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Personal: Residential


Choosing Lighting Fixtures –
Determine Your Needs

How to Choose the Right Product

Visit a lighting store or building supply outlet and you will be confronted with a bewildering array of light fixtures and bulbs. Whether you are buying a simple desk lamp, accessory lighting for the living room or new lighting for an addition to the home, the first decision to make is how much light is required.

The lighting you select will depend on the job that needs to be done. Consider these basic guidelines:

  • General lighting provides moderate light throughout a room. Using several fixtures creates uniform lighting and minimizes glare and contrasts.
  • Task lighting supports activities such as reading and cooking. These activities may require more focused lamps, in addition to general lighting.
  • Protective and safety lighting helps prevent accidents in such areas as stairwells, and it discourages prowlers.
  • Decorative lighting highlights such room features as drapes, a fireplace or a piece of art.

Some of the technology has changed dramatically in recent years. Being an informed consumer can help you make choices that will reduce your energy costs.

Choose the Right Type of Light Source

Compact Fluorescents Lamps (CFLs)

Fluorescents Lamps

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)

  • CFLs give off the same amount of light as a traditional incandescent light bulb but use 75 percent less energy and last 10 times longer (over 6000 hours, or roughly five years). They are the only light bulbs to carry the ENERGY STAR designation.
  • They can directly replace incandescent or halogen lamps in many fixtures. Although they are more costly than incandescent light bulbs, the energy savings can pay off the additional cost in less than two years when used in light fixtures that are on for more than three hours per day.
  • Modern CFLs provide the characteristic warm glow of incandescent light bulbs, making them suitable for any application in the house.


Fluorescent Tubes

Fluorescent Tubes

Fluorescent tubes

  • Fluorescent tube lamps are best suited for areas where bright light is needed, such as kitchens, laundry areas and workshops.
  • T-8 (1 in. in diameter) or T-5 (5/8 in. in diameter) fluorescent lamps with electronic ballasts are more efficient than older T-12 (1½ in. diameter) lamps. Modern fluorescent lamps such as CFLs also have a warmer colour than older models.
  • Fluorescent tubes are very efficient but are sometimes not suitable for specific applications because of their length.
  • They are often used in light fixtures that are part of architectural or design features — for example, above or below a cabinet or in valances, soffits or coves.




  • Halogens are a type of incandescent light bulb, but they contain "halogens," chemicals that minimize filament wear. This has the effect of increasing the lamp's life to 3000 hours, or roughly two and a half years.
  • Halogen lamps come in a wide array of shapes and sizes and are best suited for uses where focused light is needed in a small area, such as task, track or accent lighting.
  • Halogens operate at high temperatures, so they should be installed away from drapes or other flammable materials.




  • Incandescents are the traditional light bulbs we have been using for years.
  • They are inexpensive but very inefficient. Only 4 to 6 percent of the electrical energy used by an incandescent light bulb is converted into visible light. The remaining energy is lost as heat.
  • They have a very short life (750 to 1000 hours, or roughly half a year of normal operation).
  • Some incandescent light bulbs are marketed as long-life or as energy savers, but these light bulbs achieve this by producing less lumens (light output). They aren't nearly as efficient as CFLs.

Whatever type of lighting you decide on, expect a wide choice of fixtures with varying levels of energy efficiency. To select the most efficient fixture for your needs, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Look for fixtures that have been designed specifically for your purpose. For reading, choose a lamp that provides highly directional light. For general room lighting, select a fixture that provides light over a broad area.
  • Avoid buying fixtures with features that limit light output. Heavy or dark-coloured shades and bowls, for example, can significantly reduce light levels. Instead, look for features that will enhance useful light output, such as lighter coloured shades and fixtures that direct the light where you want it.
  • A fixture with a single bulb gives more useful light than one with several bulbs having the same total wattage. For example, four 25-watt bulbs produce little more than half the light of one 100-watt bulb (and one bulb is cheaper to buy than four).

Wattage equivalency guide for light bulbs

Recessed Downlight Fixtures

Recessed Downlight Fixtures

Recessed downlight fixtures have a cylindrical, can-like shape and are recessed into the ceiling. The bulb is generally screwed in at the top of the fixture. Reflector lamps, also called "R" lamps (either incandescent, halogen or compact fluorescent), are usually used in these downlight fixtures.

If you use an R lamp, consider an eR (elliptical reflector ) or BR (bulged reflector) lamp, as their shape allows better focus of the beam and the use of a lower wattage light than a standard R lamp.

Some fixtures have reflectors designed for a specific lamp shape, in which case a replacement lamp of another shape or length may not distribute the light as efficiently. Some compact fluorescent spotlights and floodlights come with their own reflector, increasing the amount of light that leaves the fixture.

Recessed fixtures may cause heat loss or condensation on cool surfaces due to airflow through the ceiling opening around the fixture and into the attic or roof space. One way to avoid this is to use surface-mounted track lighting instead of recessed fixtures. If recessed lighting must be used, select airtight fixtures that are rated for insulation contact to avoid a fire hazard.


The ENERGY STAR name and symbol are administered and promoted in Canada by Natural Resources Canada and are registered in Canada by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.