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A Guide to Types of Lamps and Bulbs


Lights—you use them every day. In fact, lighting accounts for 20 to 50 percent of electricity consumption for businesses. That’s a pretty large portion. However, every building is unique, and as you assess your facility’s needs, you may start to wonder about the different types of lamps and bulbs available. How do they work? What makes them different? How do I choose the right one for me? By learning about the parts of a lamp, it can better help you understand which lighting method is right for your building. Here’s your breakdown on the different types of lamps and light bulbs available and how they work.

What Are the Different Types of Bulbs?

  • Incandescent light bulbs
  • Halogen incandescent light bulbs
  • Fluorescent light bulbs
  • Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs)
  • LED light bulbs

Incandescent Lamps

As far as lamps go, you can’t get much simpler than a standard light bulb. In the history of electrical lighting, the incandescent lamp is the grandfather of all light bulbs. The design is straightforward, with minimal parts.

All light bulb types need a complete electrical circuit to light. The incandescent lamp has two contact points that power the bulb when connected to a power source. The first is the foot contact; this is the small ball-shaped bulge on at the bottom of the base. The second is the thread contact; this is the part of the lamp that actually gets screwed into the fixture. Once the bulb has made contact, electricity runs up a metal wire to a filament. The filament is usually made of tungsten which has a very high melting point and can stand the heat of intense electrical current. This filament is what emits light when the lamp has current. The filament is supported by a glass mount inside a glass bulb. The light bulb is filled with an inert gas (usually argon). The gas blankets the filament, which could combust otherwise.

Halogen Incandescent Lamps

Although incandescent lamps were a revolutionary invention, their one drawback is how energy inefficient they are. Halogen incandescent light bulbs are a much greener alternative, as they meet the federal minimum energy efficiency standard and can be used with modern applications and tools.

Fluorescent Lamps

By the time industrial buildings were wired for lighting, it was already clear that more energy-efficient bulb types were needed. Enter the fluorescent light bulb. These types of lamps are traditionally a long, glass tube. Inside this tube is inert gas (usually argon) and a small amount of mercury. It is also coated with a phosphor powder. Either end of the tube has an electrical circuit. Inside the tube are small electrodes, which are essentially the same filaments you would find in an incandescent lamp. The outer ends of the fluorescent lamps have two contact pins that plug into a ballast. This is what supplies the lamp with its power.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)

Because these types of lamps aren’t very energy efficient, then came the compact fluorescent bulb. These types of bulbs are a greener option because they use less electricity than the traditional style. As a result, transitioning to CFLs can reduce your facility’s bills in a short amount of time.

LED Lamps

While fluorescent lamps were an improvement in efficiency, the mercury contained inside is an environmental hazard and possibly toxic if the lamp breaks. Even the lamps themselves—both incandescent and fluorescent—were not made out of recyclable materials. What the world needed was a type of lighting innovation that was both energy efficient and environmentally friendly. This brought about the introduction of the LED light bulbs.

LED stands for “Light Emitting Diodes.” A diode is a small, semiconductor device. These diodes excite electrons in such a way as to produce light. These little diodes are encased in a plastic bulb that delivers the light in a particular direction. There is no filament, as with incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, and they do not lose heat the way these traditional lamps do (which is what makes them so inefficient).

While the neck of an incandescent lamp is a simple wire and glass filament stand, the neck of an LED bulb contains a small electrical circuit board called the driver. This is what maintains a constant electrical current to the bulbs, as a change in voltage could change the current being supplied to the diodes.

While LEDs lamps are much more efficient—and almost completely made of recyclable materials—their complexity does make them a little more expensive up front. However, LEDs can easily pay for themselves in energy savings, making the decision to switch over a little easier.

Different Means to a Light End

The makeup parts of a lamp differ greatly among bulb types. Each creates light differently. The incandescent lamp heats a filament to produce light. Fluorescent lamps excite mercury. Meanwhile, LED lamps create light in diodes. They differ in the amount of energy used and the materials that they are constructed with. However, they all have their place in electrical history. Here are some questions to consider before choosing between the different types of light bulbs:

  • Are you looking for lumens or watts?
  • What kind of color light do you want?
  • Are you looking to save on electricity bills?
  • Do you want bulbs that are versatile with applications?

There are plenty of different methods of lighting. Be sure to do the research beforehand so that you’re choosing the best type of lamp for you.


How Do LED Light Bulbs Work

The Fluorescent Lamp

Light Bulbs and LEDs

Lighting Choices to Save You Money

The product statements contained herein are intended for informational purposes only. Such product statements do not constitute a product recommendation or representation as to the appropriateness for a specific application or use. W. W. Grainger, Inc. does not guarantee the result of product operation or assume any liability for personal injury or property damage resulting from the use of such products.

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.