How to Choose a Lightbulb

Light BulbAndrew Brookes/CorbisNew CFL bulbs match the quality of light from incandescents.
If you’re one of those fretful consumers already hoarding incandescent lightbulbs — which federal law may make obsolete by 2014 — take heart. Here, updated versions of the energy-saving alternatives that are cheaper and more efficient than ever.

The familiar corkscrew bulbs last seven to ten times longer than traditional incandescent ones and save about $52 a bulb over their lifetime, says Consumer Reports. Newly tweaked designs prevent the pesky flicker associated with CFLs, and even experts often can’t tell the difference between the light emitted from the new ones and incandescent bulbs. But buyer, beware. According to Popular Mechanics, they still can take a minute or so to turn completely on, and dimmer bulb varieties don’t emit attractive light on low power. Because they contain mercury, CFLs must be recycled at dedicated receptacles.

Best bets: GE Energy Smart 13 Watt ($4), whose light was “the best we’ve ever experienced from a CFL,” say the testers at Consumer Reports, and EcoSmart Daylight A19 60-Watt Equivalent ($9 for two), “the rare bulb that appears brighter than advertised.”

The former is instantly bright, using a wire that is set within a gas-filled chamber to ensure it burns more efficiently. The latter combines the instant brightness of halogen technology with the energy efficiency and longer life of CFLs.

Best bets: Men’s Journal recommends the A19 Halogen 72 Watt($3) and the GE Hybrid 15 Watt Halogen-CFL Hybrid ($10).

These bulbs use 80 percent less electricity than incandescent ones, making them at least as efficient as CFLs. What’s more, they are mercury-free, have no start-up delay, are dimmable, and are easier to tune for color than CFLs, according to Popular Mechanics. And while their cost is now somewhat prohibitive ($50 per bulb is typical), that should change quickly as the technology improves. “I think we’ll be able to buy a 40-watt-equivalent LED for under $10 in less than two years,” one manufacturer tells Popular Mechanics.

Best bets: For table and floor lamps, Consumer Reports likes the Philips AmbientLED ($40), which has double the life of a comparable CFL. It picked the EcoSmartLED ($50) for overhead fixtures and the EcoSmart PAR38 ($45) for outdoor floodlights.

Still think you can’t live without your old-school bulbs? Real Simple asked interior designers to recommend which ones to stock up on.

Best bets: For overhead fixtures with exposed bulbs, they recommend Halco’s silver bowl bulb ($3), which softens harsh glare. For mood lighting, try Sylvania’s soft pink bulbs ($5.50 for two), which emit a lovely, rosy glow. For modern chandeliers, go with GE’s crystal-clear globe bulbs ($4 for four).

The MusicLites LED screws into a standard socket and contains a high-fidelity loudspeaker; a separate transmitter lets you connect the speaker to a stereo receiver, computer, smart phone, or TV — and listen to music in up to five different places in your home at once. In no time, you’ve got your house wired for sound without having to hire an electrician. The bulb speakers cost $250 apiece (you’ll need two for stereo), and the transmitter and remote will set you back $120. “The audio quality was generally very good, though the speakers are no substitute for a true high-end audio system,” writes Edward C. Baig in USA Today.

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