Electrical Lighting

Homeowner's Guide to Lighting

Lighting inside a room directly impacts you. It sets the mood, creates productivity, and calms you down at the end of the day. However, picking the right light can be overwhelming.

Bulbs are improving, lasting longer, and using less energy which, in the long run, saves you money on your power bill.

Before we get into the different types of bulbs on the market, you need to know the difference between a watt and a lumen.


Watts and Lumens

Watts is a measurement of how much electricity something uses. It actually has nothing to do with how bright a bulb is.

It takes far fewer watts to create light with newer bulbs, so wattage ratings are no longer very useful.

There are key differences between the bulb types, and the whole idea is to develop bulbs that use fewer watts to make more light.

Lumens, on the other hand, actually measure the amount of light being put out by the bulb. Lumens are a much more accurate measurement because they tell you how the light actually performs, regardless of the source that produced it.

One lumen is approximately equal to the amount of light put out by one birthday candle.

To help you get an idea of the lumen scale, a standard 60-watt bulb puts out around 750-850 lumens of light. If you are choosing bulbs for task lighting, look for bulbs with 1,000 lumens or more.

Read More: Understanding Watts vs. Lumens


Incandescent Bulbs

Incandescent bulbs are the original light bulbs invented by Thomas Edison. For over a century, they were the most common type used in homes.

Under new energy standards, do not expect to see incandescent bulbs on the shelves much longer.

That said, they are the most commonly used bulbs and the least expensive.

These bulbs have a significantly short life span of about two years, and their design can cause them to use more energy.

Besides lamps and fixtures around your house, you will also see incandescent light bulbs in a lot of your appliances. Ovens, microwaves, and refrigerators commonly use them as well.

Incandescent bulbs produce light by heating a filament wire to a high temperature until it glows. This makes them relatively inefficient, producing more heat than light. However, improvements in halogen and LED technology are making incandescent bulbs obsolete.


Fluorescent Bulbs

Fluorescent lighting has been widely used in offices and commercial buildings for decades. The long tube design disperses light efficiently in large indoor spaces.

You will likely find fluorescent light bulbs inside a laundry room, kitchen, or other utility areas around a home.

They cast a flat, cold, and harsh light that can last up to 20,000 hours.

They can easily light up a large area while using up a low amount of energy.

Fluorescent bulbs contain mercury vapor that emits ultraviolet light when electrically stimulated. The ultraviolet light is converted to visible light as it passes through the white phosphor coating inside the bulb. This makes fluorescents more efficient than incandescents.


CFL Bulbs

CFL stands for Compact Fluorescent Lamp. Just by the look of them – they stand out with their spiral shape. They need time to warm up to full brightness – emitting a softer glow and using a minimal amount of electricity.

This bulb, just like the fluorescent – contains mercury. It can be used in different fixtures and lamps around your home.

CFLs can last between seven to nine years and are usually less expensive than their biggest rival – LEDs.

CFL bulbs are a type of fluorescent lighting that fits standard household light bulb sockets. The spiral shape allows more phosphor coating surface area in a compact size, improving efficiency. CFLs use about 75% less energy than incandescents and last up to 10 times longer.


LED Bulbs

Like CFLs, LEDs or “light-emitting diodes,” also use a very low amount of energy and offer a soft, bright white light. These bulbs are very versatile – fitting a variety of fixtures around your home, given their small bulb shape.

LEDs are “directional” light sources, unlike incandescent and CFL, which emit light and heat in all directions. That means LEDs are able to use light and energy more efficiently. For more information, watch our video on "Energy Efficiency: LED vs. CFL".

They are more environmentally friendly and made without any hazardous ingredients, but they are a more expensive option.

LED bulbs are the most energy-efficient. They use light-emitting diodes instead of filaments, allowing LEDs to produce more light per watt. LEDs also give off directional light, avoiding waste. They can last up to 25 times longer than incandescents.


Halogen Bulbs

Halogen Light Bulbs are a type of incandescent bulb and work great for both indoor and outdoor fixtures.

Their life span also mimics incandescent bulbs as they are only expected to last a couple of years.

The similarities end there... they are more energy-efficient bulbs and can burn brighter.

Caution, when handling halogens, do not use bare hands. The smallest bit of oil from your hand can rub off on the bulb, creating a potential situation where the bulb warms too quickly and explodes.

Halogen bulbs have filaments infused with halogen gas, allowing them to burn hotter and brighter while lasting longer than traditional incandescents. Halogens are more efficient, but LEDs have surpassed them.

Thinking Green: Click here to learn the truth about mercury contamination from CFL bulbs.


Indoor and Outdoor Light Bulbs

Now that we've covered the basics, which bulbs can you use outside?

Outdoor bulbs are designed to be more resilient to the elements. While they can be used inside, indoor bulbs are not recommended for outdoor use.

It is not just the rain to be concerned about. Some bulbs are sensitive to cold weather, and the same goes for the heat.

Incandescents and Halogens can be used both inside and outside as long as they are protected from rain. Incandescent flood bulbs are specifically designed to withstand rain and snow.

CFLs are recommended for indoor use only. They work great in the heat, but if the temperature drops too much, they will be useless. Because of the design of fluorescents, you will likely not see these outdoors anyway. But you may see them in unheated places like sheds and garages. Summers will not be a problem; like the CFL, they can withstand the heat, but in colder temperatures, they may fail. LED bulbs can be used both inside and outside.

Also, very important, especially involving Christmas lights. Outdoor lights can be used inside, but indoor ones cannot be used outside. The wiring is made differently for the outdoor lights protecting them from moisture.

Energy Saver: Watch this video to find out how much money you can save each year by replacing incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient CFL or LED bulbs. The FTC label provides an estimate of yearly energy costs.


Buyers Guide

With lighting technology rapidly evolving, it can be confusing to figure out which bulb is best for your needs. However, taking the time to learn about the different types of bulbs, their features, and their pros and cons will ensure you make the right choice. Considering factors like brightness, life span, energy efficiency, and costs will lead you to a bulb that provides the perfect light for your home. Ultimately, understanding light bulb options allows you to balance your lighting needs with environmental and budget considerations.

When shopping for a new bulb, also look at the base of the bulb. The most common types are medium, intermediate, candelabra, and pin type. Medium, intermediate, and candelabra are the most common base types you will see. The pin types are typically used for track lighting and landscape bulbs.

There are three types of color temperature for bulbs, and what you will see is the temperature is measured in Degrees Kelvin. Those colors are Soft White (2,700K – 3,000K), Bright White/Cool White (3,500K – 4,100K), and Daylight (5,000K – 6,500K). The higher the number, the whiter the color of the light.

Dimming switches can set the mood and lower the cost of your energy bills. Incandescent and Halogen bulbs can be used with any dimmer. If you want to use a different type of bulb, be sure to check the packaging first before you buy.

Any bulb can be used as a safety motion sensor fixture. Keep in mind CFLs do take time to warm up to full potential. You might want to consider an incandescent, halogen, or LED option.

A bulb's voltage should be matched with the fixture. High voltage can reduce your bulb's life span. You can use a lower voltage bulb, but it will emit lower light.

Be sure to check the packaging labels. They are required by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. They include brightness, life span, light appearance, energy, and mercury information.

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