As far as lamps go, you can’t get much simpler than a standard bulb. In the history of electrical lighting, the incandescent lamp is the grandfather of all light bulbs. The design is straightforward, with minimal parts.
All light bulb types need a complete electrical circuit to light. The incandescent lamp has two contact points that power the bulb when connected to a power source. The first is the foot contact; this is the small ball-shaped bulge on at the bottom of the base. The second is the thread contact; this is the part of the lamp that actually gets screwed into the fixture. Once the bulb has made contact, electricity runs up a metal wire to a filament. The filament is usually made of tungsten which has a very high melting point and can stand the heat of intense electrical current. This filament is what emits light when the lamp has current. The filament is supported by a glass mount inside a glass bulb. The bulb is filled with an inert gas (usually argon). The gas blankets the filament, which could combust otherwise.
Although incandescent lamps were a revolutionary invention, their one drawback is how energy inefficient they are. Halogen incandescents are a much greener alternative, as they meet the federal minimum energy efficiency standard and can be used with modern applications and tools.
By the time industrial buildings were wired for lighting, it was already clear that more energy-efficient bulb types were needed. Enter the fluorescent lamp. These types of light bulbs are traditionally a long, glass tube. Inside this tube is inert gas (usually argon) and a small amount of mercury. It is also coated with a phosphor powder. Either end of the tube has an electrical circuit. Inside the tube are small electrodes, which are essentially the same filaments you would find in an incandescent lamp. The outer ends of the fluorescent lamps have two contact pins that plug into a ballast. This is what supplies the lamp with its power.
Because these lamps aren’t very energy efficient, then came the compact fluorescent lamp. These types of bulbs are a greener option because they use less electricity than the traditional style. As a result, transitioning to CFLs can reduce your facility’s bills in a short amount of time.
While fluorescent lamps were an improvement in efficiency, the mercury contained inside is an environmental hazard and possibly toxic if the lamp breaks. Even the lamps themselves—both incandescent and fluorescent—were not made out of recyclable materials. What the world needed was a type of lighting innovation that was both energy efficient and environmentally friendly. This brought about the introduction of the LED.
LED stands for “Light Emitting Diodes.” A diode is a small, semiconductor device. These diodes excite electrons in such a way as to produce light. These little diodes are encased in a plastic bulb that delivers the light in a particular direction. There is no filament, as with incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, and they do not lose heat the way these traditional lamps do (which is what makes them so inefficient).
While the neck of an incandescent lamp is a simple wire and glass filament stand, the neck of an LED bulb contains a small electrical circuit board called the driver. This is what maintains a constant electrical current to the bulbs, as a change in voltage could change the current being supplied to the diodes.
While LEDs are much more efficient—and almost completely made of recyclable materials—their complexity does make them a little more expensive up front. However, LEDs can easily pay for themselves in energy savings, making the decision to switch over a little easier.
Different Means to a Light End
The makeup parts of a lamp differ greatly among bulb types. Each creates light differently. The incandescent lamp heats a filament to produce light. Fluorescent lamps excite mercury. Meanwhile, LED lamps create light in diodes. They differ in the amount of energy used and the materials that they are constructed with. However, they all have their place in electrical history. Here are some questions to consider before choosing between the different types of light bulbs:
- Are you looking for lumens or watts?
- What kind of color light do you want?
- Are you looking to save on electricity bills?
- Do you want bulbs that are versatile with applications?
There are plenty of different methods of lighting. Be sure to do the research beforehand so that you’re choosing the best option for you.
The product statements contained herein are intended for informational purposes only. Such product statements do not constitute a product recommendation or representation as to the appropriateness for a specific application or use. W. W. Grainger, Inc. does not guarantee the result of product operation or assume any liability for personal injury or property damage resulting from the use of such products.