Picture a lightbulb. For most of us, it’s a pretty clear image of that familiar bubble shaped bulb we’ve used most of our lives. For interior designers, however, that’s changing. New technologies have come up with alternate shapes and forms, and we’ve even revived the original Edison bulb.
Home décor bulbs come in three main forms- the traditional incandescent, the energy efficient compact-florescent, and the clustered LED bulb. When picking a bulb, think about the size of the fixture, your desired light output, and the warmth of light you’d like. All three lights have dimmable options available, so there are few things to consider when choosing your perfect bulb.
Though he designed a more efficient version of this filament-based lightbulb, Thomas Edison did not truly ‘invent’ the lightbulb. Incandescent bulbs are inexpensive to manufacture and last for approximately 1,000 hours of burn time. They only convert 5% of the energy they receive into light, however, so some areas (including the European Union) are phasing out incandescent lights or increasing the efficiency standards the bulbs must meet.
In the United States, integrated CFLs typically come in a ‘helical integrated’ form (the one that looks like a soft-serve ice cream cone) while in Europe the ‘tubular-type’ is more popular. “Integrated” CFLs have the correct drop-in ending to be put directly into a socket originally designed for an incandescent light. They have a burn time of around 10,000 hours and last about 6-7 years with typical home use. At one-fifth to one-third of the energy of incandescent, they can be a big money saver.
CFLs emit light from the phosphors inside the bulb, each omitting a different band of color. Bulbs with a larger variety of phosphors have more pleasing white light, but this increases the cost and decreases the efficiency. To balance these concerns, a good quality CFL will have three to four phosphors. They can be used in place of incandescent bulbs, though the majority are less visually appealing in an exposed pendant than an Edison or soft-white incandescent.
Light-emitting diode- or LEDs- are tiny lights that are packaged together in one bulb, which can be made compatible to a traditional lamp or fixture. They have a very long life, though they do degrade toward the end of their 100,000 hours of burn time. LEDs cast directional light, unlike the ambient light of CFLs and incandescents. This makes them ideal sparkle light for showing off your favorite art pieces or kitchen prep areas. To create white light with an LED- either red, green, and blue LEDs are clustered closely together or the light is converted to white using phosphors. If color is desired, LEDs are an excellent option that can create a wide variety of color.
Selecting Your Bulb
With so many options, the most common home measurement for light- wattage- is no longer as applicable. Where you once used a 100 watt incandescent, you may only need a 26 watt compact florescent. A word of caution, watts are based on the amount of energy used, so still make sure you don’t put a higher wattage bulb than the fixture can handle.
For the brightness desired, consider the lumens, a measure of light output. Since different types of bulbs are more or less energy efficient, you can get the same amount of lumens at widely varying wattages. The last crucial consideration is Kelvins, which measures the color temperature of light. We stick to bulbs in the 3500K-4100K ‘white’ range. Lower numbers from 2700K-3000K are yellow, while higher numbers (5500K-6500K) cast a blue light.
With more options than ever, there is no need to feel overwhelmed when shopping for a bulb. Start with your lighting goals and you can find the perfect option to fit your needs.