Incandescent Light Bulb - Light Output and Lifetime

Light Output and Lifetime

See also: Lamp rerating

Incandescent lamps are very sensitive to changes in the supply voltage. These characteristics are of great practical and economic importance.

For a supply voltage V near the rated voltage of the lamp:

  • Light output is approximately proportional to V 3.4
  • Power consumption is approximately proportional to V 1.6
  • Lifetime is approximately proportional to V −16
  • Color temperature is approximately proportional to V 0.42

This means that a 5% reduction in operating voltage will more than double the life of the bulb, at the expense of reducing its light output by about 20%. This may be a very acceptable trade off for a light bulb that is in a difficult-to-access location (for example, traffic lights or fixtures hung from high ceilings). Long-life bulbs take advantage of this trade-off. Since the value of the electric power they consume is much more than the value of the lamp, general service lamps emphasize efficiency over long operating life. The objective is to minimize the cost of light, not the cost of lamps.

The relationships above are valid for only a few percent change of voltage around rated conditions, but they do indicate that a lamp operated at much lower than rated voltage could last for hundreds of times longer than at rated conditions, albeit with greatly reduced light output. The Centennial Light is a light bulb that is accepted by the Guinness Book of World Records as having been burning almost continuously at a fire station in Livermore, California, since 1901. However, the bulb is powered by only four watts. A similar story can be told of a 40-watt bulb in Texas that has been illuminated since 21 September 1908. It once resided in an opera house where notable celebrities stopped to take in its glow, but is now in an area museum.

In flood lamps used for photographic lighting, the tradeoff is made in the other direction. Compared to general-service bulbs, for the same power, these bulbs produce far more light, and (more importantly) light at a higher color temperature, at the expense of greatly reduced life (which may be as short as two hours for a type P1 lamp). The upper temperature limit for the filament is the melting point of the metal. Tungsten is the metal with the highest melting point, 3,695 K (6,191 °F). A 50-hour-life projection bulb, for instance, is designed to operate only 50 °C (122 °F) below that melting point. Such a lamp may achieve up to 22 lumens per watt, compared with 17.5 for a 750-hour general service lamp.

Lamps designed for different voltages have different luminous efficacy. For example, a 100-watt, 120-volt lamp will produce about 17.1 lumens per watt. A lamp with the same rated lifetime but designed for 230 V would produce only around 12.8 lumens per watt, and a similar lamp designed for 30 volts (train lighting) would produce as much as 19.8 lumens per watt. Lower voltage lamps have a thicker filament, for the same power rating. They can run hotter for the same lifetime before the filament evaporates.

The wires used to support the filament make it mechanically stronger, but remove heat, creating another tradeoff between efficiency and long life. Many general-service 120-volt lamps use no additional support wires, but lamps designed for "rough service" or "vibration service" may have as many as five. Low-voltage lamps have filaments made of heavier wire and do not require additional support wires.

Very low voltages are inefficient since the lead wires would conduct too much heat away from the filament, so the practical lower limit for incandescent lamps is 1.5 volts. Very long filaments for high voltages are fragile, and lamp bases become more difficult to insulate, so lamps for illumination are not made with rated voltages over 300 volts. Some infrared heating elements are made for higher voltages, but these use tubular bulbs with widely separated terminals.

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