Best efficient lightbulbs that save energy

man and woman changing lightbulb

Danny Baggs

Posted May 13, 2022


Lighting can take up to 10 per cent of your household electricity bill (and 18-40 per cent in commercial buildings). A simple way to save money on your electricity bill is to replace your lightbulbs with quality LED lightbulbs.

The average home now uses 36 per cent less electricity on lighting since 2009, according to the Australian Government’s Equipment Energy Efficiency (E3) program. Light-emitting diodes, known as LED lightbulbs, are largely responsible for this figure as they are far more energy-efficient than other types of lightbulbs, making them both cheaper to run and more environmentally friendly.


Types of lightbulbs

They come in all shapes and sizes, but the main lightbulb types are:

  • Incandescent

  • Halogen

  • Compact fluorescent lamp (CFL)

  • Light-emitting diode (LED)

Since the average Australian home has 37 lightbulbs, it’s important to consider whether your household is using the most energy-efficient lighting.

Incandescent lightbulbs: the traditional lightbulb

Incandescent lightbulbs were the standard lightbulb for over 100 years. They produce light by running an electric current through a tungsten filament wire, which glows brightly once it heats up. These globes will ‘blow’ (die) once the filament gets too thin from constant heating and cooling.

Traditional pear-shaped incandescent lightbulbs waste 90 per cent of the energy (Watts) they use on heating the filament. In fact, the E3 program reports that you could end up paying $229 more per year to light your home if you use incandescent lightbulbs rather than LEDs.

In 2009, Australia initiated a ‘phase out’ for incandescent lightbulbs. Since then, the nation has saved 2.4 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity each year: the total annual electricity consumption of around 400,000 households. Financially, the average household has saved $70 each year thanks to the phase out, which is a national savings of $5.5 billion.

halogen and incandescent lightbulbs

Halogen lightbulbs are better than incandescent lightbulbs. Image: Getty


Halogen lightbulbs: cheap to buy, expensive to run

Halogen lightbulbs are similar to traditional incandescent lightbulbs, but they produce more light. While they also heat up a tungsten filament for light, the lightbulb contains halogen gas that reacts with the tungsten to make the lightbulb hotter and brighter using less electricity. This method also stops the filament from wearing out so quickly, making a halogen lightbulb’s lifetime twice as long as that of an incandescent lightbulb.

While halogen lightbulbs are very cheap to buy, they will cost you more than CFLs or LEDs in the long run because they are inefficient and have a short lifespan. You could save $102 per year by replacing 18 halogen lightbulbs in your home with LEDs, according to the E3 program.

In 2018, Australian Energy Ministers agreed to phase out inefficient halogen lightbulbs. Where an equivalent LED is available, halogen lightbulbs have been removed from the market.

CFL lightbulbs: a solid all-rounder

Fluorescent lightbulbs, which are commonly produced as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), are more energy-efficient than both incandescent and halogen bulbs. A fluorescent bulb’s tubes contain mercury vapour, which generates invisible ultraviolent (UV) light when it interacts with an electrical charge. The UV hits the tube’s phosphor lining to create bright, visible light with low heat.

CFLs use 80 per cent less energy to the produce the same amount of light as an incandescent light bulb, and can last up to 10x longer. By replacing your entire household’s halogen lightbulbs with CFLs, you could save $208 every year. However, while CFLs almost as cheap to run as LEDs, CFL lightbulbs only last half as long.

CFL and LED lightbulbs

LED lightbulbs are the most-efficient type of lightbulb to buy and can save you money. Image: Getty


LED lightbulbs: most energy-efficient and best lightbulb

"Choosing the type of light bulb technology for your next replacement lamp is quite straight forward,” states the E3 program. “Choose an LED.”

LEDs don’t use filaments or vapours to create light. Instead, an electric current is passed through an electrical component called a diode. As the current passes through, electrons drop to lower energy levels and that energy is converted to light. The process is highly efficient, with much less heat being produced and more energy being converted directly into bright light.

Put simply, LEDs produce maximum light for minimal electricity, making them the most energy-efficient and best lightbulb. They use 75-85 per cent less electricity to produce the same amount of light as an incandescent globe.

While LEDs are typically the most expensive type of lightbulb to purchase, they won’t have to be replaced for many years. They last 5x longer than halogen lightbulbs, and 2x longer than CFLs.

They are also the cheapest type of lightbulb to run, costing you as little as $4 per bulb per year to run in a high-use area. You could save $253 per year by replacing your household’s halogen bulbs with LEDs. The purchase price of LEDs is even continuing to go down as more and more people switch to LED lighting.

Australian Energy Ministers have recently developed minimum standards for LEDs in line with European Union (EU) standards. “Evaluation of LED lamps available in the marketplace indicates a wide variation in quality and efficacy,” reads the E3 Decision Regulation Impact Statement: Lighting report. “The objective of the proposed government action is to remove inefficient and poor-quality LED lamps from the Australian and New Zealand market.” These regulations are expected to come into effect in 2022-2023.

incandescent and LED lightbulbs

Like most incandescent lightbulbs, poor-quality LED lightbulbs are set to be removed from market. Image: Getty


Smart LED lightbulbs: a misleading name

Smart LEDs are lightbulbs that can be controlled by a remote control or a smartphone app. These lights are highly customisable: they can be turned on and off remotely, have their brightness and colour temperature adjusted, or even change colours and use special effects like strobe.

But smart LEDs use much more energy than regular LED lights, because they continue to draw energy when on standby. After all, they need to be connected to power in order to recognise a remote command to turn on. The E3 program explains that some smart LEDs can be just as inefficient as traditional incandescent lightbulbs as a result.

Comparing lightbulb types: lumens, wattage, longevity

Lightbulb Comparison

Lightbulb Comparison

LED

CFL

Halogen

Incandescent

Energy consumption (Watts) per 1300 lumens

18W

18-23W

70W

100W

Longevity (hours)

15,000-50,000

6,000-15,000

2,000-4,000

1,200

lamps with different colour temperatures

Make sure to pick a lightbulb that is at your preferred colour temperature. Image: Getty


How to choose the best LED lightbulb

Because LEDs are not currently regulated for energy efficiency, you need to be careful when selecting which lightbulb to purchase.

Look out for:

  • Regulatory Compliance Mark (RCM) – every LED lightbulb must pass the mandatory Australian safety requirements and list this mark on their package. 

  • Light output (lumens and watts) – ensure that the listed lumens and wattage refer to the light produced by the whole LED lightbulb, rather than the electronic LED chip inside the lightbulb. The chip will always be brighter than the light you will experience from the entire lightbulb.

  • Energy efficiency – LEDs should list an energy efficiency rating in lumens produced per Watt consumed (lm/W). The higher the number, the more efficient the lightbulb. If you can’t find this number on the package, just divide the product’s lumens by its wattage. LEDs should be at least 60 lm/W efficient.

  • Lifetime – an LED's lifetime should not be below 15,000 hours. An LED should list a warranty of 2+ years for a 15,000-hour lifetime LED, or 3+ years for a >15,000-hour LED.

  • Colour temperature – LEDs can produce white light in different shades or colour temperatures, measured in Kelvin (K). Decide whether you prefer a warm-white (2,700-3,300K), cool-white (3,300-5,300K), daylight (5,300-6,500K), or colour-adjustable LED lightbulb.

  • Colour Rendering Index (CRI) – this measurement indicates how well you will be able to distinguish colours using the light. Lightbulbs should have a CRI of 80+ for normal tasks, and 90+ for tasks where colour is important.

electrician changing lightbulb

Call a licensed electrician to swap any complex light fittings in your home over to LED bulbs. Image: Getty


How to change a lightbulb

If you’re thinking of swapping your current lightbulbs to LED lightbulbs, the good news is that they can be used in most light fittings, even those designed for halogen or incandescent lightbulbs.

Lightbulbs have different caps (bases) that lock them into a light socket. Most Australian household lightbulbs use a bayonet cap with a 15mm or 22mm diameter, so you will see the code B22 or B15 on your old lightbulb’s cap. There are several other cap options, however, so take note of the code to ensure you choose a replacement lightbulb that will fit in the same socket.

If you’re replacing just one lightbulb in an area or room that has multiple lightbulbs, ensure you choose the same colour temperature so that your new light matches the rest. A lightbulb’s colour temperature is often listed on its base. If you’re not totally confident changing over your lightbulbs, call up a trusted and licensed electrician to help.

“While changing a common lightbulb is a relatively simple task, you should still be careful, particularly in using a safe ladder or step to reach the fitting. Make sure you have enough light to see what you are doing and let any old bulbs cool down before touching them," says RACV Head of Home Trades and Services Kieran Davies.

"Doing something more complex like changing the light fitting, making the light dimmable, or adding switches requires a licensed electrician to ensure the safety of yourself and your home,” Davies adds.

RACV Trades can help get your home in order.
Discover more →