Welcome to another in-depth guide by The Home Simple. Today, we’re going to discuss the topic of light bulbs.
If you’ve been in the store recently to shop for light bulbs, you may have found yourself complexed by all the different options. Buying bulbs for your light fixtures isn’t as easy as it was once upon a time. We’ve broken down all you need to know about light bulbs to help you make sense of the chaos.
We will discuss the five main types of light bulbs, the different shapes, bases, sizes, and lifespan. We’re also going to talk about light bulb safety, how a light bulb works, and cover some common terminology and shopping criteria.
Types of Light Bulbs
The first thing we’re going to look at is the different types of bulbs. It’s mind-boggling to stare at the vast selections now available. There’s traditional designs, decorative shaped bulbs, small to large, and even colored. The choices are endless. But they all fall into one of five types.
Light Bulb Types
Light bulbs can come in many different types. You want to pay particular attention to your home’s light fixtures to ensure you’re using the right bulbs. Using the wrong light bulb can cause your light fixture to malfunction, potentially leading to a fire hazard.
There are five different types of light bulbs you can choose from:
- CFL (compact fluorescent)
Halogen bulbs produce white lighting that mimics high-noon daylight. These bulbs are energy-efficient, so they’ll save you money, and they’re good for the environment. But they do have a short lifespan, so they’ll need replacing more frequently than other bulbs.
Common uses for halogen bulbs are for underlighting for cabinets, recessed lighting, or pendant lights. You can even find some brands with dimmable features so you can have custom lighting.
There are a few safety cautions to note. First, these bulbs heat up fast, so you have to keep them away from anything that could catch on fire. And second, it’s best to wear gloves when touching the bulb. The oil from your hands can cause the bulb to explode when warm. Yikes!
LED stands for light-emitting diodes, which refers to the mechanisms inside the bulb that control light production. These bulbs have the highest energy efficiency and life cycle, lasting up to 50,000 hours.
These bulbs do not put off any heat, and they do not contain mercury. They produce a bright directional light, and they’re versatile enough to use for a variety of lighting purposes, including task lighting and for areas that are hard to access, such as vaulted ceilings or recessed lights.
Some fixtures come with built-in LED lights, which we call integrated LEDs. The downside is that once the LED burns out, you usually have to replace the whole piece instead of the bulb.
Incandescent bulbs are the most common type, primarily because they’re cost-friendly and produce warm lighting. This type was the predominant source of bulbs before the creation of LEDs.
People use incandescent bulbs for lamps, overhead lighting, and mounted lighting fixtures. They’re great for any room in the house where you don’t want harsh, bright light.
You can use these bulbs with dimmers, which allow you to control the brightness of the light. Now, this bulb is not as energy-efficient, and they usually only last around a year. That’s longer than halogens but not as long as LEDs or CFLs. However, they do not contain any mercury.
When most people hear fluorescents, the first thing they think about is the long, cylindrical bulbs that produce the almost blindingly bright lights in hospitals and offices. You can also find U-shaped or circular shapes for speciality fixtures.
This bulb type requires less energy to use, but the harsh bright white light they produce is usually too much for most homes. Other than commercial use, fluorescents can also go great in your kitchen, workshop, or garage.
There may be regulations on how you can dispose of these bulbs, depending on where you live. Fluorescents use mercury vapor to produce light, plus a phosphor coating that converts UV light to normal light when turned on.
CFLs or compact fluorescents are an energy-efficient bulb that can produce colored lighting, varying by model. They’re of average cost, being more expensive than incandescent but cheaper than LEDs. But they also last longer than incandescent, so you’re getting your money’s worth.
These bulbs are an excellent lighting source for large areas, such as kitchens, garages, basements, game rooms, attics, or dens. However, they do take a while to warm up to full brightness.
You have to use caution when handling these bulbs, as they contain mercury. But once they burn out, you can recycle them rather than tossing them into the trash. You can identify this type from others due to the signature curlicue shape.
Light Bulb Shapes
When it comes to the shape of a light bulb, there are plenty of options. Not every style will be compatible with standard light fixtures, so you want to be sure you’re picking the right one.
Incandescent light bulbs contain filaments on the inside that heat up to produce light. Thirty years ago, most light bulbs were incandescent. Unfortunately, these bulbs use more energy than LEDs, making them a less preferred choice for everyday lighting.
This type of bulb can last up to one year, and it doesn’t contain mercury, which is a buying plus for many people. And you can connect these bulbs to a dimmer switch so you can control the light’s brightness.
2. Twisted Fluorescent Lamp
I remember the first time I saw a twisted light bulb. It was such a change from the standard globe design that I immediately switched out every light in the house, just because I liked the bulb’s unique spring coil design.
At the time, I had no idea that these light bulbs have a much longer lifespan than standard bulbs. Nor did I realize they use less energy, meaning cheaper electric bills. It’s a win-win situation. You can even find these bulbs at different brightness levels.
3. Fluorescent Lamp
Fluorescent lighting is more effective than LEDs, but many people dislike them due to their ambiance. But many people recognize the benefit of having these bulbs for their lamps. The unique bent design of these bulbs does mean they won’t be compatible with all lights.
However, these fluorescent lamp light bulbs make an ideal solution for when you need more light. Then turn them off and use your LED overhead lighting the rest of the time for a more natural ambiance.
4. Compact Fluorescent Lamps
Compact fluorescent lamps have a unique shape and an incredible lifespan of thousands of hours. And they don’t put off a ton of heat, so if you won’t burn your fingers if you’re trying to change a bulb right after turning it off.
Now, these bulbs do cost more than other light bulbs, but you’ll replace them less often, and they can save you on your electric bill because they use very little energy.
5. Circular Fluorescent Lamps
Circular fluorescent lamps have a round (circular) design that won’t be compatible with all lighting fixtures. These bulbs can vary in the white light color they produce from warm-up to daylight.
There may be specific requirements you need to meet when replacing circular fluorescents. So, be sure to pay attention to what lamp type you have (it will start with a T and a number) and what pin type your bulb is (you can see the pins to count them).
6. Flame Shaped Bulbs
Flame shaped bulbs work great for lamps or chandeliers due to their design, which mimics a lit candlestick. Many people use this bulb to create soft accent lighting.
You can find this design in various brightnesses, and some bulbs have dimmable properties. If this is a feature you want, pay close attention to the product details.
7. Mercury Lamps
Mercury lamps have high energy efficiency and an extended life span compared to other bulbs. This type produces bright lighting, perfect for outdoors, spotlights, or for overhead fixtures. But most people are moving away from this type for safer alternatives.
There may be rules for how you dispose of these bulbs once they die due to containing mercury. They can take a long time to warm up and produce full brightness, and they can cause a blue-green tint, which makes them undesirable for retail or indoor use.
And these bulbs also emit UV radiation, albeit in low concentrations, so there’s no real danger. However, if the outer layer breaks and the bulb is still used, it can cause more radiation, which can be harmful.
8. Halogen lamps
Halogen lamp bulbs contain an internal non-mercury filament that heats up to produce light. This design is similar to incandescent bulbs, but halogens use considerably less energy.
They have a typical lifespan of one year, which is about the same as incandescents but less than LEDs. But they can be dangerous to handle, posing fire risks if they’re too close to flammable materials or the oil from your hands.
9. Corn Lamp
Corn lamps are a terrific outdoor lighting solution for barns, shops, and exterior lighting. These bulbs produce incredibly bright lights, far too much for comfortable indoor use.
But they are more energy-efficient, so you can save money without sacrificing the quality of light. They work as well as high wattage bulbs.
They get their name due to 80 to 108 small LEDs lined up in rows inside the clear U-shaped tubes. You can get these in three different white color intensities from warm to daylight.
10. Sodium Lamp
Sodium lamps first came out in 1932 in two formats – HPS (high-pressure sodium) or LPS (low-pressure sodium). This type of light is most frequently used for street lights and industrial use.
LPS produces a monochromatic yellow-hued light and is most commonly used in Europe due to its strong efficiency. You may also hear these referred to as SOX lamps since sodium is SO on the periodic table.
HPS has better coloring than HPS and lasts longer. However, these are not as efficient since they aren’t producing a natural amber colored light. HPS is a preferred choice for street lights globally.
11. LED Bulbs
Many people have transitioned to LED bulbs, but there are still plenty of people who have yet to leap, usually because this option is more expensive. But they are energy efficient, so you’re making your money back in the end.
Other advantages of LEDs are that they’re harder to break, don’t put out much heat, and there is less fire risk. However, some LEDs are not dimmable, and you might not get the desired quality of bright white light as from incandescent.
12. Globe LED Bulb
Globe light bulbs are the most common type. You’re probably already used to using globed bulbs in your home. However, LEDs are different from your standard light bulb.
This style has light-emitting diodes (LED) on the inside, rather than filaments. The great thing about LED lights is that they use less energy, meaning cheaper electricity bills.
13. LED Panel
LED panels are a common sight in commercial applications, like stores, schools, or office buildings. Many people also use these for home purposes as the primary light source for garages or kitchens.
You’ll rarely see LED panels used as a light source for main living spaces or bedrooms. They could be in your bathroom since they don’t flicker or dim, but you’d need plenty of room on the ceiling.
14. LED Strip Light
LED strip lights are a thin (1/16” thick), flexible strip of small LED lights and circuit boards that you can attach just about anywhere for extra lighting.
The neat thing about these strips is you can cut them to size and bend them up to 90-degrees for placement. Just peel the protective layer off the 3m taped back and stick it into position.
And you can find these in basic white or with colored bulbs and dimmable so you can have the perfect ambiance for whatever occasion. They work for lighting cabinets, bathrooms, outdoors, and anywhere else you want color-changing light accents.
Diodes are a type of LED bulb that many people use for task lighting, for the lights under cabinets, or as lighting for their desks.
You can find diodes in various brightnesses to match your lighting needs. Although LEDs generally last longer than incandescent bulbs, diodes vary in how long they last.
16. Dimmer Switch
If you want to brighten or darken the room to custom settings, you should consider installing a dimmer switch.
You do have to wire these into your home’s electrical wires so they can operate, but they’re not difficult to install. Many people use these in place of a traditional light switch that only flips on or off.
17. Spotlight Bulbs
Spotlight bulbs are extra bright lights commonly used as a security light to illuminate a large outdoor area. This bulb type is for residential and commercial lighting.
Some people also use spotlights for accent lighting indoors or for lighting their inside work area.
Adapters are a useful tool for maximizing the amount of lighting you can have in a room. These devices plug into your electrical socket and have empty slots where you can screw in more than one light bulb.
You can find these with room for one to three extra light bulbs, and some models even have additional sockets, although you need to be careful with how much extra stuff you plug up. Too much, and you can cause the adapter to overload.
Many people use these for outside lighting to have more light around their home or inside work areas. Occasionally, you may see someone using these indoors.
Reflector bulbs are a type of incandescent bulb with a medium-base socket, meaning they won’t fit all lighting fixtures. And these are not as energy-efficient, so don’t expect to save any money on your bill each month.
These bulbs have a conical shape with a reflective coating covering the bulb, which provides directional light. You can control the beam’s spread, keeping it narrow for target lighting or wide to flood a whole area.
You can get these in a range of shapes, sizes, and intensities. For outdoor use, you’d want a bulb labeled as PAR (parabolic aluminized reflector), which are halogens. Indoor use needs bulbs with a BR label.
Light Bulb Bases
The base of a light bulb refers to the part of the bulb that screws into the light fixture. You must pay attention to the bottom of your fixture before shopping for bulbs. Let’s look at the different base sizes.
E10 Mini Screw
An E10 is the smallest base size and will not fit in standard light fixtures. These bulbs are mostly used for flashlights, lanterns, or decorative optical fiber lighting. You typically get around one thousand hours per bulb.
E17s are a rare base size, typically on smaller sized bulbs like T6, R12, or S11. It can be challenging to find these in stock. This size is generally found in desk lamps or appliances.
A medium-sized base is the most common size bulb and fixture. Most bulbs, including halogen, CFL, CCFL, or incandescent, have a medium base.
The E27 is slightly larger than the E26 and can work for most fixtures. Compared side by side with the E26, they’re nearly identical in size.
The E39 is most frequently for high-wattage lamps and street lights. These are more industrial and are never for interior residential lighting.
The extended E39 has a 39 to 40mm diameter base, making them too large for regular use.
E40 Mogul bases are mostly for spotlights or outdoor lighting due to their large size, limiting their use. You cannot use this size base in regular indoor light fixtures or lamps.
Light Bulb Sizes
Light bulbs don’t just come with various sized bases but also with different sized bulbs, which refer to the glass housing. Let’s take a quick look at these different sizes.
“A” series bulbs are the classic shape to which many of us are accustomed. These are for commercial or residential lighting. They have a pear-shape with an Edison screw base.
The bulb’s width, measured in ⅛” increments in the US, is listed as the number after the A. The most common size for lamps is A19, while A15 is more common for appliances and ceiling fans.
“B” series bulbs have a slightly round shape with a small tip on the end, making them a decorative bulb that looks great in chandeliers. The “B” for this style stands for blunt.
“F” series stands for flames, which are also a decorative bulb. This option has a flame shape. C-7, on the other hand, stands for candle due to its design. F series are better for more detail, while C-series have bent or blunt tip options.
The S-Series light bulb is primarily for outdoor signs. Most people won’t have these in their homes, although many people collect antique ones for outdoor decorations. You see these around casinos, theaters, hotels, and restaurants.
This series of light bulbs has a flame design that inspires them to be called F (for flame). F-series bulbs are for indoor use and are often a decorative statement. Many people use these for chandeliers or lamps.
“G” stands for globe, which describes this bulb’s shape. This design comes in a wide array of sizes, from a small G-25 to a large G-40.
There are even spotlight G-series bulbs for outdoor ornamental lighting. They’re also typical for bathroom vanities due to a dramatic feel and the quality of light.
The R series of bulbs are the best choice for recessed or track lighting. Their shape directs light so that it doesn’t shine out through the sides. These are great for showcasing pieces, but they might not be the best option for lamps or overhead lighting.
MR Series light bulbs come in multiple sizes for track and accent lighting. These bulbs are solely for these purposes and cannot perform as a general use bulb. You see these in residential and commercial settings.
Linestra bulbs are a single contact tubular shape with various uses, including on boats, bathroom fixtures, and medicine cabinet lighting.
An interesting feature about these bulbs is that although many are glass-like regular bulbs – other models are made of flexible plastic.
Tungsten Halogen Double Ended
Tungsten halogen double-ended bulbs are a straight tube design that can work indoors, outdoors or both. Different types offer different light emissions.
This light bulb style is a common component of wall or desk lamps, and some people use them for landscaping lighting.
P series bulbs have a pear shape with a longer, narrower neck length with a greater diameter than an A-series bulb. These bulbs can work for indoor or outdoor lighting to create ambiance.
Indoors, these lights can go with vanities, ceiling fixtures, wall-mounted fixtures, and portable lamps. Outdoors, they may be used as security lights, radio towers, high tension wires, and illuminate power lines.
Bulbs that fall into the AR series are halogen bulbs that produce low lighting that looks great for landscaping. You can get bulbs for different angles, from narrow to very wide, making them an excellent solution for floodlights, spotlight, or wall lights. These aren’t for interior use.
Aluminum reflector (ALR) bulbs have a wide top and a small base that provides broad coverage for large areas. These bulbs are used both commercially or in residential homes for outdoor security.
The brightness and lifespan vary by the bulb, so you’ll need to research the different models to find what works for you. You can use these as a security light for your backyard, driveway, or gardens.
BR – bulk reflector lights – have a silver liner coat over the bulb’s surface that helps direct all of the light in one direction instead of spreading out.
Many people use these for floodlights or to showcase specific areas like gardens or corrals. BR bulbs have better energy efficiency that makes them a great alternative to incandescent reflector bulbs.
T series bulbs can be fluorescent or incandescent, and it’s essential to consider your usage before purchasing one type or the other.
Incandescent bulbs are great for showcase lighting or appliances. They’re also common for exit signs or stairways. Fluorescent bulbs are more common in commercial settings, like offices, parking garages, hospitals, or retail stores.
All three of these series are decorative bulbs. RP bulbs are the smallest and are what you would use in nightlights, Scentsies, or some chandeliers.
Both MB and BT bulbs are bigger than RP and can fit in most average light socket bases. In terms of performance, none of these types are any different than other bulbs. They just look more interesting.
In the PAR series, bulbs are a sealed beam bulb that contains one filament (or more) and a parabolic reflector (hence PAR). The original use was for vehicle headlights, although now they are also used for lighthouses, stage lighting, and aircraft purposes.
PAR bulbs change sizes by ⅛” increments and come in a wide range of voltages, sizes, and beam spreads from very narrow up to a flood. If the hard shell breaks, you have to replace the whole bulb.
BT- Bulged tube – light bulbs are standard for car dealerships, sporting arenas, industrial settings, and canopy lighting. These bulbs produce max amounts of bright light and are more reliable than incandescents.
Ellipsoidal bulbs come in multiple sizes but with the same shape. Some series of E bulbs are fatter and shorter, while others may be long and skinny. The intended use will determine the bulb’s appearance.
Ellipsoidal dimple bulbs are a longer, slightly larger model than the standard E series, although they come in many similar sizes. The difference is that these have a dimpled tip and a different base that holds the special arc tubes.
These bulbs are typical for industrial lighting, parking garages, car dealerships, or sporting areas. But you’ll rarely need them in residential settings.
How Light Bulbs Work
Now that we’ve looked at the many different light bulb factors, let’s look at how light bulbs work. Lightbulbs contain a thin metal filament – usually tungsten, due to its heat-resistance – that’s covered by a glass bulb. Inert gases keep the filament from disintegrating or oxidizing.
As electricity courses through the filament, the wire glows. The energy from this process transforms into light (watts). When shopping for light bulbs, look for a Lighting Facts Label, which will provide important information about the bulb’s capabilities.
These labels list factors like watts, brightness (lumens), life cycle, and color. Let’s look at these criteria so you can make sense of the data.
Light bulbs come in different watts or wattages, referring to the amount of energy the bulb uses. This wattage is on the glass bulb or the metal collar. The higher the wattage, the more power it needs to make light. For the light to be brighter, it will require higher watts.
When you get your monthly electric bill, your balance is calculated by how many watts of energy you use during the month. Higher wattage bulbs can cause higher electric bills.
And using light bulbs that have higher wattages than a fixture can handle can be a potential fire hazard. It’s essential to know the max wattage of your product before installing a light bulb. However, watts do not affect how much light the bulb will emit. For this, you’ll want to check the lumen count.
Lumens is how light is measured and defines how much light the bulb radiates. In easier terms, it’s the bulb’s brightness. The more lumen, the brighter the light.
The lumen count is usually on the product’s package. Many experts recommend shopping for light bulbs by lumens instead of watts. Here’s a comparison of how to do this.
- For the equivalent of a 100W (watt) incandescent bulb, you’d need around 1600 lumens.
- For the 75W equivalent, choose a bulb with about 1100 lumens.
- For a 60W bulb substitution, you’ll need around 800 lumens.
- Instead of shopping for 40W bulbs, look for one that has around 450 lumens.
Color temperature refers to how the light displays as color, as measured by the Kelvins (K) temperature scale. Different temperatures produce varying shades.
- Candlelight – 1,000-2,600K = produces a dim glow, like candlelight. Great for soft light but not for illumination.
- Warm white – 2,600-3,000K = standard color of incandescent bulbs used for wall or ceiling fixtures in living rooms, bedrooms, and dining rooms
- Neutral white – 3,000K-5,000K = provides a cool white glow and brighter lumen. This color is great for task lighting in the bathroom, kitchen, and offices.
- Daylight – 5,000K+ – Daylight is the brightest bulb, with crisp, bright lighting similar to midday sunlight. These bulbs are great for task lights for painting, reading, or hobbying. Many people also use these for security lighting outside.
Finding the Light Bulb You Need
Gone are the days when you could grab a pack of light bulbs out of the grocery store and screw them into every fixture throughout your home.
Now, you have to pay more attention to the max watts a device can use, as many are starting to have different wattage max. You also have to know what size and shape bulb your fixture needs. Some fixtures allow you to choose a decorative bulb design.
Then you have to decide what type of bulb you use. The most significant debate is between LEDs or incandescent.
You also want to know how many lumens you need. We’ve explained the method of replacing incandescent bulbs with the high energy equivalent measured in lumens above.
Finally, you’ll need to decide on the color temperature that you want your room to have. We also went over this earlier.
LifeSpan of Different Types of Light Bulbs
Light bulbs vary in size, shape, color, and, most importantly, lifespan. Lifespan refers to how long the bulb will last.
Incandescent light bulbs have an average lifespan of around 1,000 hours, although it can vary from 750 to 2,000. Generally, this works out to about a year.
Halogen bulbs are an energy-efficient substitution for using incandescent bulbs with double the lifespan. They have a lifespan of 2,000 to 4,000 hours of use.
CFL bulbs can last up to 10 years, with the hours varying by watts. They usually have a life cycle of 8,000 to 20,000 hours.
LEDs can last an incredible 35,000 to 50,000 hours of use per bulb, making them a fantastic choice for areas you don’t want to access to change bulbs continually. This bulb will last the longest.
Fluorescents are a popular choice for industrial use due to their brightness and long lifecycle. These bulbs can last anywhere from 24,000 to 36,000 hours.
Light Bulb Safety
There are a few safety tips to know about using light bulbs. First, always be wary of grabbing a hot bulb. It’s best to leave your light off and let it cool before removing the bulb. Remember to wear gloves or use a cloth when handling halogen bulbs.
Another essential safety tip is not to exceed the max safety rating of your light fixtures. Each fixture has a set wattage it can manage without malfunctioning. Using energy-efficient bulbs is a great way to avoid maxing out on wattage. These bulbs use less wattage but give you more lumen (brightness).
And some bulbs may be a fire hazard if they are too close to potential targets due to their tendency to heat up.
Who knew there was so much to learn about light bulbs? It’s crazy to think back to the old days when we carelessly screwed 100W bulbs into our ceiling fans to maximize the light. Now, we know that energy-efficient bulbs like LEDs are a better option than the incandescent days of yesteryear. We hope you enjoyed this detailed guide to the different types of light bulbs.