The Light Bulb Buyers Guide: All You Need To Know about Light Bulbs
The light bulb is perhaps one of the most remarkable innovations of the 19th century. Invented in the late 1880s, the electric light bulb has literally revolutionized the field of lighting and as of today is the most popular source of light.
The performance of light fixtures is highly dependent on the type of bulb used together with that particular fixture. For instance if a light fixture is meant for task lighting and the bulb used is of a ridiculously low wattage, the light fixture would not be able to serve the purpose it was meant for. True the fixture would be focusing all its light at a particular point but since the light intensity is minimal, it would be very similar to the surrounding ambient light.
Simply put, different types of bulbs produce different lighting effect and to be able to get the best out of your light fixture you must have a clear understanding on the different types of light bulbs and some of the factors that must be considered when selecting a light bulb for your light fixture. The following overview will help shed more light on this.
Types of Light Bulbs
Light bulbs are divided into various categories depending on their mode of action. The following is a list of some of the most common light bulbs being used in modern times:
At one time, incandescent bulbs were the most popular type of light bulb being used worldwide. These bulbs produce light by passing an electric current through a filament and in the process making it to glow. Incandescent bulbs produce high intensity light and as such, are considered as the best when it comes to task lighting.
However due to their high energy consumption, the US Energy and Independence Act of 2007 decreed that from the start of 2012 production of general purpose incandescent bulbs would cease: apart from special purpose bulbs such as those being used in chandeliers.
Incandescent bulbs are further divided into a number of categories, which include:
General service incandescent: this is an inexpensive bulb that used to be very popular. It produces a warm yellow white glow and comes in 3 basic shapes: general, globe and decorative with the decorative bulbs being either flame shaped or teardrop shaped.
Reflectorized: this special type of incandescent bulb has a reflective coating that directs light in one direction. This type of bulb focuses 2 times more the amount of light that a general incandescent light focuses.
Parabolic reflector: this incandescent bulb has a parabolic reflector and focuses 4 times the amount of light a general purpose bulb focuses. This PR incandescent bulb is most commonly used in recessed and track lighting.
Tungsten-halogen: this incandescent bulb produces brighter and whiter light than the standard incandescent bulb. It also tends to last longer and produces more light.
The AC version of the tungsten-halogen bulb are further divided into 3 groups: PAR 16,20,30,38 which are reflectorized and used in flood lighting, T3 double ended used in wall sconce and outdoor lighting and T4 single ended used in pendants and bath brackets.
The 12V tungsten-halogen incandescent bulbs on the other hand are also divided into 3 groups: MR8, MR11 and MR16 which have mini-reflectors and whose miniature size make them perfect for use in outdoor landscape lighting and recessed fixtures, PAR36 bulbs which have good beam control over long distance and as such used in long distance lighting and the T-4 miniature bulbs used in pendants, desk lamps and chandeliers.
Incandescent bulbs do not contain any mercury, have a life span of approximately one year and can be used with a dimmer switch.
Fluorescent bulbs are another favorite when it comes to the different types of light bulbs and light fixtures. Fluorescent bulbs are usually in form of a tube filled with mercury vapor and coated with phosphor. When an electric arc passes through the tube it excites the mercury, which in turn produces UV rays that are converted into visible light by the phosphor coating of the tube.
Fluorescent bulbs use 3 to 5 times less energy than an incandescent bulb, which has the same lumen rating: produce the same amount of light. Fluorescent tubes also tend to last up to 20 times longer than most incandescent bulbs.
Conventional fluorescent bulbs were usually in form of a tube but modern technology and recent designs have seen the emergence of compact fluorescent bulbs that can be used in smaller fixtures such as sconces and recessed down lights.
There are even screw-in type fluorescent bulbs that have the capacity to fit in standard incandescent bulb sockets. These bulbs are usually available in a wide array of colors with the most popular being warm white colors that can easily duplicate incandescent light. Some of the other colors which, can be successfully produced by fluorescent light fixtures, include black, green, blue, red and even purple.
Fluorescent bulbs can be further divided into two other groups:
Compact Fluorescent Lights: also known as CFL light bulbs, these light bulbs can fit in most of the standard light fixtures and are a popular alternative when it comes to low watt high lumen lighting.
T8 bulbs: these make use of electronic ballasts and are commonly used in high ceilings. Since the ballast used is electronic in nature they do not hum are not prone to flickering and generally tend to last longer.
Although already mentioned under fluorescent bulbs, compact fluorescent light bulbs deserve a mention on their own. CFLs fall under a category of lighting bulbs known as energy saving lighting bulbs and are perhaps one of the most popular lighting bulb as per now. Their popularity can be attributed to the fact that they have a very low wattage yet produce a significant amount of light. At the same time they can fit in practically all types of light fixtures with a standard socket.
However, CFLs tend to be quite sensitive and before using them in an outdoor setting, always ensure that the package indicates the bulb can be used in an outdoor setting. Similarly, if you intend to use the bulb with a dimmer switch or three-way bulb ensure you purchase a CFL that is approved for this particular use.
Light emitting diodes are another popular form of light source for most domestic and commercial settings. LEDs usually produce light when voltage is applied to a negatively charged semiconductor material causing electrons to combine producing light.
LEDs are considered as energy saving light bulbs and as a norm tend to consume very little light while at the same time having one of the longest life spans when compared to other types of bulbs. LEDs are considered as being best for track lighting as well under cabinet lighting. Colored LED bulbs also exist and these can be used for special function lighting such as in gaming rooms and even bathrooms.
Also known as high intensity discharge lamps, HID lamps can be classified as gas discharge lamps since they work by vaporizing metallic additives in a pressurized tube by use of an electric arc. They have the advantage of having a very long life span though the colors they produce are not so bright when compared to incandescent and fluorescent light sources.
HID bulbs are best suited for outdoor landscape lighting, area lighting and also flood lighting as they have the advantage of being energy efficient and tend to last longer since they do not have filaments like most sources of light. They can also be used for industrial lighting.
HID lamps are divided into 4 major types depending on metal additives within their pressurized tubes. There is the metal halide HID lamp, high-pressure sodium, low-pressure sodium and mercury vapor HID lamp.
Edson lamps are also another great alternative when it comes to light bulbs and light fixtures. Though currently not in active production, Edison bulbs are considered as being very valuable from an aesthetic perspective and are one of the most common light bulbs by individuals who might wish to create an antique feel or theme within a room.
As a norm, Edison bulbs usually produce very bright light but have the advantage of being dimmable. This has made them quite .popular for both ambient lighting and partly track lighting.
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Now that you have an in-depth overview of the different type of light fixtures available in the market, the following is an outline of some of the most important factors: apart from bulb type, that have to be considered when selecting the best bulb for a light fixture.
Factors to Consider When Selecting a Light Bulb for a Light Fixture
There are a number of factors which when put in mind during the selection will ensure that one gets the best bulb for not only a given light fixture but also lighting function. These factors include:
At the very bottom of every bulb, we have the base. The shape and type of base will determine whether or not a bulb has the capacity to plug within a particular fixture and a s such the base is one of the most important factors that have to be looked at when selecting a bulb for a particular fixture.
As a norm, the base type has a distinct numbering system and in every bulb the specific base type can be found inscribed on the bulb as well as on a light fixture. Some of the most common base types include.
E26: this is a standard screw in base used in a majority of light fixtures.
E12: smaller than the standard base and often referred to as the candelabra base. This type of base is most commonly used in decorative light fixtures and bulbs with a very good example being chandeliers.
E39: also known as the mogul base, this base has a screw-in feature but as denoted but its number it’s much larger than both the standard and candelabra bases.
GU24: bulbs with this type of base use a twist and lock system for the base to latch on to the lighting fixture.
Pin base: pin bases are manufacturer specific and in most instances can only latch on to a specific manufacturers light fixture.
Maximum Overall Length
Also known as MOL, maximum overall length is the measurement of a bulb from its tip to the bottom of its base. MOL is considered as being very important especially if a light bulb is to be installed within a confining fixture such as a sconce or even track light.
As a rule, you should always ensure that the MOL of a given bulb is within the range of a confining light filter with the tip leaving a few centimeters of freedom so as to prevent the light fixture from overheating.
Bulbs such as CFLs and LEDs have a color temperature rating. A color temperature rating is usually denoted in terms of degrees kelvins and basically gives an individual a general overview of how the light produced by a particular bulb appears in respect to the color of the sun.
Starting from 2700K which is the lowest color temperature the color temperature can go to over 5000K. As a rule, the lower the color temperature is the yellower the light will be and the higher the color temperature is the whiter the light produced by the bulb will be. Some of the most common color temperatures include:
2700K – This is the most yellow or warmest color available in the market. Lights of this color are usually best used in the bedroom or sitting room area as they create a warm homely glow
3500K – these bulbs have a soft white glow and are best used for bathroom and kitchen ambient light fixtures
4100K – these lights are a cool white in color and can be used for task lighting in areas such as the dining room
5000K and above – commonly referred as daylight bulbs due to their absolute brightness, these light bulbs are best used for accent lighting
The color temperature will generally dictate effect the light will have on the mood and as such, close attention should be paid to color temperature when selecting a particular bulb
Wattage can be best described as the amount of power needed to light up a bulb. Traditionally a higher wattage automatically meant that a bulb produced more light. However, with the advent of modern technology and invention of bulbs such as CFLs and LEDs; which produce more light with less wattage, lumens are now used to measure the brightness or intensity of light produced by a bulb.
Incandescent bulbs have one of the highest wattage ratings within the market with 100watt bulbs and 60 watt bulbs being the norm. CFLs and LEDs on the other hand have a generally low wattage with some of the highest bulbs having 25 watts. However in terms of lumens produced per watt, CFLs and LED bulbs are considered as being best when compared to incandescent lamps.
When selecting a bulb for a particular style lighting let’s say ambient lighting or task lighting, it would be in your best interest to not only look at the wattage of the bulb but also take a look its lumen rating so as to get a clear picture of the exact amount of light it will produce.
To cut down on energy costs, it is generally advisable to use an energy efficient bulb such as an LED or CFL. However, this does not necessarily mean that you should completely phase out incandescent bulbs from your home as there are different lighting styles and effects that can only be pulled off using incandescent light bulbs.
Lumens are a unit used to measure bulb brightness. In the modern world, lumens are considered as being most reliable in measuring the intensity of a light bulb as opposed to wattage. For instance take 3 light bulbs an incandescent, CFL and LED light bulb each of which is producing 600 lumens. For an incandescent light bulb to produce 600 lumens it has to have a wattage of 42W, the CFL has to have a wattage of 15W while the LED has to have a wattage of 10W.
Considering this, it is highly recommended that lumens be used in ascertaining the brightness of a light bulb.
The cap style of a bulb is another important factor that has to be considered when selecting a lighting bulb for a particular fixture. There are quite a number of bulb cap styles with some of the most popular being the large bayonet, small bayonet, large screw, small screw, GU10 and specialist cap style.
As a rule, always ensure that the cap style for your bulb matches with that of a bulb fixture before making a purchase.
The shape of a bulb is considered as being very important since it will ultimately determine whether or not a bulb will fit within a lighting fixture. Some of the most common types of bulb shapes available in the market include candle shaped bulbs, spiral shaped bulbs, spotlight shaped bulbs, capsule bulbs, which tend to be very tiny, reflector shaped bulbs usually incandescent in nature and lastly the classic bulb.
As a rule, you should pay close attention to the shape of the light bulb selected and the fixture within which it is to be installed so as to ascertain if there will be a perfect fit between the two. However, this does not necessarily mean that all light bulbs have to be installed within some constricting light fixtures such as a sconce, some light bulbs such as spotlights can function equally well without being hidden from view. Other light bulbs such as spiral shaped bulbs have decorative aspect and can be equally used for decorative purposes without necessarily being hidden.
Bulb Lighting Tips
The following is an overview of some of the most popular bulb lighting tips and tricks:
decorate Using Bulbs
Most individuals tend to think that bulbs are specifically meant for lighting purposes but did you know that you can actually decorate a room using a bulb?
Bulbs come in many shapes and sizes and if correctly chosen can be used for decorative purposes. For instance, tear shaped bulbs can be great decorative pieces within the living room area or better still; individuals who might wish to create an antique theme can make use of Edison bulbs for a more dramatic look.
Use Color to Set Mood
By choosing the right color, you are able to set the mood within a room. As a rule, you should always consider the color temperature for a particular bulb so as to be able to ascertain its color depth and also the mood it will set.
The Right Bulb for the Right Style
When trying to create a particular style of lighting within a room: be it ambient, accent or task lighting, the bulb used will have a major impact on the final results. As such, it will be in your best interest to pay particularly close attention to the intensity of light produced in terms of lumens and also the depth of color the bulb produces.
Make Dimmer Switches Your Friend
Dimmer switches should also feature prominently in your list of light bulb accessories when working with light bulbs. Dimmer switches help in dictating the mood within a room and as such are considered as being quite important especially for ambient lighting. However, you should always ensure that the bulb being used has been approved for use with a dimmer switch by the manufacturer.
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