Shopping for light bulbs used to be so simple — just know the base and the wattage you need, and head to the checkout. But now, with so many sizes, shapes and technologies on the market, choosing the right light bulb type for the job can be overwhelming.
The good news is it doesn't have to be. Consider these three factors before you start shopping:
And not just for the bulb, but also your total energy budget. "Consider the potential savings, long term," says Todd Manegold, director of product and marketing management for Philips Lighting. "LED lighting has a higher initial price, but it has a longer lifetime, meaning it can reduce maintenance expenses while using a fraction of the energy compared to conventional alternatives."
If you need to save money up front, phase your installation or transition. "Invest in energy-efficient technologies in the most trafficked areas first, like common spaces, hallways, lobbies, etc., where the lighting is on for extended periods of time," he suggests.
Carefully consider the work being done, the time of day it's performed and natural light sources. These key details give you — and lighting specialists — the information necessary to make the best decision for the types of light bulbs you need. Brad Bonneville, owner of Bonneville Electric, an electrical contractor in Carrboro, NC, suggests these products for common business applications:
- CFLs: These are popular with business owners on a budget now that prices have dropped. "Compact fluorescent bulbs can last more than five years," Bonneville says. They're a good option for desk lamps or accent lamps, ceiling installations and hanging fixtures like pendant lights or ceiling fans. Bonneville likes their upgradability. "You can easily upgrade from CFL to LED as they come down in price if you buy a light fixture that has a standard socket."
- LEDs: "We use them for bulbs in cans, under-cabinet lights, in closets and dressing rooms, and even for security lighting," he says. "Anywhere where changing a bulb is going to be difficult." LEDs also are useful as task lights on desks or other work areas, and because they come in an incredible array of colors (even in the bulb itself), they're a great choice for window displays or signs, particularly in your brand palette.
- Tubes: "In warehouses or office spaces, T-5 and T-8 fluorescents tube technology is bringing much brighter, reliable and more efficient lighting options to replace the outdated flickering and buzzing fluorescent T-12 tubes that we all remember from our grade-school days," Bonneville says.
- Halogens: "Nothing can get you cheap, beautiful accent lighting like halogen," he says. "It creates drama and contrast with a pleasing warm glow." Halogens are especially popular in restaurants and bars, usually in pretty fixtures. Halogens are good for task lighting, too, but don't use them near heat-sensitive items because they generate a lot of warmth.
Adjustability is an issue in many business scenarios. For instance, dimmable lights are useful in restaurants settings, while systems that leverage natural light are popular in offices and retail stores.
"A lighting control system allows a business owner to choose exactly how their lights behave and react to surroundings," says David VanSpybrook, director of sales enablement for lighting products manufacturer Cree. "Businesses can cut down on their power usage by leveraging the control system's simple automated features to implement daylight harvesting or motion sensing to decrease energy costs when offices or rooms are illuminated by daylight or sit vacant."
Case in Point
Bonneville says he is doing more and more commercial LED installations. That's largely because in addition to energy savings, LEDs offer better color quality and control than other light sources, which is particularly important in retail or food-service businesses. LED technology has improved dramatically in the past few years and now that the prices have dropped, many commercial customers are seeing the benefits of investing in these types of light bulbs.
Augusta Paint & Decorating in Staunton, VA, for example, needed a lighting solution that rendered colors in their truest form, ensuring their paint would appear in the store as it would for customers in their home. They chose light sources with a high color-rendering index and lumens per watt efficacy throughout the store. This was integral for "drawing out the naturally vibrant colors of the paint while consuming significantly less energy than comparable fluorescent lighting, and delivering quality of light with more than twice the lifetime," VanSpybrook says.
But not everyone's ready to go all LED all the time. Bonneville suggests a measured approach when choosing light bulb types, replacing older light sources with new ones gradually. "Our commercial clients like the cost and the color," he says, "but it's still a mix — and will be for a long while."
Talk to your electrician or a commercial interior designer to understand the kind of lighting your space and your tasks require. Then you can easily choose the right bulb for the job.