On the surface, choosing a light bulb is an easy decision. Just check the requirements for your light fixture and buy the bulb that fits. But taking a few minutes to educate yourself on the ins and outs of light bulbs can help make choices that will provide more effective and complementary lighting for your needs and can also help you discover more energy efficient options.

Types of Light Bulbs

Incandescent: Incandescent light bulbs have been standard in most households for years and are probably the most familiar bulb type. They are available in a wide range of sizes and wattages and are inexpensive to purchase. However, in spite of their low initial cost, these bulbs actually waste a lot of energy as heat. Incandescent bulbs are currently being phased out in some areas in lieu of more energy efficient designs.

Fluorescent Tubes: More commonly seen in commercial or industrial settings, fluorescent lights are more expensive than incandescent but operate more efficiently for long-term energy savings. They are available in warm, cool and daylight colours for a variety of work settings. Decorative fluorescent fixtures are also available and are often installed in kitchens, laundry rooms and basements. Because they contain a small amount of mercury, these bulbs should not be disposed of in the garbage; they need to be recycled properly.

Compact Fluorescent: CFLs, or compact fluorescent light bulbs, provide the energy benefits of fluorescent lighting and are designed for use in both household and commercial fixtures. With up to 75% energy savings and 10 times longer life than standard incandescent bulbs, CFLs are a popular choice for a variety of lighting applications. They are now available in a wide range of shapes, sizes, wattages and colours to suit virtually any need, including ones that are compatible with dimmer switches. CFLs are a little more expensive at the outset, but the cost is balanced in the long term by energy savings and lifespan. As with fluorescent tubes, they contain a small amount of mercury and should be recycled.

LED: Light Emitting Diode, or LED, lights are still a relatively new trend in household lighting but they are swiftly gaining ground. Many people have already replaced old and outdated holiday lighting with durable LED light strings. They are also widely used in traffic lights, car lights and commercial or professional settings due to the fact that they are extremely energy efficient with a very long lifespan – up to 80% energy savings and a 33 times longer lifespan than incandescent bulbs. They are also extremely durable, contain no toxins and provide bright, reliable light. They are still not as common for household lighting (although this is changing as the technology improves), which means they aren’t available in as many styles, they are more expensive and, although sudden failure is uncommon, they may have a greater decrease in light output over time than standard bulbs.

Halogen: Halogen bulbs work on the same principle as incandescent; a metal filament is heated with electricity to produce light. The difference is that the filament is surrounded by halogen gas instead of a vacuum. As a result they create a brighter, more efficient light and are longer lasting than standard incandescent bulbs. They are, however, very hot to touch and very sensitive to the oils on your skin so they should only be handled with gloves. They are most commonly used in work lights or recessed lighting.

Xenon: Like halogens, xenon bulbs heat a filament surrounded by gas to produce light. They are an improvement on halogen technology and produce a bright, white light that is excellent for recessed, under cabinet and other practical task lighting.

HID (High Intensity Discharge): This family of bulbs includes high and low pressure sodium and metal halide lights. They are designed to produce a very high light output for their size and, as a result, are compact, efficient and long lasting. They’re generally used in outdoor lighting applications or commercial interiors.

Does it all look like light to you? There’s actually a wide range of light colours available ranging from warm to cool to daylight. Light bulbs are defined as warm or cool based not on the physical temperature of the light but on how “hot” or “cold” it looks. Warm light tends to be slightly red, yellow or orange coloured while cool light is slightly blue, green or violet. The colour temperature of the light you choose can have a big impact on the look of a room and will depend heavily on the purpose of the light.


Light Bulb Colours

Warm White: Warm white bulbs enhance warmer colours such as reds, oranges, browns and yellows. They are generally a popular choice for homes, hotels, restaurants and other spaces where you want to foster a cozy, intimate atmosphere.

Cool White: With cooler blue or greenish overtones, cool white bulbs tend to be more popular in offices, stores and work areas that need bright task lighting. They can also be used in homes where décor colours run heavily to blues, greens and purples.

Daylight: Daylight bulbs reproduce the look of bright daylight for accurate colours and natural-looking light.

Full Spectrum: Full spectrum light bulbs are designed to mimic sunlight which makes them ideal for use with grow lamps as well as a variety of other purposes. They also provide an accurate, natural light which is ideal for artists, quilters, needle-crafters and readers.

Other Terms You should know

Watts: This is the measurement of energy usage for your light bulb. The lower the wattage, the less energy used. It’s always important to never exceed the maximum wattage recommended for a given light fixture. It will cause the fixture to overheat which can create a fire hazard.

Lumens: This is a measurement of light output and is useful for comparing one bulb to another. The more lumens, the more light produced. If you’re planning to go with energy efficient CFLs or LEDs they have much lower wattages than incandescent bulbs, so you need to compare lumens to find out which bulb would provide the equivalent light output.

CRI (Colour Rendering Index): This is a measurement of colour accuracy on a scale of 0-100. The closer the number is to 100, the more accurately the light source will render colour. This is important information for designers, architects, photographers and other people who are concerned with how the colour of the light will affect their work.

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Illuminate & Decorate: Choosing Light Fixtures for Your Home

Decorative or practical, natural or man-made; light is the key component of any décor. With it we can enjoy colour, set a mood, provide safety and live our lives; without it we’re just in the dark.

When selecting lights, most people spend a lot of time thinking about what the fixture looks like and very little time thinking about the type of light it is going to provide. In reality it should be the other way around. The most beautiful fixture in the world is going to be useless if it doesn’t provide light when, where and how you want it.

Types of Light

Ambient: This is also known as general. Most often this base level of light is “layered” with other light sources to emphasize décor, architecture and other features of the room.

Accent Lighting: This type of light is not strong enough to illuminate an entire room but can be used to emphasize specific décor elements. Accent light can draw attention to art, furniture, architecture and a variety of other key features.

Task Lighting: This type of light is placed to provide bright illumination for activities such a reading, crafting or playing games. Remember to keep your task lights and ambient lights on separate switches. That way you don’t have to have every single light in the room on if you just want to sit in a corner and read.

Decorative Lighting: This type of light is primarily for aesthetics and serves as a decorative feature or focal point for a room.

Types of Spaces

Where is the fixture going? We use lights in every room in the house but the light that you need for working in your kitchen is very different from the light that you’re going to use to create a relaxing atmosphere in your bedroom. Knowing which room a light fixture is going in will give you important information about what your light requirements are going to be.

Living Rooms/Rec Rooms: Are you reading? Watching TV? Entertaining friends or relatives? Living spaces need a variety of light sources depending on what time and what day of the week it is. In this case it’s good to have a combination of general purpose fixtures (which will illuminate the entire room) and specific task lighting (which will provide extra illumination as you need it)

Kitchens: This is an area of the home that needs to be bright and well lit with few shadows. Not only does it make food preparation easier and safer, it means you don’t miss anything in the cleanup afterwards. Good choices for kitchens include under cabinet lighting and fluorescent fixtures for bright, even lighting.

Dining Rooms: These often require a combination of general and focused lighting. Presentation is important when it comes to food and you don’t want to be feeling around for your plate in the dark. At the same time, bright overall lighting can create a very harsh effect and doesn’t contribute to an intimate gathering. In this case it’s nice to have some lower ambient light with something a little brighter focused directly on the table.
Quick Tip: Between 200 and 400 watts are required to light an average dining room properly.

Bathrooms: This is another room where good lighting is essential. Bright, unshaded light is required for shaving, makeup application and a variety of other personal grooming rituals. That being said, if you enjoy long relaxing baths you may want to have the option of softer lighting to create a calming, spa-like effect. Most bathrooms feature vanity lighting around mirrors which can be supplemented with ceiling or wall lights. If you have a very small bathroom and not much room for extra lighting you can also enhance the brightness of your room by adding a nice light coat of paint along with your new light fixture. It will reflect more light and create a brightening effect.

Bedrooms: This is another room in the home which benefits a great deal from having a combination of light sources. Soft ambient lighting is going to be more relaxing (and more romantic) after a long day but you still need task lighting for reading, seeing into closets, eating breakfast in bed, etc. For general light, your choices are pretty much limitless, ranging from chandeliers to recessed lights to wall sconces. When it comes to task lighting it depends on what you’re doing. Wall mounted, swing-arm lamps are a popular choice for reading lights but small accent lamps will also work if you have a night table.

Entryways/Hallways/Stairways: This is not a place to scrimp on fixtures. Stairs especially should be well lit and easy to navigate. No one wants to take a tumble down the stairwell because they couldn’t see the next step. Remember, stairs should be lit from the top down and there should be switches at the top and bottom of the staircase. Hallways should be lit every 8′ to 10′ to ensure adequate lighting throughout.

Home Office/Workrooms: Generally these rooms should feature bright-focused lighting for your work area like desk lamps so you don’t have to turn on every fixture in the room to get enough light to work by. For studios, craft rooms and sewing rooms, bright overall light might be more practical since you are not always working in one place and sometimes need to view your work from across the room. Also keep in mind that different types of light bulbs throw different colours of light and people who work with colour (such as artists) will benefit from using fixtures that will accept daylight bulbs for a more natural light.

Children’s Rooms/Playrooms: This type of space requires plenty of wall or ceiling mounted lights. Avoid floor-mounted light fixtures as much as possible. They can add to the clutter in these rooms and they can be a big safety hazard with young children, especially if it’s a room where they’re running around a lot.

Outdoor: When it comes to the great outdoors you could be using light for a variety of purposes. Light adds safety to walkways, showcases homes and landscape, decorates gardens and illuminates those evening get-togethers. Whatever your reasons, if you are actually going to be outside in the dark and not just admiring from the window then safety should be your primary concern. It’s always a good idea to have functioning, practical lighting in areas where people could be moving around.

Types of Fixtures

FlushmountFlushmount and Semi-Flushmount: Due to their size, simplicity of design and ease of installation, these fixtures are a common choice for general lighting in halls, entryways, kitchens, bedrooms and more. They install directly against the ceiling or hang slightly below it and are available in standard or energy efficient models.

pendants lightingPendants and Islands: These fixtures hang further down from the ceiling, often from an adjustable cord or chain. They are a popular choice for focusing light over kitchen and dining room tables and can be used on their own or in groupings depending on the space and light requirements. There are also a lot of single light pendants with unusual art glass shades which can add a unique accent to the décor of a room.

chandeliersChandeliers: Chandeliers come in many different styles and will often become the focal point of the room that they are placed. They can range in size from 3-light up to 20-light fixtures so you’ll want to make sure that the fixture is going to be the right size. A small chandelier will be lost in a large foyer while a large one will completely dominate a smaller dining room.

sconcesSconces: Wall lights are a very versatile option for rooms which need additional lighting but which don’t have a lot of floor space. They can provide safety lighting in stairwells, task lighting in bedrooms or bathrooms and add a decorative touch to just about any space.


Vanity LightsVanity Lights: These fixtures are designed for only one purpose and that is to showcase your face, which means they are used almost exclusively in bathrooms and bedrooms. They provide bright light with minimal shadows which makes them the best choice for shaving, applying makeup, styling and general grooming.

Track LightsTrack Lights: Track lights can serve a couple of purposes. They are good for general lighting in rooms with high, vaulted ceilings (8′ or higher) but they can also be used to add layers over existing ambient light. This makes them a great choice for accent lighting where there is artwork or other wall décor to be featured.

Recessed LightingRecessed Lighting: This type of light fixture works well in living rooms or other large spaces that require plenty of ambient light. Since these fixtures are recessed into the ceiling, the source of light is concealed and will not draw attention or create a focal point like a large fixture would. This makes this type of light an ideal choice for a minimal, contemporary décor.

T8 FixturesT8 Fixtures: Most people think of office buildings when fluorescent lights are mentioned but in these environmentally conscious times, these useful fixtures are finding their way into homes everywhere. They are bright, long lasting, energy efficient and don’t throw a lot of harsh shadows, which make them a great choice for undercabinet lighting in kitchens and other work areas.

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