Fix it: A look at incandescent, compact fluorescent, halogen and LED lighting.

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Q: Do you have a guide to what type of light bulbs to buy?

A: Lighting a home today isn’t as simple as it used to be. The common light bulb in the lighting aisle suddenly has lots of company.

INCANDESCENT

How old: Current version used since the 1930s.

Description: Electricity passing through a metal strand (filament) makes the bulb glow, giving off heat and light.

Pros: Cheap, readily available, consistent, reliable light. Can be tossed in the trash. Familiar, dimmable, pleasing color rendition.

Cons: Very inefficient. Most of the energy is converted to heat. Has relatively short life unless dimmed.

Cost: 60-watt bulb sells for 50 to 80 cents.

Look for higher efficiency bulbs, or add dimmers.

COMPACT FLUORESCENT (CFL)

How old: CFLs used since the 1990s.

Description: Gas-filled tube glows when electricity is passed through. Contains phosphors and mercury.

Pros: Three to five times more efficient than standard incandescent bulbs. High-quality bulbs (usually the pricier ones) can last several years.

Cons: Takes a few minutes to get to full brightness. Contains mercury; must be recycled. Not easily dimmed. Lower light output in cold weather. Breakage is clean-up issue. Wattages can be confusing. Quality and performance vary among manufacturers. $3 to $10 a bulb.

Cost: Look for bulbs with guarantees or the Energy Star label. Keep receipts.

HALOGEN

How old: Screw-in bulb since the 1990s.

Description: A special type of incandescent light bulb.

Pros: Much more efficient than incandescent. Warm, pleasing light, easily dimmable and long-lasting (2,000 to 3,000 hours). Available in familiar wattages. Disposable and can replace most bulbs.

Cons: Not as energy-efficient as CFL and not as cheap as incandescent. Can be hotter than CFLs.

Cost: $3 to $10 a bulb. Look for these when shopping for incandescent bulbs.

LIGHT-EMITTING DIODE (LED)

How old: Since 2006.

Description: Inside a bulb-shaped housing, a computer chip glows when current passes through.

Pros: Very efficient. Good directional light source (a floodlight replacement). High-quality bulbs have good color rendition. No toxic chemicals. Operates well in cold weather. Extremely long life (10-15 years).

Cons: Good bulbs are very expensive. Lack of standards to ensure manufacturers’ claims. Color quality can range from very good to very poor. LEDs are not yet a practical replacement for traditional screw-in light bulbs — but stay tuned.

Cost: $15 -$150 per bulb.

Look for reputable brands with labeled packaging. Verify a store’s return policy.

— Rob Jackson, lighting specialist, Creative Lighting, St. Paul, Minn.

Fixit by Karen Youso is an occasional feature. Send questions to fixit@startribune.com. Sorry, no personal replies.