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Incandescent Lighting

Posted: Oct 08, 2012

Incandescent lighting is the most common type of lighting used in homes. It has traditionally delivered about 85% of household illumination.


Incandescent lamps operate without a ballast. They light up instantly, providing a warm light and excellent color rendition. You can also dim them. However, incandescent lamps have a low efficacy compared to other lighting options (10–17 lumens per watt) and a short average operating life (750–2500 hours).

Incandescent lamps are the least expensive to buy, but because of their relative inefficiency and short life spans, they usually are more expensive to operate.

Types of Incandescent Lamps

These are the three most common types of incandescent lamps:

You can use the chart below to compare these types of lamps. If you don’t already, it helps to understand basic lighting principles and terms before making comparisons.

Incandescent Lighting Type Efficacy
Color Rendition Index
Color Temperature
Standard "A" bulb 10–17 750–2500 98–100 (excellent) 2700–2800 (warm) Indoors/outdoors
Tungsten halogen 12–22 2000–4000 98–100 (excellent) 2900–3200 (warm to neutral) Indoors/outdoors
Reflector 12–19 2000–3000 98–100 (excellent) 2800 (warm) Indoors/outdoors

Fluorescent Lighting

Fluorescent lamps use 25%–35% of the energy used by incandescent lamps to provide the same amount of illumination (efficacy of 30–110 lumens per watt). They also last about 10 times longer (7,000–24,000 hours).

The light produced by a fluorescent tube is caused by an electric current conducted through mercury and inert gases. Fluorescent lamps require a ballast to regulate operating current and provide a high start-up voltage. Electronic ballasts outperform standard and improved electromagnetic ballasts by operating at a very high frequency that eliminates flicker and noise. Electronic ballasts also are more energy-efficient. Special ballasts are needed to allow dimming of fluorescent lamps. Improvements in technology have resulted in fluorescent lamps with color temperature and color rendition that are comparable to incandescent lamps.

Types of Fluorescent Lamps

Two general types of fluorescent lamps include these:

Use the chart below to compare these types of lamps.

Fluorescent Lighting Type Efficacy
Color Rendition Index
Color Temperature
Straight tube 30–110 7000–24,000 50–90 (fair to good) 2700–6500 (warm to cold) Indoors/outdoors
Compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) 50–70 10,000 65–88 (good) 2700–6500 (warm to cold) Indoors/outdoors
Circline 40–50 12,000     Indoors

LED (Light-Emitting Diode)

Light-emitting diode (LED) is a semiconductor device that emits visible light when an electric current passes through it. The light is not particularly bright, but in most LEDs it is monochromatic, occurring at a single wavelength. An LED consists of two elements of processed material called P-type semiconductors and N-type semiconductors. These two elements are placed in direct contact, forming a region called the P-N junction. In this respect, the LED resembles most other diode types, but there are important differences. The LED has a transparent package, allowing visible or infrared radiation energy to pass through. Also, the LED has a large PN-junction area whose shape is tailored to the application.

Benefits of LEDs and IREDs, compared with incandescent and fluorescent illuminating devices, include:

Light-Emitting Diodes

Cool White LEDs 60–92 35,000–50,000 70–90 (fair to good) 5000 (cold) Indoors/
Warm White LEDs 27–54 35,000–50,000 70–90 (fair to good) 3300 (neutral) Indoors/
Low-Pressure Sodium 60–150 12,000–18,000 -44 (very poor)   Outdoors

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

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