Repair & Maintenance

Different light bulb types and uses

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No, not all light bulb types are the same
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Different light bulbs are needed for different areas of your home

You may think it is a no-brainer: A light bulb is a light bulb is a light bulb. But that is not true. There are various light bulb types and each is intended for a specific purpose.


Most of us are familiar with incandescent light bulbs. An incandescent bulb will yield a warm, steady light, which is favorable for most household applications. The bulb can last between 700 and 1,000 hours and can be used with a dimmer. If you prefer, you can use bulbs that are soft white, which are coated and which diffuse the light better.


This light bulb type uses electricity to heat up the tungsten filament that is in the bulb, which makes the bulb glow. The filament is situation either in a mixture of nitrogen/argon gas or in a vacuum.


Tungsten tends to evaporate and collect on the sides of the light bulb because of the high temperature of the filament, which causes the bulb to thin unevenly. When you turn on an incandescent bulb, the burst of energy can result in the thin areas heating up faster than the remaining part of the filament, which can result in the filament breaking and the bulb burning out.

Another light bulb type is the fluorescent bulb, which works by a current passing through a tube that is filled with mercury and argon gas. Light is produced when ultraviolet radiation floods the phosphorous coating, which causes it to emit light. These lights produce very little heat and are efficient.


Historically, the cool white light color was the standard for fluorescent lights and lamps. There is a wide variety of fluorescent colors available nowadays. Fluorescent light bulbs are perfect for lighting large areas, such as a basement, where detail work is not usually undertaken.



Fluorescent cannot be used with dimmers and require ballasts to provide the correct amount of voltage. There are two types of ballasts, including electronic and magnetic. The electronic type remedies humming and flickering problems and are more efficient than the magnetic ballast but they cost more.


When purchasing a fluorescent bulb for lighting fixtures you will see the letter T, which means that that the bulb is tubular. The number that comes after the T tells you what the diameter of the bulb is, in eighths of an inch

A halogen bulb light, which is a variation of an incandescent bulb, works by passing electricity through filaments that are made of tungsten. The filament is contained in a tube that is filled with halogen gas.


This gas causes a chemical reaction to occur, which takes the tungsten from the wall of the glass and puts it back onto the filament, which extends the life of the bulb; however,  the filament needs to be hotter than what is required for incandescent  bulbs in order for the chemical reaction to occur. A hotter filament produces a more brilliant white light and produces more lumens per watt, which makes this an efficient light bulb.


The disadvantage of this light bulb type is it can become so hot that of if the bulb came into contact with flammable material or a person it can cause a fire or burn the person. Hotter filaments require that tungsten evaporate very fast, which means that a more expensive fill gas or krypton is needed and it must be denser than that which is used for other light bulbs. A thicker but smaller glass bulb is also necessary, which is also more expensive. Because of the smaller bulb, the halogen bulb gets very hot and can reach over 300 degrees C. Be careful where you place a halogen blub. Do not touch the glass part of the bulb will your fingers because the oils from your hand will ruin the strength of the bulb and shorten the life of the bulb. When a bulb is weakened, it can burst.


A halogen light bulb is somewhat more efficient and has a longer life than an incandescent bulb but they are more expensive and must be used correctly so that do not produce a can potentially be a fire hazard.


Another light bulb type is the compact fluorescent lamp, which is a modern light bulb that works like a fluorescent bulb but which comes in a smaller package. These products are efficient and produce little heat. They consist of two or three small tubular loops or several short glass sticks. Most of these bulbs cannot be used with dimmers. The compact fluorescent bulb can last up to 10,000 hours, which is a long time.

LED - or light emitting diodes - are bulbs that do not have a filament. These bulbs consume very little power and have a long life span. They cannot produce as much light as an incandescent bulb or other bulbs.

A high intensity discharge (HID) lamp produces a lot of light from a small bulb but requires ballasts and starters. This light bulb type works by striking an electrical arc across tungsten electrodes, which are housed in an inner glass tube, which is filled with metals and gas. This gas helps turn the lamp's light on and the metals produce the light.


A standard high pressure sodium lamp is a high intensity discharge lamp and has the best efficiency of all of the HID lamps but a yellow light is produced, which you may not like. However, high pressure sodium lamps that emit a whiter light can be found but some of the efficiency of the bulb is sacrificed when using this version. You may prefer a metal halide bulb which produces a more natural white color. HID bulbs are generally used when large areas, such as a parking lot, need to be lit.


Resources: types of bulbs

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