How to Choose the Perfect Light Bulb for Your Lighting Fixture – PART1
Part 1 of 3: Understanding Light Bulb Basics
1 Look for the right wattage. The first thing to consider when matching a lightbulb to a light fixture is the wattage amount. Every light bulb has a matching wattage – the amount of energy it is capable of producing. This number will range anywhere from 40-watts to 120-watts for a traditional light fixture. On the flip side, every light fixture has a maximum wattage amount. This is the highest wattage the fixture is capable of using without becoming a fire hazard (it can’t handle a high wattage). You therefore need to choose a light bulb with a wattage amount that is equal to or less than the maximum wattage on your fixture.
- Using a light bulb with wattage above the maximum that the fixture can handle is a major fire hazard.
- You can use a light bulb with wattage less than what your fixture asks for.
2 Pay attention to the lumens.. Lumens refers to the amount of light the bulb will put out (as opposed to wattage, which is the amount of energy). The higher number of lumens, the brighter the light bulb will be. Therefore, if you’re trying to illuminate a large space, you’ll want to use a light bulb with a high number of lumens (above 1000). A small fixture or table lamp does not require a bulb with a high number of lumens.
- The more lumens, the closer the appearance of the light is to that of natural sunlight.
3 Look at the shape of the bulb. There are many different shapes of light bulbs, each with a different use. The most commonly used bulbs are the generic ‘bulb’ shape, the spiral shape, and the A shape. Additionally, there are drop shaped, globe shaped, flame shaped, tubes, and more varieties of bulbs. Generally the shape doesn’t really matter, but some light fixtures require a specifically shaped bulb in order to work or appear correctly. Check your fixture first, and then look for bulbs that match.
4 Check the ‘life expectancy’ of the light bulb. Light bulbs are not all created equal; in fact, some bulbs last quite a long time, while others will only remain lit for a few months or years of use. Each bulb should say on the back what the life expectancy is, normally based on three hours of use a day. If you’re putting the bulb in a well-used fixture, it will do you good to find a bulb that has a longer life expectancy than a bulb that goes in a rarely-used lamp.
- Halogen bulbs traditionally have the longest life expectancy.
- Incandescent bulbs generally have the shortest life expectancy.
5 Make note of the ‘light appearance’ of the bulb. Most bulbs will advertise the ‘light appearance’ on the package – this tells you how warm or cold the color of the light is. Light appearance that is on the warm side will be more orange/yellow, while light appearance that is on the cold side will be more blue/white. Although this may not be a serious consideration for you when choosing your bulbs, you might want to make sure you don’t accidentally purchase a bright white bulb when you intended to buy a warm yellow bulb.
- Light appearance is measured in temperature using the Kelvin system. For example, your light bulb might advertise 5000K lighting, meaning that the temperature is at 5000 degrees Kelvin.
- Common ‘light appearance’ types are bright white, cool white, warm white, and daylight.
6 Look at the energy cost of the bulb. Besides the initial cost of the light bulb, there is an additional overall energy cost associated with the bulb. This is the price you will pay in electricity bills for the one bulb over its lifetime. Energy efficient light bulbs will cost much less over their lifetimes than will traditional light bulbs. When possible, you’ll want to choose bulbs that have a low lifetime cost. This may mean paying a bit more up front, but you’ll reap the benefits down the road.
7 Check the mercury content of the light bulb. The mercury content of the bulb doesn’t affect the light or overall use of the bulb; the only thing a bulb that contains mercury will do is prevent you from throwing it away. If your bulb has any mercury in it at all, it cannot be disposed of in the trash. Now, mostly screw-in CFL bulbs contain mercury, but you should check all bulbs you purchase just in case.