 per year or £400 over the lifetime.Remember they are instant on/of , dimmable and contain no gases so no problems of disposal (but that’s well in the future. Just fit and forget. Even if the bulb glass breaks the lights still work so you could reuse them somewhere else (e.g. under stairs, in shed). The LED price drops means that CFLs are no longer the best solution and when you see them on sale at ever lower prices you know the manufacturers have seen the future and are dumping stocks of CFLs. But beware, they are NOT a bargain because you save less than LEDs and lthey ast only 20% as long and need carefull disposal when done. With the EU directive implemented now and hikes in power costs it’s the right time to switch the whole house over to LEDs. You could probably light and entire house for less than 100w !

  • Brooke Champine

    Dear Lauren Pope,
    My name is Brooke Champine. I am a 7th grader and I attend Manchester Elementary Middle School in Manchester, Vermont. We are doing an integrated unit on Change. My topic is how light bulbs change and how have light bulbs changed the world. We have to contact an expert on our subject and I was hoping you can answer these questions below for me.

    1. How have light bulbs significantly changed the world?
    2. What is the biggest change that you have done to improve the light bulb?
    3. What is the next light bulb that you are going to come out with?
    If you are not the right person to contact about this, would you please forward this email to someone who might be able to help me.
    Brooke Champine

  • Pingback: Lights out! The traditional bulb has seen its last switch in Europe - energy saving light bulbs are here to stay!()

  • Pingback: Lights out! The traditional lightbulb is no longer | Mainline Energy Solutions Blog()

  • Bruce Gemmell

    The idea behind these bulbs is laudable, but I haven’t been able to find one suitable for a large high-ceilinged room in an old (Victorian house and have to add a halogen light to be abl to read during the evenings and early mornings, so overall I’m probably not saving any power at all.

  • An interesting post. There’s not avoiding it, these bulbs are the future. People just don’t like change.

  • Lee Bragg

    L.O.L written by some one who has no idea how these bulbs work. Why don’t you buy an energy saving bulb allow the bulb to break and try using it. Or if the bulb breaks with the lamp on breath in the vapour ( the Mercury when heated becomes airborne). And then there’s the fact the electronic ballast keeps trying to ignite bulbs that have blown causing them to over heat. I have seen hundreds of bulbs like this now. And when they are gone you ignore WEEE stick them in a bin and send mercury to landfill.
    Yeah these bulbs are great