How to change your lightbulb

Living Well | Patricia Maunder | Posted on 06 May 2019

Allow us to illuminate you on which type of lightbulb is right for your home.

Confused about halogens and LEDs? Considering upgrading to smart lights? We decode the sometimes confusing world of 21st-century lighting. 

From candles to gaslight, late-19th-century incandescent bulbs to mid-20th-century fluorescents, numerous evolutionary leaps have changed how we turn night into day. Over the past 20 years, the increasing variety of lamps (the term for any replaceable component that transforms electricity into light) has marked less obvious but more confusing change.

A close up of a hand holding a light bulb, with a blurred background of fairy lights

Lighting accounts for 8 to 15 per cent of household bills, so choosing energy-efficient options are good for the budget and the planet.

For example, gauging brightness by watts has gone the way of incandescent lightbulbs. Modern lamps are more efficient, so look for the number of lumens: the measure of visible light. A 60W bulb’s 800 lumens is also achieved by 42W halogen lamps, 11 to 14W compact fluorescents (CFLs) and 8 to 12W LEDs.

Lighting accounts for 8 to 15 per cent of Australian households’ electricity bills, so using the most energy-efficient lamps means savings for you, and the planet.


Technology: An advanced incandescent lamp, with a heated filament enclosed in a small space containing halogen gas.

Use: Smaller and brighter than regular incandescent lightbulbs, halogen lamps became popular for recessed ceiling and under-cabinet downlighting in the 1990s. They are inefficient (90 per cent of energy output is heat) so will be phased out in 2020.

Cost: About $5, but they’re only 20 per cent more energy efficient than incandescent lightbulbs, and with a comparable lifespan of 2000 to 4000 hours, so they do not represent good value over time.

Green credentials: Poor. Halogen lights are inefficient and made from low-value, non-toxic materials so are rarely recycled.


Technology: Electricity excites mercury vapour, producing ultraviolet light that makes the glass tube’s phosphor coating glow.

Use: Much more efficient than incandescent lightbulbs, fluorescent lighting proliferated in large spaces and areas requiring bright light, including kitchens, after World War II. About 20 years ago, compact fluorescents began replacing incandescent lightbulbs.

Cost: Prices vary according to size and design, but standard compact fluorescents cost about $8. Compacts last 8000 to 20,000 hours, other fluorescents 24,000 to 36,000. They use 80 per cent less energy than incandescent lightbulbs.

Green credentials: They’re energy efficient, but mercury is toxic. This, as well as the lamps’ glass, phosphor and aluminium, can be recycled so some councils accept them at drop-off points.


Technology: Light-emitting diodes are illuminated by electrons moving through a semiconductor material, releasing energy as photons.

Use: Long a fixture of consumer electronics displays, about 10 years ago LEDs became available as highly efficient, affordable lighting in versatile, durable forms, including strips and lightbulb styles suitable for most domestic needs.

Cost: Standard lamps retail for about $10. They use 90 per cent less energy than incandescent lightbulbs, and last 35,000 to 50,000 hours.

Green credentials: High. Energy efficient and long lasting, LEDs are the kindest option for the planet. They are rarely recycled, however, despite containing metals including copper and silver.


Technology: These are LEDs, but connected to the internet so they can be controlled by apps and voice assistants. Smart lamps with red, green and blue (RGB) diodes also offer up to 16 million colour options.

Use: This new technology has many applications. Command or pre-program bedroom lights to gradually brighten in the morning, switch living spaces from bright white to soft warm light when it’s time to relax, or try colourful accent lighting.

Cost: They offer LED efficiency, but are pricier up front, from about $30 for a standard lamp.

Green credentials: See LED above.


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