Bright Ideas

The light bulb you choose can make a big difference in your energy bills

Not all lightbulbs are created equal. Yes, the primary purpose of every light bulb is to give off light, but how that’s generated varies from type to type, and there are advantages and disadvantages for each. So the next time something in your house goes dark, go shopping for a replacement with a bit of knowledge. That is, after all, its own kind of power.


LED lights (or Light Emitting Diodes) are the most energy efficient light bulbs on the market. They use less energy than traditional light bulbs but emit the same amount of light. LEDs use an electrical current that’s passed through a semiconductor to illuminate tiny diodes. The heat that LEDs produce is absorbed into a heat sink, so the bulbs remain cool to the touch and don’t contribute to heat build-up in your home—which means LEDs actually help to save on cooling costs as well. LEDs last 30 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, and in the last few years prices have dropped enough to make them competitively affordable.


These bulbs are the ones most people grew up with. They’ve been around since Thomas Edison first introduced them in 1880, and they haven’t changed much since. Incandescent bulbs use a filament that’s heated to the point of glowing, which produces light. This type of bulb usually lasts for about a year, and burns a lot of electricity while in use. Because of their inefficiency, incandescent bulbs are slowly being phased out across North America, so standard 100, 75, 60 and 40-watt bulbs will only continue to be available while supplies last.


Compact Fluorescent Lights are another energy-efficient lighting option. Like LEDs, CFLs use lower wattage to produce the same amount of light. CFLs work by running an electrical current between two electrodes at each end of a tube filled with gas. The reaction produces UV light and heat, and the light produced becomes visible when it strikes a phosphor coating inside the tube. It’s important to note that new regulations coming into place are going to make it difficult for CFLs to qualify for an ENERGY STAR® rating. Indeed, some manufacturers are already phasing out CFL bulbs in favour of producing LEDs exclusively.


Fluorescent bulbs are the same as CFLs but come in only in long tube shapes that are specific to certain types of light fixtures.


Like incandescent bulbs, halogen lights use a filament that’s heated to the point of glowing. They use less energy than incandescent bulbs, even though their lifespan is the same—about one year, on average.

Things to Know:

Every light bulb package lists the correlating lumens and watts. Lumens are the amount of light each bulb emits, so the higher the lumens, the brighter the light. Standard 100 watt bulbs produce 1600 lumens.

Watts are the amount of energy a light bulb uses, so the lower the wattage, the lower your electrical bill will be. LEDs have lower wattage than incandescent bulbs but produce the same amount of light. A 20-watt LED bulb gives off the same amount of light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb.

Light colour is measured on the Kelvin (K) scale. Lower Kelvins mean the light will be yellow in colour, whereas higher Kelvin numbers mean the light will be more blue.

  • 2,500K – 3,200K Candle Flame
  • 2,800K Sunrise
  • 3,000K Incandescent light
  • 3,500K – 4,100K Cool white/Electronic flash
  • 4,800K Horizon daylight
  • 5,000K – 6,000K Direct Sunlight/Sky


Energy Efficiency Alberta has a tool that explains the differences between different kinds of lighting, and offers a number of energy-saving technologies for lighting your home. To have a look, click here.