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Lighting Buyers Guide
Helpful suggestions about shopping for lighting.

Shop For Lighting: Lighting Homepage

Helpful information about lighting for indoor residential applications including definitions of commonly used lighting terminology.

Lighting can make a big difference in how you feel about your home. It helps you perform tasks more easily, makes you feel safer and more comfortable, and allows you to enjoy your home to its full potential. Lighting adds beauty and drama to a room. It can make a small room look open and airy, and a large room appear cozy and inviting. It can create a stimulating atmosphere for a night of entertaining, or a quiet feeling of relaxation after a long, tiring day. In so many ways, lighting can make a difference. And, it does so inexpensively compared to other home decorating or remodeling options.

Determining your needs.

Lighting should be planned to complement your lifestyle. So, first you need to develop a home lighting plan that suits your individual needs and those of your family. When planning your lighting, look at the activities that occur in each room, the atmosphere you want to create and the decorative elements you wish to emphasize. Keep in mind that light can be absorbed and even wasted in dark-colored rooms, or reflected and used as additional illumination in light-colored rooms. Also, take note of those areas serving more than a single purpose and those that will require more than one type of lighting. If you need assistance with your plan, a Certified Lighting Consultant at your local ALA showroom will be happy to help.

The fundamentals.

There are three basic types of lighting that work together to light your home: General, Task and Accent. A good lighting plan combines all three types to light an area, according to function and style.

Basic Types Of Lighting

This is very general information that defines some basic lighting industry terms.

General Lighting provides an area with overall illumination. Also known as ambient lighting, general lighting radiates a comfortable level of brightness, enabling one to see and walk about safely. It can be accomplished with chandeliers, ceiling or wall-mounted fixtures, recessed or track lights, and with lanterns outside your home. A basic form of lighting that replaces sunlight, general lighting is fundamental to a lighting plan.
Task lighting helps you perform specific tasks such as reading, sewing, cooking, homework, hobbies, games, or balancing your checkbook. It can be provided by recessed and track lighting, pendant lighting, and portable lamps. Task lighting should be free of distracting glare and shadows and should be bright enough to prevent eyestrain.
Accent Lighting adds drama to a room by creating visual interest. As part of a decorating scheme, it is used to spotlight paintings, houseplants, sculpture, and other prized possessions, or to highlight the texture of a wall, drapery or outdoor landscaping. Accent lighting requires at least three times as much light on the focal point as the general lighting around it. This usually is provided by track, recessed, or wall-mounted fixtures.

The Shapes & Forms Of Lighting

Once you've selected what you want to light, you'll have to decide how you're going to light it. Your local ALA showroom is the best place to view the many different styles, sizes and shapes of lighting fixtures that are available to deliver the general, task, and accent light you need.

Hall/Foyer Fixtures can create a congenial atmosphere, while providing you with the general lighting you need to greet guests and assure safe passage into other areas of your home. Use ceiling, chain-hung, or close-to-ceiling fixtures in hallways, stairways, and entranceways.
Chandeliers can add sparkle and style to your dining room while giving you the general lighting you need for dining and entertaining. They are also used in bedrooms, foyers, or over a living room grouping or a grand piano. Some are designed with downlights to provide task lighting for homework or table games, or to accent table settings. Chandeliers are available in both incandescent and tungsten-halogen. The addition of a dimmer control lets you alter the intensity of light to suit the mood and activity.
Pendants can provide both task and general lighting. Equipped with shades or globes to avoid glare, they are suspended from the ceiling over dinette tables, game tables, kitchen counters, or other work areas. When used over end or night tables, they free up the space occupied by table lamps. The use of a dimmer control gives you the flexibility to vary the light to suit the occasion.
Ceiling Fixtures usually provide general lighting. They are practical in busy areas such as foyers, hallways, bedrooms, kitchens, baths, laundry rooms, playrooms, and dens. They are available with incandescent, fluorescent, and energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.
Wall-Mounted Fixtures can furnish general, task, and accent lighting. Many are designed to match and supplement dining room chandeliers, or to provide hallway, bedroom, or living room lighting. Wall brackets are often used for task lighting at the bathroom mirror. They are available with a choice of incandescent, tungsten-halogen, and energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.
Bath/Vanity Lighting Strips supply task lighting, while supplementing the general lighting provided by ceiling fixtures. Similar to the lighting in theater dressing rooms, these softly glowing strips of globe-shaped incandescent bulbs provide excellent lighting for applying makeup, shaving, and grooming.
Portable Lamps can deliver general, task, and accent lighting, while giving you the flexibility to move the light whenever you want. Table lamps, floor lamps, and torchiers are available in a variety of styles to complement your decor. Small specialty lamps, such as clip-on lights, uplight cans, adjustable task lights, mini-reflector spotlights, desk and piano lamps fill a variety of task and accent light needs. These lamps are available with incandescent, tungsten-halogen, and energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.
Track Lighting can provide general, task, or accent lighting all at once in one flexible lighting system. You can move, swivel, rotate, and aim the individual fixtures in any direction along the track, giving you the versatility to change your lighting scheme when the need arises. You can also hang chandeliers and pendants from the track. Track fixtures are available in standard or low-voltage current, and a choice of incandescent, tungsten-halogen, and energy-efficient compact fluorescent light sources.
Recessed Lighting can provide general, task, or accent lighting inconspicuously. Installed in the ceiling with only the trim showing, recessed fixtures can be used anywhere in the home, including outdoors under eaves. They are ideal for low-ceiling areas, and with a special adapter they can also be used in cathedral ceilings. They are available as downlights, adjustable accent lights, and wall washers in both standard and low-voltage current and a choice of incandescent, tungsten-halogen, and energy-efficient compact fluorescents.
Undercabinet/ Undershelf Fixtures offer both task and accent lighting. Under kitchen cabinets they light a countertop. In a display cabinet they show off prized possessions. They're used in a workshop or anywhere you need lighting right at hand. They include slim, energy-efficient fluorescents, miniature track lighting, and strips of low-voltage mini-lights.


Lighting Controls

Lighting controls give you the flexibility to design a lighting plan with multiple uses and decorative effects. With the touch of a button, today's sophisticated dimming systems enable you to:

  • Lower light level to conserve energy and increase bulb life.
  • Vary the mood of a room.
  • Alter the intensity of the light to suit the activity.
  • Create and save a number of different lighting scenes in each room.

Lighting controls should be an integral part of the lighting design of each room.

Types Of Controls

1. Integrated dimming systems allow you to create multiple preset lighting scenes within a room. Scenes can be recalled with the touch of a button from a single wall box or with hand held wireless remote controls.
2. Touch dimmers allow you to vary the intensity of the lighting while depressing a button. These systems permit one-touch recall of the previous lighting level. Some are equipped with indicator lights that provide a continual readout of the lighting intensity.
3. Slide dimmers provide full-range, manual dimming control. Some are equipped with a touch-button that allows you to return to the previous lighting level. Others have an indicator light that glows in the dark for easy location.
4. Rotary dimmers provide full-range, manual dimming control. Some are equipped with a push-button operation that allows you to turn the light on and off and return to the previous lighting level.


Light Sources

The performance of any light fixture depends very much on the light source (bulb) used. Different sources produce different effects. Light is measured in terms of:

The amount of electricity consumed by a bulb.

The amount of light that a bulb produces.

The amount of light reaching a subject.


General Service
General service bulbs are inexpensive and readily available in a variety of wattages and shapes. They produce a yellowish-white light that is emitted in all directions. Available in either clear or frosted.

General (A)
Globe (G)
Decorative (D)
(flame, teardrop, and other shapes)

Reflective coating inside the bulb directs light forward, giving you better beam control than general service bulbs. Flood types (FL) spread light. Spot types (SP) concentrate the light.

Reflector (R) bulbs put approximately double the amount of light (footcandles) on the subject as General Service (A) of same wattage.

Parabolic Reflector (PAR) bulbs control light more precisely. They produce about four times the light of General Service (A) and are used in recessed and track lighting. Weatherproof casing makes them suitable for outdoor spot and flood fixtures.


Produces a bright, white light. Has longer life and provides more light (lumens) per watt than regular incandescent bulbs. Maintains maximum efficiency throughout life of bulb. Available in both line- (120 volts) and low-voltage (12 volts). Low-voltage types require a transformer to step down the voltage. Among the most popular tungsten-halogen bulbs are:

PAR 16, 20, 30 and 38 reflectorized bulbs provide better beam control than regular incandescent PAR bulbs. Available in numerous spot and flood beam spreads. Used in track, recessed, and outdoor spot, and floodlights.

T-3 Double-Ended bulbs are available in a variety of base types and are used in wall sconces, torchiers, and outdoor flood lights. The direction of the light is controlled by the fixture.

T-4 Single-Ended bulbs come in both "mini-can" and "bayonet" base types and are used in wall sconces, bath brackets, torchiers, and pendants. The direction of the light is controlled by the fixture.

MR-11, MR-16 (Mini-Reflectors) provide excellent beam control. Available in numerous spot and flood beam spread. Miniature size permits use in smaller track and recessed fixtures. Also used in outdoor spotlights.

PAR-36 provides superior beam control, especially over longer distances. Available in a broad selection of spot and flood beam spread. Used in track, recessed, and outdoor fixtures.

T-4 Bipin, also known as a "peanut" bulb, is a miniature lamp used in pendants, halogen desk lamps, and some track fixtures. The direction of the light is controlled by the fixture.


Use 1/5 to 1/3 as much electricity as incandescents with comparable lumen ratings and last up to 20 times longer. Compact types are used in smaller, trimmer fixtures such as recessed downlights, wall sconces, close-to-ceiling fixtures, and track lights. Screw-in types can be used in place of incandescents in standard lamp sockets. Available in a wide spectrum of colors. Warm white tones best duplicate the color of incandescents.

High-Intensity Discharge

High-intensity discharge (hid) bulbs have a longer life and provide more light (lumens) per watt than any other light source. Available in mercury vapor, metal halide, high- and low-pressure sodium types. Used residentially for outdoor security and landscape lighting.

This is just an overview of the wide variety of light sources that are on the market. For help in determining what bulbs to use in specific applications, talk to the Certified Lighting Consultants at your local ALA showroom. They can help you choose the best available light sources to suit your needs.


Energy Savings & Efficiency

Lighting uses 12 to 15 percent of the electricity consumed in a home. Suggested ways to economize on electricity bills with lighting are:

  1. Turn lights off when you don't need them.

  2. Use dimmers to save energy.

  3. Use photoelectric cells or timers to turn outdoor lighting on and off automatically.

  4. Use the more efficient reflector bulbs, especially for task and accent lighting. (Example: a 50W "R" bulb can put as much light on an object as a 100W "A" bulb.)

  5. Use energy-saving fluorescents wherever possible. They give more lumens-per-watt (more light from the electricity consumed) than incandescents. New compact fluorescents produce light that is similar in color to that of incandescents, making them an excellent choice for residential use. They are now available in styles that can accommodate a wide variety of decorative and functional fixtures.

Here are some energy-saving examples:

Incadescent Wattage

Fluorescent Replacement(1)

Rated Fluorescent Life

Yearly Savings(2)


1-20W Straight Tubes

9,000 Hours



2-20W Straight Tubes

9,000 Hours



1-40W Straight Tubes

20,000 Hours



1-32W Circle Tube

12,000 Hours



1-32W+1-40W Circle Tubes

12,000 Hours



2-40W U-Tubes

12,000 Hours



1-13W Compact Twins

10,000 Hours



2-13W Compact Twins

10,000 Hours



1-18W Compact Quad

10,000 Hours



1-15W Compact Screw-In

9,000 Hours


(1) Includes allowance for ballast wattage.
(2) Calculated @ .10 per KWH based on use of 6 hours perday, 365 days per year.