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Bulbs and Broken bulbs

Bulbs come in different sizes, shapes, colors, brightness and longevity.  Some bulbs are interchangeable, some are not.  Here's how to make some bright decisions:

  • Buy name brand bulbs.  Off-brand bulbs may have the same wattage (watts say how much electricity it uses) but will not be the same brightness.  We've solved more than one lighting problem by simply having the customer use good bulbs.  Examples:  GE, Philips, Sylvania, Westinghouse.

  • If you change a burned out bulb and it still doesn't work, try a bulb from a working fixture.  If it doesn't work, be sure the bulb works when you put it back in the fixture you got it from.  Brand new bulbs don't always work, sometimes moving a bulb from one place to another causes the filament to break.

  • Fluorescent bulbs [long straight ones or CFL (compact fluorescent - 'curly fluorescent') have their own considerations.  Check that section below.

  • LED bulbs are now available to replace any other bulb. Benefits include: lifespans of over 20 years, saves 85% on energy costs, less heat (cut down on a/c expense) Read the detailed section below.

  • "A" bulbs are standard bulbs used in most lamps and fixtures.  The radiate the light in all directions like the sun.

  • "R" bulbs focus the bulb with a Reflector.   "R" bulbs direct the light toward a specific area  Used in recessed lights, etc., they give much more light than standard bulbs (A-bulbs).

  • "PAR" bulbs are used in outdoor floodlights.  They have a built-in Parabolic reflector to direct the light towards an area.

  • If you have trouble removing a bulb, try rocking the bulb gently back and forth, and side to side, as you turn it.  It may be slightly crooked.

  • Fixtures and recessed lights have specifications for the maximum wattage.  They don't want it to get too hot inside the fixture.  The rating is for each bulb (each socket).

  • Dimmers for lights let you control the bulbs' intensity.  Dimmers have rated capacities, usually 600 watts.  (You add up the wattage of all the bulbs controlled by the dimmer.)  Special dimmers can handler 1000 watts and 1500 watts.  If dimmers are put side by side, they must be derated so they don't overheat: 600 watts down to 525 watts, or sometimes 450 watts.  It's normal for the dimmer to get warm while in use.  (2% of the electricity is lost to heat in dimmers)  Go to this link for more information from Lutron.

CFL (compact fluorescent bulbs)

These bulbs are basically fluorescent bulbs folded into a small size with a built-in ballast.  They use less energy and last longer.  A 13 watt CFL can give the light of a 60 watt regular incandescent bulb.  If you have a dimmer for the lights, be sure the CFL bulbs are labeled "Dimmable", otherwise they will flicker.  

Not only are CFLs available in different wattages and shapes, including candelabra, there are also different colors available.  Cool white is good for task lighting, but warm white is nicer in a lamp, etc.  They even make one as a black light!


LED (Light emitting diodes)

These screw-in bulbs are getting better and less expensive.  The LED bulbs may last 50,000 hours instead of 1500-2000 hours for an incandescent but they are  still quite expensive.  You can spend from $10-$100 per bulb.  There are many factors: wattage, dimmable or not, color output and more. 
As of Jan. 2010, I don't think they are cheap enough to be viable unless a light is always on, or it's difficult to replace the bulb.  
Now the LEDs have been greatly improved. Click here for more detailed information.

Here's a comparison of the LED replacement for the small, low voltage MR-16 bulbs found in some fixtures.


MR-16 low voltage bulb
LED replacement
Cost $4 - $6
Fits standard MR-16 (GU5.3) base
Wattage 20, 35, 50, 75  ( typical lighting uses 50)
up to 50 watt equivalent
              actual wattage used 20 (35, 50, 750)
4 watts
Dimmable Yes
Color rendition (CCT - in degrees Kelvin of tungsten equivalent)  - higher numbers are whiter, lower numbers are 'warmer' 2800K -- 3200K (depending on manufacturer
2700K  or 3500K
CCI  (Color Rendering Index - 100 is perfect appearance as with daylight or incandescent
95 - 100
Beam Angle   (spotlight or floodlight 10, 15, 25, 40 degrees
25 or 36 degrees
Expected lifespan (8 hours a day) 2,000 hrs - 10,000 hrs  (8 - 40 months)
35,000 hrs



Broken bulbs, how to remove them:

  • You could try a trick we use (as long as the light socket is not damaged), the goal is to grip the bulb socket from inside it's own base.  First, be sure the switch is off!   If the bulb is completely broken off at the base, with the lights off, use needle nose pliers--> in opposition. By that I mean that you put the tips in the broken bulb socket and pull the handles apart enough so the tips grip against the inside of the bulb socket, then turn to loosen the bulb.  It usually works well.   (If the entire light socket has been damaged from other attempts, we would probably have to replaced the socket.)