Lighting 101 Part 1: Choosing the Right Bulb

Lighting 101 Part 1: Choosing the Right Bulb

When building and designing a home, lighting is one of the most important elements, and the first step is choosing the right bulb.

To tackle this idea, we are going back to basics. This is the first in a series of articles on lighting. Covering everything from lighting tech to room-by-room lighting tips.                                

Proper lighting is not only desirable in terms of design and safety, but it can also determine the overall efficiency from room to room.

Builders can sell conservation to homebuyers by choosing energy efficient alternatives for their next project.

A study published by the U.S. Department of Energy in January 2012 indicates that the average light bulb in homes uses 47.7 watts and is operated 1.6 hours per day.

And while that may not seem like a lot of wasted energy, take a look at the big picture according to the American Lighting Association (ALA).

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“Depending upon location, climate and how the home is heated, that use may range from 12 to 20 percent of a home’s total electric energy use,” says Terry McGowan, director of engineering at ALA.

That means depending on the home’s location, climate and how it’s heated, that use may range from 12 to 20 percent of a home’s total electric energy use.

Bulb Options: Pros and Cons

How different bulbs rank in efficiency, connectivity and lifespan.
How different bulbs rank in efficiency, connectivity and lifespan.
A close-up view of an incandescent bulb.
A close-up view of an incandescent bulb.

Incandescent Bulbs

Incandescent bulbs are compatible with control devices such as dimmers, timers and photo sensors, and they can be used both indoors and outdoors. They are, however, limited in efficiency and color.

According to McGowan, they are the most desired bulb among consumers due to their traditional look. “Incandescent and halogen-incandescent bulbs remain the most popular–about 50 percent of the bulbs in homes according to a 2014 DOE report,” he says.

That being said, it’s best to convince homebuyers that other bulbs are the way to go, as there are more energy efficient options on the market. Incandescent bulbs also have limitations when it comes to technology. For example, they cannot be configured to change color.

A side view of a halogen bulb.
A side view of a halogen bulb.


“Stricter energy regulations have forced people to move towards more efficient sources including halogens,” says David Peek, director of decorative product development at Progress Lighting.

While slightly more efficient than its 60W incandescent counterpart, a 43W halogen bulb has an annual energy cost of $7.53, compared to $10.51 for incandescents. These bulbs also can’t be configured to change color.

Halogens are popular due to their high Color Rendering Index, which provides crisp, white light for a clean modern look.

CFLs are recognizable for their spiral shape.
CFLs are recognizable for their spiral shape.


CFLs take about 30 seconds to fully turn on, as they require more initial energy than incandescent bulbs.

Once the electricity starts moving, however, CFLs use about 70 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs.  

A 13W bulb has an annual energy cost of $2.28. Where it really sets itself apart from incandescents and halogens, however, is in its lifespan. A CFL bulb will last approximately 10,000 hours, compared to 1,000 hours for halogen and incandescents.

The efficiency of CFLs comes at the price of automation and smart home connectivity.

CFLs are not compatible with most photocells, motion sensors and electric timers. They are not ideal for outdoor environments or enclosed fixtures, as they are sensitive to extreme temperatures.

Close-up of a bulb with 4 LEDs built-in.
Close-up of a bulb with 4 LEDs built-in.


And then there are LED bulbs. They last 10,000 hours and cost about $1.75 a year to operate.

Bill Grande, director of safety products for Leviton, says that the trend is moving toward using LED bulbs in lighting fixtures as the standard.

Grande is right on the growing trend. According to the Department of Energy, LED bulbs make up less than 5 percent of bulbs used in homes, but are growing the fastest.

“Trends indicate that even though consumers are still warming up to the idea of more efficient sources, LEDs will be our primary light source in the future,” predicts Peek.

While an LED bulb is still more than twice the cost of a CFL, prices continue to drop and they are much easier to control.

Builders need to understand their clients’ expectations as well as their market to choose the right bulb for each build. An easy way to accomplish this is to weigh the importance of efficiency versus design.

Stay tuned for our next lighting edition on how fixtures, energy efficiency and design come into play in the TecHome.

About The Author

Kelly Mello is a TecHome Builder Staff Writer, creating timely, investigative articles for its eMagazine and Special Reports. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in English: Communications & Rhetoric. She began her writing career in 2007 as editorial assistant for GateHouse Media. From 2010 to 2013, she was local editor for various Patch sites, including

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  1. Dean

    Thanks for the tips on these bulbs. They can be overwhelming some times. This great resource should make my selections easier the next time I am at the hardware store.

  2. Jasper Whiteside

    I really like the ability to dim the lights for watching a movie. I don’t always like it completely dark, sometimes I want to play with my wife’s hair and I need a little light to do that. According to the article, an incandescent bulb would be the best way to light my home.


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