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Light Bulb Buying Guide

With the increase of energy-efficient lighting options, you have more choices than ever when it comes to buying light bulbs. Learn about the different types of bulbs: CFL, LED, and the sizes available to determine what you need.

Assorted light bulbs

Types of Light Bulbs

Learn the differences between your light bulb options.


Compact Fluorescent (CFL) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs fit standard light sockets and are the most energy-efficient light bulb options. They both have lower wattage than incandescent bulbs, but emit the same light output. This allows them to produce the same amount of light, but use less energy. View the chart for key differences:


 Save up to 75% in annual energy costs

 Save up to 86% in annual energy costs

 Last up to 9 years

 Last up to 20+ years

 Contains a small amount of mercury

 Does not contain mercury


A few more facts:

An electric current flows between electrodes at each end of a tube containing gases. The reaction
produces ultraviolet (UV) light and heat. The UV light is transformed into visible light when it strikes a
phosphor coating on the inside of the bulb.

  • Available for outdoor use; just make sure the packaging indicates the bulb is rated for outdoor use.
  • May not hold up to the stress of power surges, so using them in areas such as workshops isn’t advisable.
  • If the outlet is wired for a dimmer or three-way bulb, make sure you purchase a CFL rated for the specific use.

These bulbs use an electrical current passed through semiconductor material to illuminate the tiny diodes
called LEDs. The heat produced is absorbed into a heat sink, keeping the bulbs cool to the touch.

  • Available for outdoor use; just make sure the packaging indicates the bulb is rated for outdoor use.
  • Does not contribute to heat buildup, which helps save on air conditioning.


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Good to Know

In 2017, new US regulations will be put in place that will make it difficult for CFLs to qualify for an ENERGY STAR® rating. Some manufacturers are already phasing CFL bulbs out and are only going to produce LEDs. In the last couple of years, prices have also been dropping on LED bulbs, making some more affordable than CFLs.

Incandescent Bulbs

In 2007 Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act requiring new energy-efficient standards for basic light bulbs. All standard 100-, 75-, 60- and 40-watt incandescent bulbs are being phased out and will no longer be produced. Standard incandescent bulbs will still be available to purchase while supplies last. A number of specialty incandescent bulbs, such as chandelier bulbs, will remain available.

Incandescent bulbs use a filament that’s heated to the point of glowing. The glowing filament produces the bulb’s light.

  • Incandescent bulbs last on average for 1 year.
  • Incandescent bulbs do not contain mercury.
  • They can be used with a dimmer switch.

Fluorescent Bulbs

Fluorescent light bulb.

Fluorescent bulbs or tubes are filled with mercury vapor that emits UV light when electricity is applied. The bulbs/tubes have a coating inside that turns the UV rays into visible light. They use less energy than an incandescent bulb.

  • Fluorescent lights are usually long and tube-shaped, but also come in u-shaped bulbs.
  • Fluorescent tubes will not work without a ballast.

Halogen Bulbs

Halogen light bulb.

Halogen bulbs use a filament that’s heated to the point of glowing, the same as incandescent bulbs, but they use less energy.

  • Halogen bulbs last on average 1 year.
  • Halogen bulbs do not contain mercury.


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HID Bulbs

High Intensity Discharge (HID) bulbs are primarily used in larger spaces such as warehouses, commercial buildings or in streetlights. They are filled with sodium or mercury vapor that conducts electricity. HID bulbs don't have filaments like most light bulbs, so they last longer.


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Lumens and Watts

Lumens - the amount of light emitted from a light bulb. More lumens equals brighter light, fewer lumens equals dimmer light. Standard 100-watt bulbs produce about 1600 lumens.

Watts - the amount of energy a light bulb uses. The lower the watts, the lower the electric bill. CFLs and LEDs have a lower wattage than incandescent bulbs, but emit the same light output.

Good to Know

Never exceed the maximum wattage recommended for your lamp.

Wattage Breakdown

With the phaseout of standard incandescent light bulbs, knowing the correct wattage to buy can be confusing. Use the chart to locate an energy saving equivalent.


 Incandescent  Halogen CFL
 100-watt  72-watt  23-watt  14-16 watt
 75-watt  53-watt 20-watt
 12-13 watt
 15-watt  8-9 watt

Lighting Facts

Lighting labels provide quick hits to help you get the most bang for your buck. They are now required by the U.S Federal Trade Commission to appear on light bulb packaging. Facts include brightness, estimated yearly cost, life expectancy, light appearance, energy used and mercury information.

Good to Know

By comparing the lumens and life of different bulbs of the same wattage, you can select the light bulb
that provides you with the best combination of light output and length of life.

Light Color

Light color or light appearance is measured on the Kelvin (K) temperature scale. Lower Kelvin numbers means more yellow light; the higher the Kelvin number the whiter or bluer light.

Soft White (yellowish range) - 2700K-3000K. This is the standard color of incandescent bulbs. Perfect for bedrooms, living rooms or dens and highlighting dark woods.

Warm White (between the yellowish and white ranges) - 3000K-4000K. Perfect for kitchens, workspaces and bathrooms.

Bright White (between the white and blue ranges) - 4000k-5000k. It works best in kitchens and bathrooms with chrome or white fixtures.

Daylight (blue range) - 5000K-6500K. Perfect for reading.

Light Bulb Shapes and Bases

LED, CFL, halogen and incandescent bulbs are available in a variety of shapes and bases to fit your needs. Energy-efficient LED and CFL bulbs can be used in table lamps, pendant lights, ceiling fans, wall sconces and other lighting fixtures, the same as incandescent bulbs. Some vintage and decorative bulbs look great on their own. The easiest thing to do is bring your old bulb with you to the store so you’re certain to buy the right one. While you’re there, check out the different energy saving and stylish options that are available.


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Lighting Innovations

If you like to keep up with the latest technological innovations, there are several new lighting features to choose from.

Manufacturers have created bulbs that turn on and off via voice recognition. 

These LED light bulbs have a built-in Bluetooth speaker so you can stream your playlists seamlessly. There is also color-changing technology that can work independently and features up to 16 colors to fit any occasion or mood.

Smartphone Technology
Control your lighting from your smartphone. Dim lights, turn them on or off, or schedule your lighting to come on before you get home.


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Watch the Pulse Light Video
Watch the Sylvania Lightify Light Sources Video
Watch the Sylvania ULTRA SE LED Downlights with Dimming Video

Watch our DIY Basics video: Which Light Bulb Should I Use?