Light Bulb Buying Guide

Choosing a light bulb used to be easy- there was only one kind available. Now you have the choice of incandescent, fluorescent, compact fluorescent (CFL) or halogen. The following information will help you understand the types of bulbs available.

Lighting Lingo

Like most aspects of home improvement and home building, the lighting industry has developed its own language. Here are a few of the industry’s most often used terms:

  • Watts are standard units of measure in electricity. One watt is equal to 1/746 horsepower. If you are switching from standard incandescent bulbs to CFLs, or if you are simply replacing an incandescent bulb, it is important to know the wattage of the old bulb. A CFL uses less wattage and produces more light.

  • Lumens are the standard measure of light produced by a bulb. Standard 100-watt bulbs produce about 1600 lumens.

  • Incandescent light bulbs have a filament that’s heated to the point of glowing. The glowing filament produces the bulb’s light.

  • Fluorescent bulbs or tubes are filled with mercury vapor that emits ultraviolet light when electricity is applied. The bulbs/tubes have a coating inside that turns the ultraviolet rays into visible light.

  • Life is usually listed in the estimated number of hours a light bulb will last. By comparing the lumens and life of different bulbs of the same wattage, you can select the light bulb that provides you with the best combination of light output and length of life.

Good Idea: When replacing your bulb, make sure you take the old bulb with you to match the base size and bulb style. When replacing an appliance bulb, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendation.

SAFETY NOTE:Never exceed the maximum wattage recommended for your lamp!

Available Bulb Colours

Incandescent bulbs are available in a variety of colors to change and enhance the look of your room:

  • Soft white – Enrich your design and give it a hint of softness to enhance mood, combine with spotlights to highlight a particular object or feature.

  • Yellow – Bug lights are available that don’t attract as many bugs as regular bulbs. Insects can’t see the yellow light as well as they can see blue or ultraviolet light.

  • Amber – Replicates the light from a natural gas flame.

  • Clear – Offers a brilliant light.

  • Light blue- special bulbs available with a coating to filter out the yellows in the colour spectrum to produce a crisper light.

  • Black light – provides special effects for glow in the dark items. It is good for parties or kids’ rooms.

  • A variety of novelty colors are available for party lights.

Incandescent Bulbs

An incandescent bulb is the most common type of bulb. They are inexpensive and available in a variety of colors and styles. Incandescent lamps are popular for their warm, pleasing colour that complements skin tones:

  • Most incandescent bulbs range from 15 to 150 watts.

  • Incandescent bulbs are less expensive than halogen and fluorescent.

  • They can be used with dimmer switches.

A-Line Standard light bulb shape available in variety of wattages, clear, frosted/pearl, and colored/pastel styles. Colored/pastel styles create a soft light with a gentle hint of colour to add the finishing touches to your home. Some are available in a shatter-resistant material.

Reflector -An indoor bulb used for directing light such as a spotlight or recessed light.

Globe -A round bulb that is used when a light fixture has no shade (such as vanity lighting). Globe bulbs are available in varying sizes.

Candle -A decorative bulb that creates the mood of romance. Candle bulbs can be used with dimmers for accent lighting and in chandeliers.

Flicker – The filament in the bulb resembles a flickering flame. These bulbs are used in chandeliers and candelabras.

Bullet/Torpedo -A decorative bulb shaped like a bullet. This type of bulb is often seen in night lights.

Flame -Flame-shaped bulb with wrinkled glass usually used with dimmers for accent lighting.

Parabolic Aluminized Reflectors (PAR) -Outdoor flood bulb that is resistant to damp areas. PAR bulbs are used for spotlighting or as flood lights. PARs are also available in halogen.

Tubular -Tube-shaped bulb used mainly in picture and undercabinet lighting.

Ceiling Fan -Specialty bulb made specifically for a ceiling fan. Ceiling fan bulbs are also available in bullet and flame shapes.

Specialty globe -Used to highlight a vanity fixture.

Compact Fluorescent

Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) are the most energy-efficient of all light bulbs. They use 67 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last longer:

  • CFLs are available in medium bases to fit standard light sockets.

  • CFLs use less wattage than incandescent. For example, a standard 75-watt bulb is comparable to a 20-watt CFL in light output.

  • CFLs cost more than incandescent bulbs, but they last up to sixteen times longer than incandescent bulbs.

  • CFLs are available for outdoor use as well. Make sure the packaging indicates that the bulb is rated for outdoor use.

  • CFLs may not hold up to the stress of power surges. So using them in areas such as workshops, isn’t advisable.

3-way-Made for 3-way table lamps. This bulb last six times longer than standard A-line bulbs. Fits lamps with a harp > 8".

Dimmable -Made for incandescent dimming circuits. Dims to as low as 10 percent light output. It lasts 13 times longer than a 100-watt A-Line.

Post -Has a shatterproof cover. Lasts 16 times longer than a 75-watt A-Line. Available in the buglight version that filters the wavelength of light that attracts bugs.

A-Line – Looks similar to an incandescent bulb, yet lasts six times longer than a 60-watt A-line. Fits most table lamps with a harp > 8".

Spiral – Great for table lamps. Lasts eight times longer than a regular A-line bulb. Spiral shape provides better light distribution than other CFLs.


Fluorescent light bulbs have been traditionally a linear light source, but also come in u-shaped and circular. Fluorescent tubes will not work without a ballast. Fluorescent bulbs last longer than incandescent.

Colour has been a big issue for many years with fluorescent bulbs. Now, you can get a wide variety of options to enhance your indoor environment:

  • Sunlight – good for residential or commercial areas where outdoor light is minimal.

  • Cool white -good for office, retail, school, basement and workshop areas.

  • Soft white -Enrich your design and give it a hint of softness to enhance mood, combine with spotlights to highlight a particular object or feature.

  • Natural color -good for retail and commercial areas where high colour rendition is preferred.

  • Black light – provides special effects for glow in the dark items. It is good for parties or kids’ rooms.

Grow lights – Fluorescent bulbs specifically made to provide “natural” light to indoor plants. The light output contains blue, green, red and orange spectrums to promote plant growth. The bulbs are available in 20 W and 40 W.

Linear -Fluorescent tubes available in lengths of 24" to 48".

Circular-Fluorescent lamps used in nonlinear fixtures.

U-shaped -Fluorescent bulb used in undercabinet light fixtures with a ballast on one end only.

Aquarium -This bulb is specifically made for fish tanks. For tanks with fish only, the bulb should provide lighting that minimizes the growth of algae and maximizes the colour of the fish. In tanks containing coral and plants, the spectrum of the light becomes a factor. There must be adequate amounts of red and blue light for photosynthesis.


Both incandescent and halogen light bulbs use the same technology and filament to produce light. However, halogen bulbs are more efficient than incandescent bulbs, but cost a little more.

  • Halogens last up to three times longer and produce almost 50 percent more light for the same amount of energy.

  • Halogens product the brightest, purest light and makes tasks like reading easier.

  • Always use a clean rag to handle a halogen bulb when changing. The oil from skin will cause the bulb to burn hotter and reduce its longevity.

A-Line -All the benefits of halogen-longlife, good colour in the classic shape.

Parabolic Aluminized Reflectors (PAR) -Outdoor flood bulb that is resistant to damp areas. PAR bulbs are used for spotlighting or as flood lights.

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