Types of Lighting

There are four basic types of lighting: , fluorescent, high-intensity discharge,and low-pressure sodium.

Incandescent lighting is the most common type of lighting used in residences. Fluorescent lighting is used primarily in commercial indoor lighting systems, while high-intensity discharge lighting is used only for outdoor lighting applications. Low-pressure sodium lighting is used where color rendering is not important, such as highway and security lighting. These lighting types vary widely in their construction, efficiency, color characteristics, and lamp life.


The incandescent lamp is the oldest and most common type of lamp. Light is emitted when electricity flows through—and heats—a tungsten filament

Incandescent lamps are the least expensive to buy but the most expensive to operate. Incandescent light is produced by a tiny coil of tungsten wire that glows when it is heated by an electrical current.

Incandescent lamps have the shortest lives of the common lighting types. They are also relatively inefficient compared with other lighting types. However, significant energy and cost savings are possible if you select the right incandescent lamp for the right job. The three most common types of incandescent lights are standard incandescent, tungsten halogen, and reflector lamps.

Standard incandescent
Known as the “A-type light bulb,” these lamps are the most common yet the most inefficient light source available. Larger wattage have a higher efficacy than smaller wattage bulbs. Note that a larger wattage lamp or bulb may not be the most energy or cost effective option, depending on how much light is needed. “Longlife” bulbs, with thicker filaments, are a variation of these A-type bulbs. Although long-life bulbs last longer than their regular counterparts, they are less energy efficient.

Tungsten halogen

This newer type of incandescent lighting achieves better energy efficiency than do standard A-type bulbs. It has a gas filling and an inner coating that reflect heat. Together, the filling and coating recycle heat to keep the filament hot with less electricity. These lamps are considerably more expensive than standard incandescents and are primarily used in commercial applications: theater, store, and outdoor lighting systems.

Reflector lamps

Reflector lamps (Type R) are designed to spread light over specific areas. They are used mainly indoors for stage/theater and store applications, as well as floodlighting, spotlighting, and downlighting.

Parabolic aluminized reflectors (Type PAR) are used for outdoor floodlighting. The ellipsoidal reflector (Type ER) focuses the light beam about 2 inches (5 centimeters) in front of its enclosure and is designed to project light down from recessed fixtures. Ellipsoidal reflectors are twice as energy efficient as parabolic reflectors for recessed fixtures.


The light produced by a fluorescent tube is caused by an electric current conducted through mercury and inert gases. Fluorescent lighting is used mainly indoors—both for ambient and task lighting—and is about 3 to 4 times as efficient as incandescent lighting. Fluorescent lamps last about 10 times longer than incandescents. But, to gain the most efficiency, you should install fluorescents in places where they will be on for several hours at a time.

Fluorescent lights need ballasts (i.e., devices that control the electricity used by the unit) for starting and circuit protection. Ballasts consume energy. You can increase the for existing fluorescent lighting by relamping (e.g., replacing an existing lamp with one of a lower wattage), replacing ballasts, and replacing fixtures with more efficient models.

Tube fluorescent

Base with bi-pin plug In fluorescent tubes, a very small amount of mercury mixes with inert gases to conduct the electrical current. This allows the phosphor coating on the glass tube to emit light.

These lamps are the next most popular lamps after A-type incandescent lamps. The two most common types are 40-watt, 4-foot (1.2-meter) lamps and 75-watt, 8-foot (2.4-meter) lamps. Tubular fluorescent fixtures and lamps are preferred for ambient lighting in large indoor areas because their low brightness creates less direct glare than do incandescent bulbs.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) come in a variety of sizes and shapes including (a) twin-tube integral, (b and c) triple-tube integral, (d) integral model with casing that reduces glare, (e) modular circline and ballast, and (f) modular quad-tube and ballast. CFLs can be installed in regular incandescent fixtures, and they consume less than one-third as much electricity as incandescent lamps do.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are the most significant lighting advance developed for homes in recent years. They combine the efficiency of fluorescent lighting with the convenience and popularity of incandescent fixtures. CFLs can replace incandescents that are roughly 3 to 4 times their wattage, saving up to 75% of the initial lighting energy. Although CFLs cost from 10 to 20 times more than comparable incandescent bulbs, they last 10 to 15 times as long. This energy savings and superior longevity make CFLs one of the best energy efficiency investments available.

When introduced in the early to mid 1980s, CFLs were bulky, heavy, and too big for many incandescent fixtures. However, newer models with lighter electronic ballasts are only slightly larger than the incandescent lamps they replace.

CFLs come in integral and modular designs. Integral CFLs have a ballast and a lamp in a single disposable unit. Modular designs feature a separate ballast that serves about five lamp replacements before it wears out.

High-Intensity Discharge

In a high-intensity discharge lamp, electricity arcs between two electrodes, creating an intensely bright light. Mercury, sodium, or metal halide gases act as the conductor.

High-intensity discharge (HID) lamps provide the highest efficacy and longest service life of any lighting type. They are commonly used for outdoor lighting and in large indoor arenas.

HID lamps use an electric arc to produce intense light. They also require ballasts, and they take a few seconds to produce light when first turned on because the ballast needs time to establish the electric arc.

The three most common types of HID lamps are mercury vapor, metal halide, and high-pressure sodium. HID lamps and fixtures can save 75% to 90% of lighting energy when they replace incandescent lamps and fixtures. Significant energy savings are also possible by replacing old mercury vapor lamps with newer metal halide or high-pressure sodium lamps.

Mercury vapor—the oldest type of HID lighting—is used primarily for street lighting. Mercury vapor lamps provide about 50 lumens per watt. They cast a very cool blue/green white light. Most indoor mercury vapor lighting in arenas and gymnasiums has been replaced by metal halide lighting, which has better color rendering and efficiency.

Metal halide lamps are similar in construction and appearance to mercury vapor lamps. The addition of metal halide gases to mercury gas within the lamp results in higher light output, more lumens per watt, and better color rendition than from mercury gas alone. Metal halide lamps are used to light large indoor areas such as gymnasiums and sports arenas, and for outdoor areas such as car lots or anywhere that color rendition is important.

High-pressure sodium lighting is becoming the most common type of outdoor lighting. It provides 90 to 150 lumens per watt—an efficiency exceeded only by low-pressure sodium lighting. High-pressure sodium lamps are also reliable and have long service lives. Their color is a warm white, and their color rendition ranges from poor to fairly good depending on design and intended use.

Low-Pressure Sodium

Low-pressure sodium lamps work somewhat like fluorescent lamps. They are the most efficient artificial lighting, have the longest service life, and maintain their light output better than any other lamp type. Low-pressure sodium lighting is used where color is not important because it renders all colors as tones of yellow or gray. Typical applications include highway and security lighting.