Light fixtures all have different requirements for light bulbs and you need to know a few things in order to select the correct one. When choosing a light bulb, you should know that there is no standard and be prepared to answer some questions. When you go to the hardware store, be ready to know what type and wattage your fixture requires. This information is usually indicated on a sticker that is attached to the light fixture. To really get a good light bulb, take the old bulb into the hardware store with you and tell the clerk to find a similar one or tell them what you want to change.
Light Bulb Types
The incandescent light bulb has been around since it was invented hundreds of years ago. It is basically a metal filament inside a vacuum sealed glass globe. Electricity running through the filament creates a warm light that many purists prefer over daylight bulbs. This warm light is the most similar to candlelight from long ago.
Importantly, all light bulbs are compared to incandescent bulbs in order to provide consistency when comparing light bulbs. This includes both the light bulb color and the light output.
Incandescent bulbs do not last very long. They need to be replaced yearly depending on how much they are used. Fortunately, incandescent light bulbs are the least expensive on the market. This type of light bulb also uses the most electricity of any type of light bulb. While they are heavily favored by interior designers, be prepared to pay for that nice, warm glow and keeping them running.
Halogen light bulbs are an updated version of the incandescent light bulb. They are filled with a gas so that, as the filament breaks down, some of the particles reattach. This helps the bulb to last longer but it produces a tremendous amount of heat in the reaction.
These bulbs produce light that is still warm, around 3000K, however it isn’t as warm as incandescent bulbs. These bulbs are more energy efficient than incandescent. To give you an idea, a 60 watt incandescent bulb is matched by a 43 watt halogen bulb.
Halogens are only slightly more efficient than incandescent bulbs and they are roughly the same price. Not only that, but the amount of heat produced by them makes them undesirable inside a house. They do have a beautiful sparkle that isn’t matched by any other type of bulb so I prefer them in outdoor fixtures.
Fluorescent light bulbs were the first attempt to make a more efficient light bulb. By filling a glass tube with gas and then passing electricity through it, light is created. Compact fluorescent bulbs are just a coiled up version of the fluorescent tubes in the longer light fixtures. These bulbs use roughly 20% of the electricity of an equivalent incandescent light bulb.
Another benefit of fluorescent light bulbs are that you can get them in different colors of light. They range from the warm light of an incandescent to a cool blue light. Some people prefer to have a cooler light in their home and the compact fluorescents allow you to customize your light color to your taste.
Fluorescents do contain mercury which some people dislike. Truthfully, I’ve explained to a lot of people, the mercury inside doesn’t matter unless the bulb breaks and even then, there is very little inside. This type of light bulb also tends to run quite hot, though cooler than the halogen bulbs. Because of that, they can be difficult to keep around young children.
LED, or light emitting diode, is the newest type of light bulb. The first LED bulbs were expensive and they made rooms look like a surgical suite because of the harshness of the light color. They’ve come a long way since then. You can now purchase LED bulbs in any light color, from the original daylight blue to as warm as an incandescent.
The best thing about LED light bulbs are that the bulb portion are completely cool to the touch which makes them the safest option with children or elderly. The only hot portion of an LED light bulb is the base of it. LED light bulbs can now be purchased for a much lower price than previously and are almost the same price as a standard incandescent light bulb.
LED light bulbs have incredibly long lifespan, sometimes lasting decades with regular usage. They use the most efficient out of all light bulbs as well so they are easy on your pocket book over the long term as well as the short term now.
LED Light Bulbs and Dimmers
You should know that LED light bulbs can be picky when it comes to dimmers. Make sure to buy an LED light bulb that is dimmable; it will say if it is dimmable on the box. The dimmer switch also needs to be an LED dimmer so that it reduces the voltage appropriately. Some brands can be more difficult to deal with than others and you may need to buy specific pairs of bulb brands and dimmer brands.
Light Bulb Bases
Medium Base Light Bulbs
Of the two major types of light bulb bases, the most common is the medium base light bulb. This is what most people think of as a normal light bulb. When you are buying a new bulb, you will usually see this noted as an E26 base. This is because it is describing the type of base, with the E, and the size of the base, with the 26 to indicate it is 26 mm wide.
Candelabra Base Light Bulbs
The candelabra base light bulbs are those that they typical homeowner thinks of as a little light bulb that is typically on smaller fixtures or chandeliers. These bulbs are noted on the box as an E10 base. Again, this is an E style of base and a size of 10.
Light Bulb Shapes and Sizes
An A shape light bulb is the basic, most common shape of light bulb, shaped like a pear. These bulbs come only in medium bases. Just like the base of a light bulb, the overall shape is described as a letter and the size by a number. An A19 is the basic light bulb size and style. They are used in most standard light fixtures. If you shrink that down, you get an A15, which is just adorable. It’s a miniature version of the basic light bulb and is frequently used in small fixtures as well as refrigerators and ovens.
B bulbs are shaped like lemons. They can come in both medium and candelabra bases depending on your needs. Because of their flexibility, they can be used in almost any fixture. I’ve had plenty of customers use these in place of a standard A bulb as well as to replace a C bulb. The most common sizes of B bulbs are B10 and B13 bulbs.
If you take a B bulb and stretch it out slightly and point the tip a little bit, you get a C bulb. These bulbs can sometimes be found with medium bases but they most commonly have candelabra bases. They are used mainly as chandelier bulbs, though sometimes a small sconce or vanity light uses them.
Not every type of light bulb will appeal to every person. I love a warm white, LED bulb. My parents prefer daylight, LED bulbs. I know a lot of people that still prefer incandescent bulbs. Most hardware stores will let you see a particular bulb before you even leave the store so that you can find the perfect one. Don’t be afraid to try one out and see how you like it.