Light bulb shopping used to be as simple as turning on a light switch. Today, it means weighing priorities for cost, energy efficiency, and aesthetics. Since you’re probably replacing bulbs one fixture at a time, here are some best-bet picks for each type.
Table and Floor Lamps: Halogen Incandescent
- Light shines in all directions, providing a warm glow.
- Looks most similar to the traditional incandescent.
- Uses 25%-30% less energy than the incandescent.
Halogen incandescents provide that, and are good with dimmers. You may be able to find a dimmable CFL, but it’s common to experience humming or flickering at low light levels.
For non-dimming lamps, CFLs are great if you can find a color temperature you like.
- Color temperature is measured on a warmness (candlelight) and coolness (blue sky) scale. LEDs, CFLs, and halogen incandescents all come in a wide range of color temperatures.
- Buy covered globes or A-lamps — bulbs shaped like old-fashioned incandescents — rather than spirals if you can see the bulb and aren’t a fan of the spiral look.
- Otherwise, just go with halogen incandescents and don’t sweat the fact that CFLs are more energy-efficient than halogens. Your still saving over a traditional incandescent and the glow is pretty.
Recessed Ceiling Lights (Kitchens, Family Rooms): LEDs
- Energy efficiency is key in high-use areas.
- 80% energy savings over incandescents.
- Bulb life (up to 50,000 hours) much longer than CFLs.
- Shine light a single direction — rather than glowing.
- Brighter than halogens or CFLs.
LED reflector lamps, the flat-topped bulbs typically used as floodlights or spotlights, are designed to shine light in a single direction. And that means you’ll get a brighter look with less energy output than CFLs or halogens.
New conversion kits let you put LEDs into your old can fixtures designed for screw-in bulbs.
A word of caution: LEDs don’t dim well unless they’re connected to a wall dimming switch specifically designed for them. You can get LED-compatible dimmers at big-box stores starting at around $30. Same goes for CFLs.
If you do decide on CFLs or halogen incandescents for a warmer quality of light:
- Buy reflector-lamp style bulbs, not A-lamps or globes, so the light isn’t trapped inside the can.
- If you have multiple cans, you can probably get away with a lower-wattage halogen incandescent reflector bulb and save energy while still having plenty of light.
- Better for showing color and texture than CFLs or LEDs.
That’s why halogen incandescents, with their pleasing light, are a good bet.
However, if the bathroom where you primp is a high-traffic area and you’re concerned about energy use, experiment with CFLs in a warm color temperature and get a separate lighted mirror for your beauty routine.
Stairwell Light: LEDs
- Inconvenient fixtures are a good place to use long-lasting LEDs.
- Fixtures hanging in stairwells
- Track lighting suspended from a cathedral ceiling
- Tray ceilings
- Recessed areas
- For security and efficiency, use fixtures with daylight/occupancy sensors.
- Since outdoor lights aren’t used often, not worth investing in LEDs.
- CFLs don’t come on easily in cold weather.
- CFLs don’t last as long as advertised when turned on and off frequently.
Rarely Used Fixtures: Low-Cost Bulbs
- Opt for what’s easy on your wallet.
- Use the most energy-efficient bulbs, such as LEDs, in most-used fixtures.
Want to know more about picking light bulbs for aesthetics?
A strategic plan for buying pricey LEDs
What to know about CFLs