It’s all about the lighting! Even the best decorated home will look drab without proper illumination. But, shopping for bulbs can be a nightmare. Gone are the days when you KNEW what bulb to choose. Incandescent lighting was our go-to, and experience told us what wattage to pick for each space. Not now. Now, we stand in front of what seems like an endless supply of illumination options; for 50 to 100 feet, on multiple shelves, at our favorite home improvement store. YIKES!
My confusion led me to making a chart I actually carry in my wallet. How awful (and over organized?) is that?! Today, I’m going to try to simplify it for you and every other non-electrician shopper.
The 3 most commonly used bulbs in our homes are; the bulbs in our lamps, the ones in the overhead canisters (in the kitchen, baths, or track lighting), and the fluorescent tubes found most often in garages. Thankfully, fluorescent tube lighting has not changed significantly, and we will not be addressing them today.
What we really are concerned with is ensuring our home is well lit, our eyes aren’t strained, and all the work we put into organizing and staging for everyday living or home resell hasn’t gone to waste. Not only are we enjoying it, we get to show it off in, well, the proper light! What we really want is the ability to pick out a stinking light bulb!
We’ll be discussing the types of bulbs, best use areas, and kelvins (color temperature).
Here are the basics of the most popular choices for your home’s lamps:
Incandescent: (Provided for a basis of understanding, as buying one these days is an virtual impossibility.) The light is produced by the heating of a metal filament within the bulb.
Halogen: Similar to the incandescent bulb. But, contain halogen gas to increase bulb life and brightness. They are also known for getting quite hot and can be a fire hazard if placed too close to flammable materials, i.e., drapes.
CFL: Short for compact fluorescent lamps, these bulbs are lit via an electric current through a tube of argon and mercury vapor producing an ultraviolet light. This ultraviolet light comes in contact with the tube’s phosphor coating and produces visible light.
LED: Aka light emitting diodes. According to LED sales people, these bulbs produce light as bright as a halogen bulb and use 85% less power.
Just as tricky are canister bulbs. You don’t have to replace them often (thankfully). And, It isn’t as if you’re installing a new lamp’s bulb because you’re redecorating your home. These bulbs only require infrequent attention. But, when they do – the packaging might as well be written in hieroglyphics for all of the sense they can make to the average bulb shopper.
Let’s start with how these bulbs are categorized:
R: Reflector – no problem. You’ll see how that counts…
BR: (Or, R / BR) – Aka bulged reflectors as they bulge at the center of the glass. (They also have longer stems which may cause then to bulge from the fixture.) The intention of this bulge is to provide for a wider flood angle, up to 120. They are useful over a wider area, such as an expansive bathroom or kitchen countertop or a hallway.
MR: Multifaceted reflector or mirrored reflector – These are mostly halogen based (sometimes can be LED or fluorescent). They are usually smaller, use low voltage and are designed to spotlight or pin light a small area.
PAR: Parabolic aluminized reflector. Approved in most wet use areas and are the brightest with ‘flood spread’.
The next step, size: When considering size, note the numbers listed behind the letters (as defined above). You could be looking at 3 bulbs with designations BR30, MR30, and PAR30. All of them are measured in 1/8” increments across the bulb’s lens diameter.
Example: BR/30 means it is 30/8, (30 eighths). When you multiply 30 x 1/8” it equals 3.75” in bulb diameter. The calculation is the same for every number following the letters, regardless of the bulb type. (Just remember the BR ones have longer stems – a measurement not taken.) The differences are in the way they illuminate a space.
I recommend measuring your existing bulb and then doing the calculation via division prior to shopping. (3.75” divided by 1/8” = 30/8, will give you the 30 behind the bulb type designation letters.
When it comes to staging your home, the color of the illumination will have just as impact as the brightness and range factors. This color is measured in kelvins (K). They range from 1,000 to 10,000, as you’ll see in the chart below. Soft yellowish lighting will give your home a cozy feel and is easy on your eyes. Bright white lighting is good for tasks such as cleaning, reading, woodworking, sewing, you get the idea…as well as lighting up artwork (with a dimmer for extra mood setting capabilities), and making rooms a bit more cheerful – like the laundry room.
Now, you can compare the type of bulb, wattage, and the color of ambient light. Voila! You’re ready to go shopping! It’ll take a little practice. But, if I can do it, so can you!
For more information / explanation, check out these references:
Kathryn Hisert's experience includes 30+ years of sales and marketing. This includes having been a Realtor for over a decade, a Marketing association president, and an Accredited Staging Professional. She is currently a member of NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing), the National and Arizona Realtor associations and various home staging groups.