Why Buy 130 Volt Light Bulbs?

Bulb Filament

The following are excerpts from actual reviews on 1000Bulbs.com. What do they have in common? They’re all from reviews of 130 volt light bulbs.

“…even though the watt ratings are the same…the new ones aren’t as bright as the old ones.”

“The low output also makes the the color of the light very yellow…”

“…for 300 watts I thought it would be brighter.”

These customers, and several others, have a fundamental misunderstanding of 130 volt light bulbs. That’s not their fault, however; it’s ours. So let me try to clear up this issue once and for all.

As discussed briefly in an earlier article, the short, technical version goes like this: 130 volt Halogen and incandescent light bulbs are manufactured with a thick filament designed to withstand a theoretical 130 volts. I say “theoretical” because almost all homes in the US operate on only 110-120 volts. The thicker filament in a 130 volt bulb, when operated on typical 110-120 line voltage, has a higher resistance to the electrical current flowing through the filament, decreasing the amount current across the filament. As a result, the bulb burns cooler, uses less energy (watts), and lasts longer; however, as a trade-off, the bulb is also slightly dimmer and has a lower (more yellow) color temperature.

Understanding Voltage, Amps & Watts: “Hose Theory”

To understand this phenomenon, an analogy is useful. Think of a garden hose. When you turn on the tap to just a trickle, water flows freely through the hose without resistance. As you turn the tap more, you force a larger volume of water through the hose, which is met by a small amount of resistance from the hose. Now turn the tap to its highest setting. Instead of trickling from the end of the hose, water now sprays across your lawn and into the leather interior of your neighbor’s new convertible.

Because the hose is relatively small, it provides a lot of resistance to the more voluminous water flow, which causes pressure to build inside the hose. The increased pressure in the hose propels the water several feet instead of flowing with the mere trickle you saw when you had the tap at a lower setting. To take this concept further, imagine you continued to increase the volume of water flowing through the hose by attaching it to a fire hydrant (assuming such a thing was possible). At that point, the water pressure would become so intense it would weaken the hose, eventually causing it to rupture.

Maybe that’s a dramatic example, but the thin tungsten filament of a light bulb is not unlike a water hose. In the case of electricity, however, the volume of water is electrical current and the water pressure is voltage. With a 60 watt light bulb, for example, you are forcing 0.5 amp of electrical current (the “water”) through the filament (the “hose”) with 120 volts of pressure. The current meets the resistance of the filament, causing the filament to become hot and glow. Over time, just as with the water hose, this stress will cause the filament to break, making the bulb “burn out.”

130 Volt Bulbs Save Energy & Last Longer

To prolong the life of the bulb, you could lower the volume (amps) or the pressure (voltage). This is the approach taken by old rheostat dimmers.

Voltage Decrease & Bulb Efficiency

Voltage Decrease & Bulb Efficiency

However, you could also use a bulb with a thicker filament (a bigger hose), that places less resistance on the current so that it flows more easily. This method, as stated before, is the approach taken by the 130 volt bulb. Because the current moving through the thicker filament meets less resistance, it requires less energy to produce light. The more freely moving current also does not make the filament as hot so that the color temperature of  the light is also lower.

As the table to the right shows (from Jack L. Lindsey’s Applied Illumination Engineering), the trade-off is a very good one, too. A very small decrease in voltage and lumens leads to a huge increase in life and a considerable decrease in energy usage (watts). Lowering the voltage only 8%, for example, leads to a 300% increase in life and nearly 15% decrease in energy usage with only a 25% loss in light output!

Now back to the original question: Why buy 130 volt light bulbs? The answer is simple. Buy 130 volt bulbs when you want to save energy, change your bulbs less often, and don’t mind slightly lower light output and warmer color temperature.


Edit 2015-03-02: amended error where it stated that a 130V bulb has a lower resistance.  The resistance is higher, while the current is lower, decreasing wattage used.

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Benjamin is a writer for 1000Bulbs.com.

  • http://freedomlightbulb.com peter

    Yes well that’s also the argument behind rough service incandescent bulbs with very similar arguments:
    less energy and last longer but are dimmer

    But it’s actually not that great:
    Decide on what Brightness you want (or need) and act accordingly – that is the key.

    For example an American incandescent manufacturer currently offers a 100W 20 000hr bulb, 1000 lumen, for around $2 each in bulk purchase, January 2012.
    That makes it pretty equivalent in brightness to an 1100 lumen 1000 hour standard incandescent 75W bulb.
    $2 dollar long life bulb plus 25 W extra energy cost for 20 000 hours, 25W x 20 000 hrs = 500 kWh,
    USA 12 cent per kWh average residential cost (EIA), 500 kWh x 12c = 6000c or 60 dollars, + 2 dollar bulb cost = 62 dollars.

    Box of twenty 75W regular bulbs, typically 10-12 dollars

    so you LOSE $50 per “great energy saving” bulb…..in paying much more for the energy to get the same brightness as a standard bulb!

    The irony is that energy wasting incandescent derivatives are legal, the simple kind illegal..
    and the whole light bulb switchover from incandescents to other bulbs hardly saves society energy either, as referenced on freedomlightbulb.com
    It’s all a token feel good exercise for duped politicians and profit seeking manufacturers, ultimately hitting consumers, in their pockets, and in their choice.

  • http://freedomlightbulb.com peter

    added note
    re Lowering the voltage only 8%, for example, leads to a 300% increase in life and nearly 15% decrease in energy usage with only a 25% loss in light output!

    The issue therefore is Brightness:
    If a 100 W 130 volt frosted bulb 950 lumen (as checked on your site)
    is effectively between the same brightness of a 60 watt regular frosted incandescent 850 lumen and 75 watt 1100 lumen

    — then one should compare like with like,
    that is, burning away more than 30 W extra energy all the time
    for the 100Watt 130 volt bulb for equivalent brightness,
    which as per previous example ends up much more energy wasting and costly!

  • http://freedomlightbulb.com peter

    Using bulb data for a 100w 130 volt bulb as sold on your site,

    30 W extra energy cost for 5000 hours =150 kW
    USA 12 cent per kWh average residential cost (EIA), 150 kWh x 12c = around 20 dollars, including the 50c bulb cost
    Compare with 5x 1000 hr regular bulbs, say 2 dollar 50 cents.

    This is as said similar to legal rough service incandescents, as linked above, that also are much less bright for equivalent energy use

  • Benjamin Rorie

    Thanks for your insightful comments, Peter.

    You’re right. You are losing a relatively large amount of light output in comparison to energy savings (25% vs. 15%). I especially agree when you say “Decide on what Brightness you want (or need) and act accordingly – that is the key.” In one of our previous articles on how to determine lumens needed for typical rooms, we address this topic.

    However, the biggest difference between 120V and 130V bulbs is longevity, not energy savings. For high-ceiling applications, I still think a 130V bulb or similar long-life bulb is a great option.

  • pdub

    That is of course true Benjamin..
    but how many bulbs are in hard to reach high-ceiling applications? 😉

    If average 1000 hr lifespan bulb use is 3 hours a day and so last a year,
    a 4 dollar inconvenience cost (1/5 of five years savings) of changing a bulb once a year might be relevant to some such locations,
    but otherwise also depends on distance from shops,
    happiness to stock up, the cost of your time,
    and of course the convenience of ordering from 1000bulbs online :-)

  • Dave Muller

    You are completely wrong. A 130 Volt bulb has *more* resistance. Therefore the current is lower with the same voltage. Power equals volts times amps. A 100 watt, 120 volt light bulb uses .833 amps of current. Ohms law says current is voltage / resistance. Therefore, this bulb has a resistance of 144 ohms. A 100 watt, 130 volt light bulb would use .769 amps at 130 volts, giving a resistance of 169 ohms. This is *more* resistance.

    When you plug the 130 volt bulb into 120 volts, it would draw .71 amps. Therefore it would use only 85 watts. But, because the filament is colder and more inefficient, you would get less light than a 75 watt, 120 volt bulb. Because most of the cost of running a bulb is the electricity, it would cost you more for the same amount of light.

    130 volt bulbs are a scam. When you read the fine print, they give you the Lumens at 130 volts, but the hours at 120 volts. You are better off just buying a 75 watt bulb to save energy, or a long life bulb for longer life.

    Also, Halogen bulbs don’t work correctly at reduced voltage. They need to operate at full temperature for the gas inside to return the metal vapors back to the filament. So, you should always run a Halogen bulb at its rated voltage.

  • http://lightbulbscam.blogspot.com/ Tim

    The scam is that the light bulb companies, grocery stores, hardware stores all know that most of the time the power companies deliver more than 120 volts (phase to ground) to most services to accommodate for voltage drop during peak load demand. Usually it will be between 121 and sometimes as high as 127 volts. Therefore they sell the 120 volt versions most of the time so you will be back more frequently. The way I understand it is that the 120 volt rating is a “Max” voltage. So as an electrician I always recommend 130 volt to my customers. I have wired houses where we used all 130 volt bulbs and 5 years later they would call me and say something is wrong with our electrical system, we are replacing bulbs right and left. I usually find that it is because they have high voltage and are replacing their bulbs with 120 volt rated bulbs. Once they go back to the 130 volt bulbs the problem is solved. My question is is it a scam and if so whose scam is it?

  • Mike

    Have been using 130V bulbs in my house for quite some time. I recently had to replace one of the 16 65W floods in my house, and went to the 24-bulb case in my garage to get a replacement. The manufacture date on the Sylvania case was 6/17/98, and I still have 5 bulbs to go.

    • Benjamin Rorie


  • Anders Hoveland

    A 130 volt rated bulb will also have a somewhat softer “warmer” slightly more yellow-orangish quality of light. This can be desirable in some situations, but not in others, since it the light can appear more dull. For all incandescent bulbs, including halogen, the quality of light dependant on the exact temperature of the filament. The opposite of this, of course, are halogen bulbs which have hotter filaments and whiter light.

    Also to mention, the “130 volt” rating is somewhat arbitrary. Different models of bulbs use different thicknesses of filaments. Both 130 volt rated and “long life” bulbs have slightly thicker filaments and thus the temperature of the filament is lower. I have noticed that the old light bulbs from several decades ago seemed to last longer than the ones being sold in stores in the last few years, even though both are rated 120 volts. The newer bulbs seem to have a noticibly whiter quality of light and seem to be slightly brighter for the same wattage, so the big companies must have switched to a thinner filament. They probably did this for two reasons: to slightly increase efficiency, and to make the bulbs burn out faster to increase sales. Phillips, for example, started selling 95 watt bulb instead of 100 watt, 71w instead of 75w, and 57w instead of 60w, so I think the idea was to make slight gains in efficiency but not to increase the light output.

  • Larry

    Benjamin, thanks for article explaining the pros and cons for 130V verse 120V bulbs. It was very helpful, as were the comments made by others. Take care.

  • al

    In most of our lights, bulbs are in 12″ or 14″ globes with a few small vent holes in the tops of the fixtures. They are everywhere: halls, stairs, bathrooms, bedrooms. Some are on dimmers. Standard 100w bulbs at about 1500 lumens give adequate light. I tried 100w “rough service’ bulb and found it’s not. Info about heat from various replacements is hard to find. Can you suggest a practical, legal solution?

    • Benjamin Rorie

      Thanks for the comment, Al. If I understand you correctly, I think you’re looking for a 100W equivalent bulb to put in your fixtures that creates less heat, but still produces 1,500 lumens. A 130V bulb definitely will not do that. It may create a little less heat, but you’ll lose lumens. I would suggest a CFL, LED, or even a halogen, though halogens still run a little hot.

  • al

    Yes, thank you. I am looking for a replacement for the 1500 lumen 100 w bulb I,ve used for years, not because that one is too hot, but because it is now difficlt to obtain. Packages of at least some replacements now advise against using in enclosed fixtures. I assume that’s because of heat, but it’s clear if that advice is to protect the bulb or the fixture. Cost is of less concern than choosing a safe replacement of about the same lumen output and color temperature.

  • al

    OK, Ill try the CFL. Notice spec for halogen advises socket down (w/o explanation), and this application would be opposite; and you mention heat, which could also be a problem in enclosed fixtures. Also notice CFL spec reads 74 l/w rather than the usual 1700 lumens. Any signifcance to that different phrasing?

    • Benjamin Rorie

      Good call on the halogen. I didn’t notice the base down rating. Some bulbs have different life expectancies based on their orientation. This bulb’s life hour rating is calculated assuming a base down operation. Other orientations could lead to premature failure.

      The lumens per watt rating is just showing how efficient the bulb is. At 1700 lumens and 23 watts, it’s producing 74 lumens for every watt of energy used.

  • Patty Bunya-ananta

    Hello Ben,

    I want to change out my 10 recess lighting lights that currently run on 65 watts 120 volts. My electric bill is very high, can you suggest some lighting tips? Thank you.

    • Jordan Loa

      Thanks for the question, Patty!

      It sounds like you’re ready to make the jump to LED bulbs. These are going to cost you more upfront, but the long term savings more than makes up for the initial investment. Before I can recommend some bulbs to you, there’s a few things to consider. First, how big are the recessed cans you need bulbs for? The size of the cans will determine the size of the bulbs you need. Finally, are your current bulbs on a dimmer switch? If so, then you have to buy dimmable LED bulbs. Otherwise, these bulbs may flicker or may not even work at all. Also, most people choose an R-shaped bulb because of their frosted face, which offers even illumination, but some people prefer PAR lamps. It’s all personal preference. However, here’s the link to our LED bulbs so you can get an idea of what you need. Again, depending on the diameter of your recessed cans, this determines the bulb size that you need. I’d recommend looking at either the R20 or R30 bulbs. All of these bulbs will use considerably less wattage than your current 65 watt bulbs, but produce the about the same amount of light. When looking at these bulbs, they should say “incandescent equal” or “standard equal”, which simply tells you what wattage bulb they replace. You’re looking for something that is a 65 watt equal. Call us if you have any questions!

  • Jose

    I am looking to replace outdoor flood lights, 75 W, 120 V. I live in Alaska and noticed that I am replacing the light bulbs quite frequently (almost yearly) and have roughly 20 bulbs. What can you recommend?

    • Jordan Loa

      Great question here, Jose.

      A couple things here. For one, assuming you’re using halogen PAR lamps, the frequency at which you change the bulbs sounds right. However, you’ve got a few options here. Your first is to check out 130-volt bulbs. Now, these bulbs will last longer, 14% longer to be exact, due to the higher voltage, but they also put out 24% less light than standard 120-volt PAR lamps. To make up for the lost light output, try higher wattage, 130-volt PAR lamps, such as 90-watt or higher. Also, consider looking at LED PAR lamps. Last but not least, make sure that whatever lamps you decide to go with, that they’re rated for outdoor use.

  • Petia

    Benjamin, I think there must be a mistake – you say, “A very small decrease in voltage and lumens leads to a huge increase in life and a considerable decrease in energy usage (watts) “, yet you suggest buying a higher voltage bulb. There is a contradiction here. ?

    Also, I agree with the 1st paragraph of David Muller’s comment from Jun 21, 2012 because this is what follows from P=VI, and I=V/R. How do you reconcile this with the comment in your article that “The thicker filament in a 130 volt bulb, when operated on typical 110-120 line voltage, provides less resistance to the electrical current flowing through the filament”?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      Petia, using a 130V bulb uses less energy than the rating listed on the bulb. A 60W 130V bulb maintains the same resistance at a lower voltage level. By running the bulb at 120V the bulb uses less power (and shines dimmer) because the resistance stays the same. A 130V bulb being used on a 120V line will not shine at 60W. The 130V bulb will run cooler than it would normally, thus increasing life.

  • Mary

    I cannot buy the bulb I need in the United States. What I am trying to replace is a burnt-out Osram 64543 halogen ES bulb, 127v 42w “s138″

    I think the Phillips bulb EcoClassic A-shape 42w E27 127v A55 CL is the same bulb but that is not available in the US either.

    I don’t understand enough about bulbs and watts and volts to know how I can buy a bulb to use as a replacement. The light fixture is in Mexico. I would rather buy the bulb here in the USA or on the internet as it is very hard to find what one needs in Mexico.

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      Both bulbs appear to be the same, so it should work as a replacement. The main thing you’ll want to do is make sure that the voltage and wattage numbers match. Also check to make sure that the bulb shape and base type (A55 and E27, respectively) are identical.

  • Responsible_Richard

    Thank you for the article Benjamin. There seems to be a minor error in the beginning, where you describe the resistance of the filament. “provides less resistance to the electrical current flowing through the filament” where the thickness of the tungsten wire is described as being “thicker” for a 130volt bulb at a certain wattage. This is true for the resistivity of tungsten in cross sectional area (Thicker), but it is compensated for by having a longer filament for a certain design voltage (in this case 130 Volts) Ref: http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/resistivity-conductivity-d_418.html see the bottom of the table of materials for the formulas. The actual Resistance of the Filaiment is actually larger for the greater voltage that is applied! not less as the statement seems to imply.

    • Will Parsons

      Thanks Richard. You are correct. I’ve adjusted the article to reflect the more accurate information. The current is actually what is reduced, leading to a lower wattage cost.