The light bulb market has gone through enormous change since traditional incandescent bulbs were removed from the market and replaced with energy-saving bulbs. Below, we walk you through what you need to know to buy the best LED for your needs. Once you've narrowed down your choice of size, type and brightness, head to our reviews section where we reveal the best and worst light bulbs uncovered by WHICH’s independent lab tests.
Many a shopping trip has been thwarted by the lack of this critical piece of information. There are an awful lot of fittings to choose from so, if you can, it's best to take the old bulb you are replacing to the store with you. But if you can't do that, then use the graphic below which shows some of the most common fittings. You will need to write down the fitting reference number and take it along to match with the packaging on the box of your new bulb.
These use almost 90% less energy than a traditional incandescent, making them the most energy-efficient type of lighting. LEDs are no longer expensive to buy, but should last up to 25 years. In the long term they are the cheapest option. An LED could save you more than €227 in energy use over its lifetime, compared with an old-style incandescent bulb.
CFLs are cheap and widely available in a range of sizes and outputs. Some older CFLs were slow to brighten but this has improved considerably in recent years. They are four times more efficient than incandescent bulbs and quickly pay for themselves in energy savings – but not everyone likes the light they emit.
Light from a halogen bulb is similar to an incandescent in colour and quality, as both use a tungsten filament. There’s little difference between the two in the amount of energy used and halogen's are significantly more expensive to run than other energy savers. With an expected life span of less than two years, a halogen bulb is unlikely to pay for itself before it fails.
Decide what type of light you'd prefer. This breaks down simply into brightness, otherwise known as watts or lumen output; and the colour of the light, measured on the Kelvin scale. Don’t be put off by these technical terms – here is a short explanation of each.
In the past, when nearly everyone filled their homes with incandescent bulbs, brightness was measured in watts - which is actually a measure of power. Since the introduction of energy-saving bulbs this is a less useful measure of brightness as new bulbs use a lot less power to produce the same amount of light. So, instead, light output is measured in lumens. The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the light.
As a rough guide, around 400 lumens would be suitable for a bed-sized table lamp, whereas you might want between 1,500 and 3,000 lumens in total (from more than one bulb) for a good-sized living room.
Now you have decided on how bright you want your bulbs, you need to decide on the colour of the light.
Many of us have felt the sinking feeling of getting a new bulb home, switching it on and being bathed with a stark white or bluesy light that's more akin to a trip to A&E than a warm cosy living room.
The colour of light is measured on the Kelvin scale, which is actually a measure of temperature. This is why light bulb manufacturers often refer to 'colour temperature' on the packaging. Now we don't need to get into the ins and outs of the Kelvin scale in this guide, save to say that the numbers you see on the side of the bulb packet denote the colour of light that the bulb will emit.
Hopefully you are now feeling a little more informed and you have made all of the key decisions. You know the fitting to look for on the box, the shape of bulb, the light colour and brightness to look for.
The best bulbs brighten up quickly, don't lost light over time and provide a lot of light for a small amount of power.
The worst will add to your energy bills, don't last as long as our Best Buys and don't match the Kelvin and lumens stated on the box.
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