Did you know that most modern homes use up to 17 different types of light bulbs? From appliances to light fixtures to task, safety and accent lighting, it all adds up. If it seems like you never have the “right” replacement light bulb when you need one, that’s not too surprising.
Light bulbs have changed a lot over the years. You have more choices in type and brightness and efficiency than you used to have. So let’s walk through some of the considerations that go into selecting the “right” light bulb for your specific fixture.
Select a Type of Light Bulb
There are now several basic kinds of bulbs to choose from. The different kinds use different technologies to produce light. The technical details may not interest you, but the type of light they produce and how efficient they are in terms of brightness and cost to operate may be important to you:
- incandescent bulbs, which have been used in many different areas for decades
- halogen bulbs, which offer bright light that’s useful for illuminating yards and driveways
- compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, which are well-suited for areas where a light is left on for an extended time
- LEDs, which can be used almost anywhere
Of these, incandescent bulbs are the least efficient (but also often the least expensive). Incandescent bulbs may be harder to find as the other types become more available and somewhat less expensive than they were when they were first introduced.
In order to save on energy, most people are switching to halogen, CFL or LED bulbs. Halogen bulbs are only modestly more efficient than incandescents, but they’re extremely bright. CFLs and LEDs are much more efficient than incandescents.
Choose a Style
Once you have settled on LED or CFL or whatever basic type, there are still many decisions. Your old bulb will guide you on shape and style. Some starting questions to get you thinking:
- Should it mimic a candle flame?
- Is it meant for a small space?
- Does it need a particular type of base to fit the fixture?
- Do you want a flood effect or a spot effect?
- Is brightness more important than directional focus?
- Must it be dimmable?
Choose a Brightness
The next step is to choose how strong a bulb you want.
Most light bulb manufacturers use wattage to compare bulbs’ light output. Brightness is actually measured in lumens, and some manufacturers note lumens, but it’s often easier for homeowners to compare light bulbs using wattages — even though adjustments must be made for the different efficiencies of different kinds of bulbs.
The burnt-out light bulb will likely state how many watts it was directly on the bulb. In most cases, you can find the wattage without removing a bulb. Record this number and the type of bulb, and head to your local hardware store.
At your hardware store, look for a light bulb that’s the same type and wattage as your current one. Even if you want a different type of bulb, first look for one that’s identical to your old bulb. The light bulb’s packaging will probably mention what an equivalent incandescent wattage is. For instance, an 8-watt LED might say “similar to a 60-watt incandescent bulb.” Most manufacturers include this information on their light bulbs’ packaging.
Once you know the wattage of an equally bright incandescent, look for the type of light bulb that’s also equal to the same incandescent wattage. This will be just as bright as your old bulb.
Consider the Light Color
Some light bulbs produce light similar to a sunlit day. Some are cooler blue lights. Depending on where you expect to use the bulb, you may have a strong preference for a specific color or light “temperature”. If, for instance, you have a line of lights in a hallway or over a mirror, you will want to get a new bulb that matches the others in type and strength and temperature. A blue-ish light in a line of sunny ones will stick out like a sore thumb.
The wide range of choices can be intimidating. The simplest response is to just take your burned out bulb to the hardware store and ask for more just like it.
There is another side of all the options, though. Knowing that there are so many choices in light bulbs may be liberating. You don’t have to keep using an existing fixture that isn’t quite doing the job in that dark hallway.
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Image: By Mark jurrens (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons