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General Purpose Light Sources

A light source is what makes the light.  In the home, the most common source of light is the incandescent light bulb.  Halogen light, fluorescent light, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are three additional light sources that are commonly used in the home.

incandescent light bulb When a typical light bulb is used, it is called incandescent light.  Incandescent light happens when an electric current is passed through a filament, which causes it to heat up and glow.  The greatest advantage to filament incandescent light bulbs is that they are cheap, easy to find, and easy to replace.  Incandescent lights also throw a warm light.  Incandescent light comes in many different watts and is flattering, especially at low wattages.  In addition, these types of bulbs are available in many different shapes, sizes, and types.  They need no additional equipment and don't need to warm up before they reach full illumination.  Unfortunately, incandescent bulbs are not as energy-efficient as certain other light sources.

halogen ceiling light fixture Halogen lights use a different chemistry and process, which results in the bulb not burning out when run at full voltage.  The filament in halogen bulbs burns at a higher temperature, so the bulbs are smaller and made of quartz in order to stand up to the heat.  Halogen light is much whiter and cooler than incandescent light, and results in a crisp, intense atmosphere.  It's a great choice in rooms where you want to intensify the definition of colors or create drama.  Of all the lighting technologies, halogen is the closest to daylight.

fluorescent light fixture Fluorescent light is economical and energy-efficient, but it is not always flattering to interiors or complexions.  While the design and color of fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) have improved over the past few years, fluorescent lighting works best in workrooms and showrooms where cool, bright, and diffuse light is required.  Unfortunately, fluorescent bulbs contain small amounts of mercury.

led light bulb Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are semiconductor devices that convert electricity into directional light beams.  LEDs last longer and are more rugged and efficient than fluorescent, incandescent, or halogen light sources.  However, they are quite sensitive to excessive heat.

Special Purpose Light Sources

In addition to incandescent, fluorescent, and halogen, and LED lights, there are several other types of light sources.  Most of these fall into a category called vapor discharge lamps, or simply discharge lamps.

high intensity discharge lights Discharge lamps include metal halide, low-pressure and high-pressure sodium, and high-pressure mercury lighting.  You may not have heard of these lamps because most are not used in household applications; their use has primarily been reserved for commercial, public, and industrial applications.

These alternative light sources are designed to be functional, and are rarely used to create atmosphere.  They operate similarly to fluorescent bulbs, but differ in that they use different types of gas or metal vapor.  They are both long-lasting and efficient sources of light.

metal halide shop light Low-pressure sodium lights distort colors and work best as informational lighting, whereas metal halide has excellent color rendering and is good for backyard lighting.  Discharge lamps usually have large bulbs that can take several minutes to warm up.  They require control gear and must be disposed of carefully due to the toxic material inside.

neon lighting - neon sign Neon, another type of lamp that produces low-level colored lighting, is primarily used for decorations.  Also called cold cathode, neon is most often seen in commercial signs.  Neon lighting is expensive, and it operates at a very high voltage.  It's rarely used in homes, although sometimes it can be put behind moldings to produce interesting architectural effects.

Fiber optics is a more modern type of lighting in which light is shone down thin strands of coated fiberglass or acrylic.  The light emerges only at the end, which means that optic lighting is cool at the point of delivery.  Fiber optics lighting is mostly used for novelty effect.


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