What's the best light bulb option these days?
July 22, 2008 2:19 PM   Subscribe

What's the best light bulb option these days? I need to replace the bulbs in my bathroom (9, 40 watt bulbs currently). Lights are typically on for about 20 minutes a day. Occasional they'll be on and off quickly. There are no windows. I want to be environmentally conscious, but price does factor in at some level.

I don't know how long I'll be staying in this place. Prices are dropping, and I may want to buy a new place in a year or so and either sell my condo or rent it out.

At that point, I'd probably need to replace the fixture in some way anyway because it's got this weird metal block around it that's all rusted and nasty looking. Maybe it makes sense to bite the bullet and just replace it now, but I'd like to avoid that hassle if I could.

I've just been letting the bulbs burn out without replacing them. I'm down to 2 of 9 though, and I'm thinking I better replace them now or risk having to shave in the dark.

I like the idea of LEDs, but they seem so expensive and not all that great yet. Compact Florescent seems better for lights that are on for longer, but I may be off base in my assumptions there. If I went with regular bulbs, 40 watts X 9 seems like a lot of wasted light/energy to me.

What's the best way to go here?
posted by willnot to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Try a mix. If you want to replace all of them, I would go 2/3 compact, 1/3 regular making sure there is a regular bulb closest to sink. (the compacts take a minute or two to warm up) If you want to leave a few spaces empty, try 3 compact, 3 regular, 3 empty - gives you reasonable light, especially when you first turn it on with good energy savings.

If you have to replace the ugly fixture in a year or two, I would do it now so you can get some enjoyment from the new fixture.
posted by metahawk at 2:48 PM on July 22, 2008

Why not pick up one CFL and try it? Some do take a while to 'warm up' in terms of full output, though the ones I used in the past didn't. (Someone else has the lamp now, so I can't give you much info.) They do say that turning them on and off rapidly shortens their life, but my experience has been that CFLs usually last longer, so it might not be a big deal. (You could also simply leave the CFL on in the morning to avoid the rapid on-off thing, since you'd still be saving considerable electricity.)

I had some 60W bulbs that got really hot. I replaced them with 19W bulbs, which had the same output as 100W bulbs, but stayed quite cool. The 19W bulbs were very bright, something I'd love in my bathroom. Do note that I'm biased, though, since I'm practically obsessed with CFLs these days.

LEDs don't seem practical, I agree. So I think the choice is between regular incandescent bulbs and CFLs, which have the same socket. Thus you can replace your light fixtures with spiffy new ones either way. (Caveat: the CFLs have that 'bulge' for the transformer on the base. The socket's the same, but they're wider above the socket. Make sure that the new fixture can accomodate that. One of my lamps could not.)
posted by fogster at 3:06 PM on July 22, 2008

How about if you buy the CFLs or LEDs now and take them with you when or if you move?
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:05 PM on July 22, 2008

40W*9 = 360W.
360W*1/3 hr/da = 120 W*hr/da

If you use nothing but incandescents, you will wind up using 3.6 kWh/month. That is pretty near a dollar's worth of electricity per month.

If that is too much you can find 25W bulbs for the ones that aren't near the mirror.

For such limited use I would go to the dollar store and buy the cheap Sunbeam incandescents, which come in a pack of four for a buck. The lights in the bathroom need to come on quickly and a lot of CF lights don't do it. In my view CF lights should be the ones that are on for a long time (example: general room lighting that you find yourself turning on at sunset, reading lights and the like, porch lights). It's not so important that those come on quickly.

As for CF lights, the ones at Ikea and the old Osrams with the big bulbous bases last for years. Feit brand CFs have disappointed me by flickering and burning out quickly.
posted by jet_silver at 5:15 PM on July 22, 2008

Compact fluoros are the best bang for the buck, period.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:46 PM on July 22, 2008

I agree with jet_silver's analysis. Your current lights, assuming all nine, are costing you less than a dollar a month. Nine CFLs simply won't pay back their expense if you are going to replace the fixture in less than a couple of years. CFLs should be used first on the lights that you keep on for the longest time each day, not just 20 minutes.

As jet_silver said, just replace half or all of the 40W bulbs with 25W bulbs. Right there you can cut your power consumption by 25%. I have a similar fixture where I use half 25W and half 40W.
posted by JackFlash at 7:09 PM on July 22, 2008

CFL's, especially cheap ones, can lose up to 75% of their longevity by being turned on and then off again less than 5 minutes later. While that might still make them last 2x as long as a cheap incandescent, they cost 3-5x as much and there's always the mercury issue.

Any CFL these days will snap on---not sure what a lot of people are talking about. I use them exclusively in a 10,000 square foot warehouse that doesn't get above 30 degrees on any given day in the winter time, which is WELL below recommended operating temperature, and they still snap right on. In fact, assuming that every socket had a bulb (they don't, it's every other one) we'd have 120 bulbs. Don't ask why we don't use tubes...long story. Moral is that I flip the breaker, the CFL's pop to life.

The issue here is that you're installing bulbs in a vanity, which is for...well, vanity. You want to see those little prickly hairs and blackheads and make sure there's no smeared mascara. (I assume.) Incandescent or (gasp!) halogen does that a lot better than fluorescent light.

I would agree with jet that you should go buy cheap bulbs that fit the sockets, paying attention to the life in hours.

My girlfriend recently installed (about a year ago, I guess) one of those $1 nightlights with the daylight sensor in it for by the toidy. It's perfect. No blinding me when I go wee in the middle of the night, and no worry about finding the lightswitch as I stumble out of my room. That's just a suggestion.
posted by TomMelee at 7:39 PM on July 22, 2008

I need to replace the bulbs in my bathroom (9, 40 watt bulbs currently). [...] I may want to buy a new place in a year or so and either sell my condo or rent it out.

At that point, I'd probably need to replace the fixture in some way anyway because it's got this weird metal block around it that's all rusted and nasty looking.

In my country at least, there are fairly specific regulations about bathroom lights - specifically, if they're near the bath or shower they have to be waterproof to IP44. These fixtures almost always use fluorescent fittings because they don't get as hot as incandescent bulbs.

You can skimp on complying with safety regulations in your own home, as there's no inspections and only you there to see it; but if you're renting it out you really need to comply with relevant laws in your area. So if you decide to go with a new fixture, it would be a good opportunity to get it out of the way.

My fluorescent bathroom light has been fine (no replacement bulbs) for the 3 years I've had it.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:33 AM on July 23, 2008

Buy flourescent, and swap the incandescents back in if you put your house on the market. Bring the CFLs with you to the new place. You'll want a 'warmer' light in the fixture while selling your place.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:00 AM on July 23, 2008

Guides to CFLs and lighting pretty much specifically say not to use them in the bathroom. Unless you're spending hours at a time in there, the CFLs will lose most of their "extended" lifetime, and it'll just be more expensive in the long run.

Use some incandescent bulbs, as this is one of the times where you'll really want the fuller spectrum that fluorescent bulbs just don't put out. In this case, you shouldn't feel too bad about environmental impact either, since regular light bulbs are just metal and glass, and burning through mercury-filled CFLs at almost the same rate would be a real shame.
posted by explosion at 5:17 AM on July 23, 2008

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