While shopping around, you may notice that nearly all smart bulbs are LEDs (light-emitting diodes). You may not have strayed from your trusty incandescents (the bulbs with the glowing filaments that get toasty warm) if you’ve been dipping into your light bulb cache from when you moved into your home a decade ago. Well, some things have changed! Those incandescents have been phased out, partly due to 2007 legislation against their production. There are three primary types of bulbs you’ll come across at your local Home Depot: CFLs, Halogens, and LEDs.
CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) – The illumination in these lamps is created from excited electrons putting out UV light that gets filtered through the bulb’s fluorescent coating for a bright, white glow. Fluorescent lights have been above your head at the office for decades – you know, the long tubes, a few of which are buzzing, that age into a distracting flicker before burning out? Those tubes were shrunk (and quieted) into a compact form to replace standard incandescent bulbs in everyday lamps and light fixtures. They are commonly used as a low-cost lighting option, where longevity and energy efficiency are lower priorities. Apartment buildings and offices are common users, along with many homes that opt-out of LED lighting.
Quick note on disposal: CFLs contain mercury. Read EPA instructions for broken or burnt-out bulbs. LEDs and Halogens can be disposed of in regular garbage; they do not contain mercury.
Halogens – These lamps are technically incandescents, with a tungsten filament and halogen gas that react to create illumination. These bulbs can pack a punch, so you can find them in projectors, car headlamps, and at home in your floodlights and track lights. Of course, with the growing popularity and innovation of LEDs, the halogens are consistently being replaced in those common applications.
LEDs (light-emitting diodes) – LEDs are the prevailing preference of smart bulb manufacturers as they grow in popularity with consumers. The technical details may help you understand why, but we’ll keep it brief-ish: Electroluminescence is the result of photon energy produced by light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which can present themselves in red, green, or blue (RGB) colors depending on the material used in the semiconducting element. LED bulbs are typically a bundle of three semiconductors, one for each color. The brightness of each LED can be controlled independently, depending on the complexity of the electronic components. Crank all three of these up and you have a bright white light, or a processor can increase/decrease the brightness of each in order to produce a variety of color combinations. Thus, dimmable, color-changing light! Of course, the cheaper bulbs will show a single color (white) at a set brightness, with the price increasing with the LEDs capability for dimming and luminescence across the color spectrum.
Now, the primary benefits beyond color selection are low energy consumption and longevity. On average, LED bulbs last 10x longer than incandescents. They also die a slow death. The photon energy is produced by electrons filling electron holes so the LEDs lose brightness as these charged atoms expire. In other words, your LED bulbs will typically become dimmer over time instead of burning out all at once like the incandescents. On the efficiency front, LEDs are 10x more efficient than incandescents. The below chart shows wattage required for levels on lumens (standard for measuring brightness):
As prices come down, LED lighting is becoming the standard, and with good cause. Most notably is the energy efficiency and longevity we detailed, in addition to durability, color-changeability, brightness, and the ability to design the direction of output light. Therefore, as LEDs replace fluorescents and incandescents in a myriad of applications, we suggest you do the same in your home – for your convenience or your pocketbook!
Summary: Unless you’re a commercial electrician, opt for LED lighting wherever possible for increased energy efficiency and longevity. Make them smart for added convenience, safety, or ambiance control. You can find our recommended bulbs in our article SmartSecure Selections: Light bulbs for you Smart Home.