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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, the sizes available, what to look for when buying light bulbs and which ones you need.

Assorted light bulbs.

Types of Light Bulbs

Learn the differences between your light bulb options.



CFL and LED chart.

Compact Fluorescent (CFL) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs are the most energy-efficient light bulb options. They 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.

A few more facts:

CFLs - 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.

LEDs - Use an electrical current passed through semiconductor material to illuminate the tiny light sources
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.
  • Do not contribute to heat build up which helps save on air conditioning.

Shop light bulbs.

Incandescent Bulbs

In 2007 Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act requiring new energy-efficient standards for basic light bulbs. From 2012 to 2014, 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 will remain available.

Light Bulb Legislation FAQs

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.
  • 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.

  • Fluorescent lights have been traditionally a linear light source, but also come in u-shaped and circular.
  • 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.

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

Lighting Facts

Lighting facts 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. The lower the Kelvin number means more yellow light; the higher the Kelvin number means whiter or bluer light.

Warm White - 2500K-3000K (standard color of incandescent bulbs). Perfect for bedrooms, living rooms or dens.

Bright White or Cool White - 3500K-4100K. Perfect for kitchens, workspaces and bathrooms.

Daylight - 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. 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 options available.