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Follow this brilliant guide when buying light bulbs for your home

Pun intended

A unique illustration showing a variety of light bulbs hanging, with a woman in the center Credit: Reviewed / Tara Jacoby

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Lighting—it can make or break a living space. It can transform a once flat and dull room into a comfortable sanctuary. More so, lighting plays into how we as humans perceive our environment, and proper indoor lighting can even boost your mood and mental health.

When picking out the right lighting for your house, it’s key to know the basics. From light bulb sizing to energy efficiency factors, there’s a wide variety to choose from—but we can help you narrow it down. Here’s what you need to know about choosing and using light bulbs for your indoor space.

Key lightbulb terminology

Before getting into the shapes, sizes, and uses of lightbulbs, let’s make sure we understand commonly used terms you’ll see while shopping for them.

Watts

Watts are a measure of how much power or energy is used in a lightbulb. Higher wattage light bulbs require more energy, which typically results in a higher electric bill. You’ll notice more energy-efficient light bulbs, like CFLs, have lower wattage, while traditional incandescent bulbs have a much higher wattage. Even so, they’ll emit the same amount of light despite their wattage differences.

Lumens

Lumens refer to how much light a bulb gives off. If a bulb has more lumens, it will have a brighter light. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends considering lumens instead of watts while shopping if your main concern is how dim or bright your lighting will be.

Types of lightbulbs

Person choosing pack of light bulbs in a home improvement store
Credit: Getty Images / Zephyr18

Shopping for light bulbs can feel a little complicated—that's why it's important to come to the store (online or in-person) prepared with the details like what size bulb base you'll need, along with the shape of the bulb, the color of the light, lumen amount, and more.

While all lightbulbs achieve the same purpose of enhancing a dark room, several different types of bulbs cater to different aesthetic preferences and home functionality requirements.

Halogen

Halogen light bulbs offer a warm glow comparable to high-noon lighting and look great in areas where you want to add a splash of mood lighting. Wayfair recommends the use of these bulbs for under cabinet lighting, pendant lights, and recessed lighting.

While these light bulbs are great when it comes to energy efficiency, they don’t last very long. Halogen bulbs tend to have a shorter lifespan than other bulbs—about nine to 12 months after regular use of the light.

Incandescent

As one of the most common and widely available light bulbs, traditional incandescents are affordable options for lighting the home. These lightbulbs produce a soft, warm glow, and you can install these bulbs just about anywhere in the home—many appliance light bulbs, like your fridge and microwave lights, are also incandescent.

Incandescent bulbs aren’t very energy-efficient and also have a shorter lifespan than newer types of bulbs on the market (like LED).

Fluorescent

You may be familiar with fluorescent light bulbs in commercial settings, like the mall or an office space. These harsh, bright white lights do come in handy for utility spaces like garages and laundry rooms.

These bulbs can last up to 200,000 hours, making them a long-lasting selection.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL)

CFLs (compact fluorescent lightbulbs) take on the same energy-efficient properties as fluorescent bulbs, but with a more compact shape, as the name suggests. The twisted shape of the bulb fits easier within more lighting sockets around the home.

CFLs typically use fewer watts in comparison to other bulb types, making them an energy-efficient choice. While CFLs do contain small amounts of mercury, the Environmental Protection Agency says that using energy-saving CFLs instead of incandescent bulbs will consequently reduce mercury emissions that are created from burning coal used to power electricity. In other words, the use of CFLs is encouraged over traditional incandescents that aren’t as energy-efficient.

No mercury is released when intact, but when broken, CFLs should be cleaned up carefully.

Light-emitting diode (LED)

LED light bulbs are perfect for those looking for an energy-efficient choice, creating a bright light while using less energy. These bulbs don’t get hot to the touch and contain no mercury (unlike fluorescent bulbs and CFLs).

LED light bulbs also include—but are not limited to—smart bulbs, which can offer a multitude of high-tech options like paired control with your Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

Color temperature

A graphic illustration shows light bulb color range from warm to cool
Credit: Reviewed / Tara Jacoby

When choosing the lighting for your home, it’s key to consider color temperature, too. This refers to the appearance of the light, ranging from warmer to cooler hues, and doesn't have anything at all to do with heat. You wouldn’t want bright white light shining down on an intimate dining space, or a warm, dim light barely illuminating a garage—that’s why it’s important to know what tone you want or need for the specific rooms in your house.

You can browse lightbulbs based on color temperature by seeing where it lands on the Kelvin scale. Color temperature is measured in degrees of Kelvin on a scale from 1,000 to 10,000. Bulbs that fall higher on the Kelvin scale are whiter in color temperature—this doesn’t mean they are actually brighter or that they have more lumens, but just appear to due to the color temperature.

If you’re looking for a brighter, whiter, or cooler tone bulb, look for a higher Kelvin rating on the label while you’re shopping—you’ll see it listed as a “K.” This set of 5000K LED light bulbs, for example, provide a bright white glow to the room. For something on the warmer side of the scale, these 2500K filament bulbs provide a smooth and dim glow.

Light bulb shapes and sizes

A graphic illustration shows all different shapes and sizes of lightbulb series
Credit: Reviewed / Tara Jacoby

Whether you’re equipping an antique lamp or sconces on the wall, your light bulbs will need to properly fit into its vessel. That’s why there are several shapes and sizes to choose from—here’s a quick list of the key bulb shapes you should know.

  • A Series: This is probably the shape that comes to mind when thinking of light bulbs in general. You may see lightbulbs labeled as “A60,” for example, which refers to it being an “A” type bulb shape followed by its diameter measured in eighths of an inch.

  • B Series and C Series: These are some of the most decorative light bulbs, which include candle and candle angular bulbs (think Christmas lights). “B” and “C” bulbs make for great options for wall sconces and lamps.

  • G Series: “G” lightbulbs, also known as globe light bulbs. They look similar to “A” light bulbs, but they possess a much rounder shape. Globe lights have an ornamental feel to them, making them a great decorative choice for something like a vanity space.

  • MR Series: MR, or multifaceted reflector bulbs, are used in smaller spaces to create direct, beaming lighting.

  • PAR Series: “PAR,” which means parabolic aluminized reflector bulbs, are great bulbs when it comes to illuminating or spotlighting a specific area, like a piece of wall art.

  • R Series: “R” or reflector bulbs have very similar qualities to “PAR” bulbs, but differ in the goal of lighting. “R” bulbs create wider flood lighting that fills up the room.

There are so many more bulbs beyond just these groups that offer different lighting experiences for your home, so don’t be afraid to browse the more uncommon choices.

Lightbulb bases

Lightbulb bases refer to the end tip of a bulb that you install into the light fixture. Before installing, it’s important to ensure your bulb base will fit.

There are three main types of lightbulb bases that are used by the most common light bulbs and lamps found around homes: medium, candelabra, and intermediate.

You’ll see one of these terms (or perhaps another more obscure type) on a label, followed by a number referring to the width of the base in millimeters.

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