How Long Do Light Bulbs Last?

Ever since the creation of the first light bulb in 1879, there have been plenty of technological advancements in light-creating technology. In recent times, the best example of this is LED lighting since it has one of the highest luminous efficacies of any man-made light source to date.

With all the different bulbs that exist today, they all have widely varying properties, such as their lifespans due to their different construction.

Incandescent bulbs have the shortest lifespan out of all light bulbs by far because they are only expected to last around 1000 hours. Halogen bulbs can last up to 5000 hours, CFL bulbs can last up to 15 000 and LEDs may last over 50 000 hours for comparison.

In this article, we aim to elaborate on the lifespans of the most common bulbs for home lighting. Below this, we have listed these bulbs and their commonly expected lifespans.

Bulb TypeHow Long They Last
Incandescent1000 hours
Halogen2000 – 5000 hours
CFL10 000 – 15 000 hours
Sodium18 000 – 24 000 hours
Mercury25 000 hours
Smart LED25 000 hours
LED50 000 hours

How Long Do Incandescent Bulbs Last?

Incandescent bulbs are the first type of bulb ever created, and therefore the ones with the shortest effective lifespan out of all bulbs.

Incandescent bulbs generally last around 1000 hours. However, it is possible for them to last up to 2500 hours in optimal conditions since the tungsten filament inside of them will last considerably longer when treated carefully.

Treating the bulb carefully entails a few things. For one, it means simply handling them with care, as they can be a bit fragile. The main component in them that produce light is a pretty thin tungsten filament, which could easily break if handled too aggressively.

Another part of it would be to actually use the bulb with a bit of care.
The way these bulbs work is by using this tungsten filament and heating it up to extreme temperatures in order for it to glow and emit light. These temperatures will cause the filament to deteriorate and break eventually, but there are a few things that can be done to slow down that process.

The main thing is to turn the bulb on as few times as possible. The reason for this is that the filament is most vulnerable when turning the bulb on.

This is because when you start the bulb the filament is cold. It is then greeted with a sharp and sudden electrical current. As the filament gets hotter the resistivity of it also increases, meaning that the cooler it is the less resists the electrical current.

This means that there are a few short moments when the filament is still cold and there is a larger electrical current going through it than intended since the filament is less resistant to it when cold. This can cause the bulb to blow prematurely.

Click here for an article on the Reasons Why Light Bulbs Explode.

How Long Do LED Bulbs Last?

The LED is another well-known lighting option that gained a lot of popularity in the last 20 years as the technology has improved drastically.

LED bulbs with today’s technology are typically marked to last 50 000 hours. While faulty components and excessive heat exposure can cause LED bulbs to fail a lot sooner than 50 000 hours, they may also last a lot longer than that since LED chips don’t blow like most traditional bulbs.

To elaborate on things that can cause LEDs to fail prematurely, there are a few things that can happen.

The main thing has to do with the LED driver. Every LED light needs a driver because the electricity that exists in our outlets is way too strong for the LED technology, so it needs a driver to transform it into an appropriate amount.

This driver can easily become a bottleneck for how long an LED might last, due to how it is the most electrically sensitive component of the bulb.

It is also worth noting that the driver overall has a shorter life expectancy than the LED chip itself. Even if the LED chip can produce light for 50 000 hours it doesn’t matter if the driver built into the bulb only lasts for 25 000 hours.

With this said, LED chips generally tend to last longer than their prescribed lifetime. This is because manufacturers have to set a number that they know all bulbs will last, much like the expiry dates on food items.

So in reality a lot of LED bulbs actually last way longer than 50 000 hours. If you are lucky they may even last up to 100 000 hours if used and treated with care. This is because LED chips don’t really “blow”.

While traditional bulbs blow and stop working in an instant, an LED most of the time simply starts producing less and less light as time goes on. Click here for a full article explaining How Long an LED Will Actually Last.

How Long Do Smart Bulbs Last?

Smart bulbs are an extension of LED technology because they both make use of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) to produce light.

The main differences between a regular LED bulb and a smart bulb are that they (usually) have more customization in the light they produce and that they are able to be remotely. That said, they don’t have the exact same life expectancy that most LED bulbs do.

Smart bulbs have a life expectancy of 25 000 hours. This is contrary to the life expectancy of a normal LED bulb, which is around 50 000 hours. This is because the lifespan and luminous efficacy of smart bulbs end up being compromised for more functionality and added customizability.

Another reason why smart bulbs may fail sooner than regular LED bulbs is that there are more components that can break in a smart bulb. The more electronic components you add to a bulb the more prone it gets to break prematurely.

This can definitely be the case for smart bulbs due to how they require an electronic unit for transferring information between the bulb and the device used to control it.

How Long Do Halogen Bulbs Last?

Halogen bulbs are very similar to incandescent bulbs in their construction. The main difference between them is the addition of halogen gas. This allows the halogen bulb to run at a hotter temperature, which also allows it to be more efficient and last longer than the incandescent bulb.

Halogen bulbs typically last anywhere between 2000-5000 hours. The lifespan of a halogen bulb depends on how carefully it’s handled due to them being extra sensitive to dirt and skin oils because of the high temperature they operate at.

The reason why dirt and skin oils can be detrimental to halogen bulbs has to do with heat dissipation.

Heat dissipation for halogen bulbs is very important because they run at extreme temperatures. If the generated heat does not dissipate evenly through the surface of the bulb the heat will concentrate on the spots where the surface is obstructed.

This extra concentration of heat will cause instability in the glass, which most likely will eventually cause the bulb itself to shatter. Click here for an article on Why You Shouldn’t Touch Halogen Bulbs With Bare Hands.

Other than that it faces the same problem that incandescent bulbs do. They simply deteriorate due to the stress the tungsten filament experiences when heated. The halogen gas, however, does help halogen bulbs last longer.

The halogen gas helps because when particles from the tungsten filament evaporate the halogen gas will take those particles and chemically bind them back to the filament.

While the quality and stability of the filament will decrease over time it is still far more efficient than the incandescent bulb design where the particles simply shoot out and cause the bulb to blacken.

How Long Do CFL Bulbs Last?

CFL bulbs are essentially fluorescent tube lights but compacted down to fit the shape and size of normal light bulbs.

The expected lifespan of a CFL bulb is between 10 000-15 000 hours. The lifespan of CFL bulbs mainly depends on the electrolytic capacitor inside them since they typically are the first component in the bulb to break. An electrolytic capacitor in a CFL is estimated to last around 12 000 hours.

The electrolytic capacitor is an electrical component within a CFL that helps stabilise the bulb’s voltage. This capacitor is likely to be a bottleneck in terms of a CFLs lifespan due to it being sensitive to the temperature it operates at.

The baseline lifetime of an electrolytic capacitor starts at 2000 hours at 105°C (220°F). From this baseline point, the lifespan of the capacitor will be half for every 10°C increase and double for every 10°C decrease.
This effectively means that it would last 4000 hours at 95°C and 1000 hours at 115°C.

A CFL bulb will reach temperatures of around 80°C (~180°F). Using the baseline of the capacitor we are able to calculate how long it should hypothetically last.

Using the values for the baseline, the calculated lifespan of the capacitor comes out at 12 000h when you run it at the temperatures that the CFL typically operates at.

This makes sense as the general lifespan of the bulb is between 10 000-15 000h, meaning that there are other factors such as voltage spikes and faulty electronics that can also cause fluctuation in its lifetime.

How Long Do Mercury Vapour Bulbs Last?

Mercury vapour bulbs are light bulbs that make use of mercury excited by electrons to produce light.

Mercury vapour bulbs have an expected lifetime of around 25 000 hours. Mercury bulbs are generally not phased by disturbances like voltage spikes or high temperatures, which means it has a lifespan that is considerably longer than most traditional bulbs.

The reason mercury vapour bulbs aren’t very sensitive to voltage spikes is that they work using an electrical discharge. This means that the bulb will build up a charge and then release it into the bulb, which causes the mercury to “ignite” and produce light.

They are also not very sensitive to high temperatures because there is nothing inside mercury bulbs that burn or can be melted. It is mainly the mercury in the bulb that generates heat and nothing else in the bulb is directly affected by that.

That said, the bulb will blow once the electrodes within the base of the bulb break.

How Long Do Sodium Bulbs Last?

Sodium bulbs are a type of discharge bulb where the light emitted is a monochromatic yellow, which can often be found in street lights due to their luminous efficacy being quite high.

Sodium lights come in two different forms, Ligh-Pressure Sodium (HPS) and Low-Pressure Sodium (LPS). LPS bulbs tend to last around 18 000 hours and HPS bulbs last roughly 24 000 hours. The life of sodium-based bulbs typically shortens the hotter the bulb gets due to the sodium melting.

Sodium has a melting point of 98°C (~210°F) whereas sodium bulbs tend to run at temperatures of around 260°C (~500°F). This means that the sodium in it would almost instantly melt away if the bulb didn’t have a good way to manage its heat.

Sodium bulbs have a heat reflector as part of their construction. This reflector is mounted on the tip of the bulb and redirects most of the heat buildup, which helps the bulb last longer.

The difference between the lifespans of LPS and HPS bulbs has to do with the air pressure they run at. When the pressure is increased like it is in HPS bulbs they operate more efficiently, which in turn also causes them to last longer.