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Light Bulbs: What Kind to Use in Different Situations

Written by The SOE Team

Last updated 06/16/2022

Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision/Getty images

Changing a light bulb isn’t as easy as it used to be. When one burned out in the old days, you replaced it with the same type of incandescent bulb you’d been using for years. Now, there are better choices – CFLs, LEDs, halogens – but so many variations that it can be hard to figure out which to pick. In fact, some types of light bulbs do better in certain situations, so it’s a good idea to think about where a particular light is going to be used before you make a purchase.

First of all, let’s take a look at the different types of light bulbs you can find on the market today.

  • CFLs: Compact fluorescent lights are about 75 percent more efficient than incandescent bulbs and last about six times longer. This can save you about $40 over the life of the bulb in replacement costs alone. There are many situations in which CFLs aren’t ideal though, such as in rooms with high moisture or in appliances with lots of movement. They also contain small amounts of mercury, exposure to which can be toxic.
  • LEDs: Light-emitting diodes are also extremely energy-efficient – even more so than CFLs – and can last more than 20 years, making them a definite money-saving buy despite their higher up-front cost. The technology is still developing for very bright LEDs, so they are best for situations that need a little less light.
  • Halogens: A type of incandescent bulb, halogen lights are less energy-efficient than CFLs or LEDS but about 30 percent more efficient than the traditional incandescent bulb thanks to their special infrared coating. They also last about three times longer than a traditional bulb.

No matter which type of bulb you choose, make sure it meets high energy-saving standards, such as those set by ENERGY STAR, to ensure you get the most life out of the bulb.

Now, let’s go room by room to learn what type of light bulb is best to use and why.

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Kitchen and bathrooms:

These rooms can often experience high heat and humidity. CFLs don’t do well with moisture and extreme temperature changes, both of which can decrease the life of the bulb. Halogen lights might be best for the bathroom and any lamps near the stove in the kitchen. If you do use CFLs in the bathroom, be sure to turn on the exhaust fan for 15 minutes after taking a shower. Also, be sure to choose bulbs with high lumens for brightness (1,600 lumens equals a typical 100w bulb) and a cooler color (3,500K-4,100K range) so you can see clearly while performing tasks.

Living rooms and bedrooms:

These are the rooms where we spend a lot of time and want comfortable light for relaxing. CFLs work great in these rooms because they do best when they are turned on and left on for hours at a time. Choose bulbs in the 2,700K-3,000K color range to get that warm feel you’re used to with incandescent bulbs. If you have a reading nook, choose a bulb closer to the 5,000K-6,500K range to get the most natural-looking and best light for reading. You also might choose a halogen bulb for your reading lamp. Studies show that CFLs release UV emissions that can harm the skin, much like getting a sunburn can. Experts suggest staying at least 2 feet away from exposed bulbs, so for lamps that you keep close to your head for reading, you might try a halogen bulb.

Kids’ bedrooms and playrooms:

One of the biggest concerns about CFLs is that they contain mercury. If a bulb breaks, it releases that mercury into the environment and care must be taken to clean up and air out the room afterward. As a precaution, it might be best not to place CFLs in areas where kids may easily break them. If you’re looking for a perfect bulb for kids’ rooms, try LED nightlights.

Hallways and closets:

CFLs do best when they are turned on and left on for at least 15 minutes. Repeated ons and offs shorten their lifespan. Most of the time, we turn on the hallway or closet light for only a minute or two. These are more good places for LED lights.

Ceiling fan:

CFLs don’t last as long with a lot of vibration, such as the constant round and round of a ceiling fan or even the rumble in the garage from the garage door opening and closing. LEDs or halogen lights will probably do better in these situations.


Another enemy to CFLs’ long life is cold weather. To use a CFL outside, make sure the light fixture is fully enclosed and look for a CFL bulb designed for outdoor use. It will have an extra protective coating to keep it better insulated from the frigid temperatures.

No matter which bulb you choose, make sure it fits the lamp you need it for. For example, only place a CFL bulb labeled for dimmable or three-way use in a lamp of that type. Otherwise, the light will flicker or flash and the bulb’s lifespan will be considerably shorter. By reading labels and remembering these tips, you will easily be able to figure out which bulb is best for any given situation.

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