a hand in the middle of the picture holding up a lit up LED light bulb with a garden in the background

Energy-efficient light bulbs are an excellent way to save money while helping the planet. In fact, in a previous life, I built up and sold an energy-efficient lighting products distribution company in Denver, CO, so this is a bit close to my heart. Energy-efficient lighting is one of the hands-down, best bang-for-your-buck, energy-saving things you can do for your home or business. Whether the goal is to save energy, lower your utility bill, or decrease your environmental impact, energy-efficient lighting tackles all three.

Considering the many light bulbs to choose from, how can you tell which ones are energy efficient and which ones aren’t?

Luckily, you don’t have to be a light bulb expert, manufacturer, or know one to check the energy efficiency.

This article contains affiliate links that help support the blog and writing up more content on energy efficiency and renewable energy for our mission on making homeownership more affordably sustainable.

Energy-Efficient Light Bulb Characteristics

Here are four ways to tell if a light bulb is energy-efficient:

  • An Energy Star logo on the package
  • It’s an LED light bulb
  • It’s a CFL light bulb
  • Low wattage and high lumens

The rest of this article will discuss how to tell if a light bulb is energy-efficient in greater detail. We’ll also suggest energy-efficient light bulbs you may want to consider and answer frequently asked questions on energy efficiency and light bulbs. 

So, let’s get into the characteristics that make an energy-efficient light bulb.

You may already know what the Energy Star rating is or what it looks like. If you don’t, it’s a stamp on the packaging of electrical items and appliances within the United States. The logo indicates that the product meets U.S. standards for safety and efficiency.

If you’re looking to buy new light bulbs, check the packaging for the Energy Star label. The logo has a bright blue background contrasting nicely with the white letters spelling out “Energy Star.”

The U.S. government runs the Energy Star program. So if the packaging has a distinctive blue and white label, you can rest assured that the bulb is safe and efficient—it’s improbable you’ll find counterfeit Energy Star ratings on products.

That said, some light bulbs don’t have ratings at all. But, of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean these bulbs aren’t energy-efficient. Still, an Energy Star rating is the quickest and most foolproof way to tell if a light bulb can help you save electricity and the environment.

2. It’s an LED Light Bulb

The most energy-efficient light bulbs are light-emitting diodes (LEDs). If you’re looking for an energy-efficient bulb, you should consider LEDs. They are durable, long-lasting, and use less energy than regular incandescent bulbs.

Since they use less energy, LEDs are a cheaper option in the long run. In addition, they stay relatively cool when turned on, unlike incandescent bulbs.

Also, incandescents get particularly hot when they’re on, which uses more power, resulting in a higher electricity bill.

LEDs Use Their Power To Produce Light

LEDs are a popular choice today because they consume electricity to do what they’re supposed to do: create light. This concept may seem obvious, but this wasn’t always how light bulbs worked.

Older incandescent bulbs use their power differently from LEDs. Instead of using electricity to produce light, incandescents use their power to make heat.

Incandescents do this by sending an electric current through a filament material. The filament heats up, creating light. You shouldn’t touch an incandescent light bulb when it’s on: You’ll likely burn yourself!

Other than the fact that incandescent bulbs get hot, they’re also highly inefficient due to the heating mechanism. Luckily, they’re becoming increasingly rare because people are choosing more energy-efficient solutions like LEDs.

3. It’s a CFL Light Bulb

Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are also energy-efficient light bulbs.

In many cases, you can tell if a light bulb is a CFL by its shape, as most come in a twisted form. So if you see a light bulb labeled CFL on a shelf, you’ll know it’s an excellent choice to keep your electricity bill low. 

A CFL bulb stacked on a pile of cash and coins, indicating the savings provided by using this energy-efficient light bulb

Although CFLs are more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs, they aren’t as efficient as LEDs. They produce some heat and take longer to light up fully. So if you’re looking for a light to install in places like bathrooms, a CFL light bulb may not be the best option.

One of the most significant drawbacks of a CFL light bulb is mercury. All CFLs contain mercury, a chemical toxic to humans. In small amounts, it shouldn’t cause any harm. However, if the bulb breaks, the mercury can spill out. 

When mercury spillage occurs, you should be careful when cleaning the mess. Avoid direct contact with the chemicals.

Generally, it would help if you didn’t have to worry about your light bulb breaking, as this isn’t something that happens often. However, there are specific guidelines the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has laid out when cleaning up and disposing of a broken CFL.

Because of the specific disposal requirement and mercury content in CFLs, many people prefer to stick with LEDs.

4. Low Wattage and High Lumens

Incandescent bulbs are generally measured in watts. But newer bulbs, such as LEDs, are measured in lumens rather than watts.

If you want to compare the energy efficiency of both bulbs, you need to understand the difference between these two measures as follows.

  • A watt is a unit of power. The higher the wattage of your light bulb, the more energy it consumes.
  • A lumen is the amount of light the bulb emits. The higher the lumens, the brighter the light is.

For example, an incandescent light bulb package might specify that it has ’60W’ and ‘600 Lumens’. This designation means it uses 60 watts of energy at a brightness of 600 lumens.

Suppose an LED light bulb package says ’60W Equivalent, Efficient 9W’ and ‘750 Lumens.’ This means that instead of using the power of a regular 60W incandescent bulb, the LED only uses 9W of power for an even brighter bulb. That’s a vast reduction in energy consumption!

In other words, if you’re looking for an energy-efficient light bulb, look for low wattage and high lumen. That way, your bulb will use less energy for a brighter light.

Energy-Efficient LED Bulbs To Consider

Now that you know how to tell if a light bulb is energy-efficient, you may be considering buying some LEDs. Let’s look at some of the best energy-efficient LED light bulbs to consider (and replace your incandescents if you have those).

Philips Hue 4-Pack LED Smart Bulbs

If you’re interested in buying LED bulbs, consider these smart LEDs. They are Energy Star-rated and compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant.

Promo photo of the Philips Hue 4-Pack LED Smart Bulbs
Courtesy of Amazon

In addition, they’re great long-term bulbs, as they are supposed to last you up to 22 years. You can buy the four-pack version, though there are other options if you don’t want to buy too many at one time.

Philips Hue White A19 LED Smart Bulb, Bluetooth & Zigbee compatible (Hue Hub Optional), Works with Alexa & Google Assistant – A Certified for Humans Device, White (Dimmable Only), 4 Bulbs
37,502 Reviews
Philips Hue White A19 LED Smart Bulb, Bluetooth & Zigbee compatible (Hue Hub Optional), Works with Alexa & Google Assistant – A Certified for Humans Device, White (Dimmable Only), 4 Bulbs
  • Simple to Get Started; Control your Philips Hue Smart Lights all with just the touch of a button on your mobile device or your favorite voice assistant. Add up to 10 Hue Bluetooth/Zigbee smart bulbs with the (free) Hue Bluetooth app. When ready to connect a voice assistant, just go to Settings > Add voice assistant in the Hue App.
  • Lifetime: 22 years or 25,000 lifetime hours (based on industry average usage), Energy Star Certified
  • Previous Hue Customers; This smart light, while Bluetooth compatible, will continue to work with your Hue Hub and can be seamlessly integrated into your current Hue Ecosystem. With the Hue Hub, you can control up to 50 smart lights throughout your home (even outdoor). Create timers and routines to automate your entire smart home lighting setup. Control your lights while away from home or add accessories such as motion sensors and smart switches to further enhance your experience.
  • Certified for humans: Struggle-free, tinker-free, stress-free. No patience needed—they’re actually simple.
  • Control lights with your voice: Easily connect your Philips Hue Bluetooth smart lighting directly with your voice using Alexa or Google Assistant. Works with all Echo smart speakers/displays and Google Nest devices, (Hue Hub required for Echo (1st Gen) and Echo Dot (1st Gen)). For the full Hue experience purchase the Philips Hue Hub (sold separately).

SYLVANIA ECO LED Light Bulb

If you don’t have Alexa or Google Assistant and want a more basic LED, consider this bulb. This one is simpler than its Phillips counterpart and has relatively limited functions.

Promo photo of the SYLVANIA ECO LED Light Bulb and package
Courtesy of Amazon

However, if you’re looking for a “smart” bulb, you’re better off looking somewhere else, as this one doesn’t have a dimmer option. 

But, if you’re looking for something affordable and gets the job done without any extras, the SYLVANIA ECO LED bulb should suffice.

SYLVANIA ECO LED A19 Light Bulb, 60W Equivalent, Efficient 9W, 7 Year, 750 Lumens, Non-Dimmable, Frosted, 5000K Daylight - 24 Pack (40987)
32,652 Reviews
SYLVANIA ECO LED A19 Light Bulb, 60W Equivalent, Efficient 9W, 7 Year, 750 Lumens, Non-Dimmable, Frosted, 5000K Daylight - 24 Pack (40987)
  • 60W INCANDESCENT REPLACEMENT BULB - This LED lamp is an energy-efficient replacement and substitute for standard 60-watt incandescent lamps. At 9 watts, it emits a daylight output of 750 lumens.
  • LONG-LASTING – These bulbs are a great energy-saving replacement for old bulbs because they have a total lifespan of up to 7,700 hours / 7-years. You won’t need to constantly change your lightbulbs anymore!
  • ENERGY-SAVING – These LED light bulbs require less energy and can save on your energy bill. An estimated energy cost of only $1.08 per year.
  • FUNCTIONALITY: These long-lasting, energy efficient LED light bulbs are ideal for special occasions as decorative and accent lighting in residential and commercial applications such as retail, hospitality and entertainment industries. With a color rendering of 80 CRI, see the clear difference.
  • GUARANTEE: Backed by our standard SYLVANIA warranty.

ILC RGB LED Light Bulb

This LED bulb is a more colorful option. It changes color, making it perfect for children’s bedrooms, parties, or people who enjoy colored lights in general.

A living room with ILC RGB LED Light Bulbs radiating various colors
Courtesy of Amazon

It offers 12 color choices, comes with a remote control for color control, only uses 3 watts of power, and features 450 lumens.

However, because of the colors and lower lumens, it’s not ideal as a reading light. Instead, it works best for special occasions like Christmas.

Energy-Efficient CFL Lights To Consider

Although LEDs are the most energy-efficient choice, you may also consider CFLs. If that’s the case, there are many decent bulbs to choose from. 

Xtricity Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb

This Xtricity light bulb is affordable and energy-efficient. It uses 13 watts of power and clocks in at 2700 lumens.

Promo photo of the Xtricity Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb, an energy-efficient light bulb
Courtesy of Amazon

In contrast, a regular incandescent bulb uses approximately 150 watts for the same amount of light. Unsurprisingly, the bulb is Energy Star-approved.

Its color is a cool, bright white shade and is perfect for working, studying, or lighting up other parts of your home.

Sunlite SL13 CFL Bulb

Whereas the Xtricity CFL bulb has a cool white color, this Sunlite CFL bulb is a warmer shade of white. This one doesn’t have as many lumens as the Xtricity bulb, but it’s still pretty bright. At only 13 watts, it has an output of 900 lumens, making it a highly efficient bulb.

With 10,000 hours of life, this CFL bulb should last a few years (though the actual life may vary depending on usage). It’s also Energy Star-rated, ensuring an energy-efficient choice.

Shangneng 1040LM CFL Light Bulb

Another highly energy-efficient option is the Shangneng CFL light bulb (available on Amazon).

Its color is soft white rather than a cool, bright white and features 1,040 lumens (which is super bright!). Considering that it only uses 13 watts, it’s an excellent choice for electricity bill savings while having lots of bright lighting.

We included this one as an example of a GU24 base, which is often required for utility or local city or state rebates. The GU24 base is a specific two-pin style that is not as easily replaceable or sold in stores.

FAQs on Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs

You now know what some of the best energy-efficient bulbs are, but you may still have some concerns. Below are frequently asked questions that may help you search for energy-efficient bulbs.

Are LEDs More Expensive Than Incandescents?

LEDs are generally more expensive than incandescents, but they work out to be cheaper in the long run. LEDs will significantly decrease your electricity bill since they don’t consume as much electricity. Therefore, they’re worth the extra money you shell out for the initial purchase.

Also, LEDs last longer than incandescents. So even though you’ll pay more initially, you’ll get a higher-quality bulb, lower electricity bills, and a longer bulb lifespan.

Are Halogen Light Bulbs Energy-Efficient?

Halogen light bulbs are not energy-efficient, so you should avoid them if you want to reduce your electricity bill. They also get extremely hot, even more so than incandescent bulbs, making them hazardous. 

Fortunately, you won’t see a lot of halogen lights anymore due to their inefficiency and recent lack of popularity. They’re even prohibited in countries like the U.K., which banned halogen lights in September 2021 for a more eco-friendly environment. Other countries may follow suit.

Is There a Better Alternative to LED Light Bulbs?

There is no better alternative to LED light bulbs at the moment. Currently, LED bulbs are the most energy-efficient lights because of how little energy they consume while having high lumens. The next best thing is a CFL light bulb, but they aren’t as efficient.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be a better alternative to LEDs in the future. However, they are undoubtedly the best option for now.

What Are the Least Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs?

Incandescent bulbs are the least energy-efficient ones because they use a large amount of energy. Their energy mostly goes towards heat rather than light, making them inefficient as a direct light source.

The second least energy-efficient light bulb is the halogen bulb.

In a standard incandescent bulb, the filament temperature reaches approximately 4,600°F (2,550°C).

As you can imagine, this is unbelievably hot (roughly equivalent to the temperatures at the bottom of the Earth’s mantle) and is also why incandescents consume such a high amount of energy.

Unfortunately, only 5% of this heat emits into light, meaning 95% of incandescent bulbs’ energy is wasted.

Conclusion

To recap, there are a few things to look for when buying an energy-efficient light bulb, including:

  • An Energy Star rating
  • LED designation
  • CFL designation
  • Low wattage, high lumens

Most LEDs have low wattage, high lumens, and Energy Star ratings, making them the most energy-efficient light bulbs available. In addition, they generally last the longest, are the most durable, and consume the least energy.

You should avoid incandescents and halogens because they consume a lot of energy (which primarily goes toward heat) for a relatively low amount of light. They’re the least popular light bulbs due to their lack of efficiency.

Sources

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