Lighting Terms to Know

Written by Angie's List Staff
Updated February 3, 2016
a decorative house light
There are many bulbs to choose from when deciding how to illuminate your home. (Photo by Katelin Kinney)

Use this Angie's List glossary to decide what lighting choice works best for your home.

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Whether you're a homeowner or renter, it helps to know the many facets of in-home lighting. Here's a look at the most important terms:

Accent lighting - Color Temperature

Accent lighting: Accent lighting is used to highlight points of interest in and around the home. It’s commonly used to illuminate art, architectural design, shrubbery and flowers.

Ambient lighting: Ambient lighting is the lighting that is present naturally  from outdoor light as it streams in through skylights, windows and doors.

Amperage: Amperage is a measure of the flow of electricity through an electrical device. It’s a function of the voltage times the resistance of the circuit. Electrical devices that are used to produce heat will have a higher amperage output.

Back lighting: When a light source is placed behind an object. It’s often used to create a silhouette effect.

Ballast: A ballast is a component of a gas discharge lamp and is usually installed in the fixture. Gas discharge lamps include fluorescent lamps and HID lamps. The ballast regulates and the amount of current in an electrical circuit.

Can light: A can light is a type of tubular fixture that is recessed into a ceiling so that the face of the bulb is level with or slightly above the ceiling surface.

Color temperature: Color temperature is the measurement of the perceived color of a lamp. Lamps with warm colors, such as reds and yellows, are on the lower end of the temperature scale. Lamps emitting blue and white colors are on the upper end of the color temperature scale.

Compact fluorescent - Flourescent

Compact fluorescent: A compact fluorescent bulb is a type of fluorescent lamp that is smaller than a fluorescent tube and is manufactured to replace the incandescent bulb. They use less power and last longer than incandescent bulbs.

Dimmer switch: Dimmer switches are special switches used to control the intensity of a lamp.

Energy efficiency rating: The energy efficiency rating of a lamp determines how costly the lamp will be to use. It’s based on the percentage of light produced by the lamp as opposed to the amount of wasted energy in the form of heat.

Filament: A filament is the thin part of an incandescent light bulb that generates heat and light. Filaments are often made of carbon or tungsten.

Fixture: A fixture is any type of device that holds a bulb or lamp.

Floodlight: A floodlight is a type of incandescent lamp that is used to illuminate a large area. Floodlights are often used outside for security lighting.

Fluorescent: Fluorescent bulbs are gas discharge bulbs that use a mercury vapor gas that is excited by an electrical current to produce light. The bulbs are usually coated with a phosphor powder to control the color of the light.

Halogen bulb - Lumens

Halogen bulb: Halogen bulbs are small, tube-shaped lamps that produce a very high-intensity light and are used in outdoor floodlight fixtures.

High-intensity discharge lamp: HID lamps are a form of gas discharge lamp used where high-intensity light is needed. Yard lights and street lamps are examples of HID lamps. The gas inside the lamp is ignited by a spark that is controlled by a ballast. In turn, metal salts in the bulb form plasma that produces the light.

Incandescent bulb: The incandescent bulb is one of the oldest forms of lamps. The type found in table lamps and other similar fixtures are class bulbs in which the air has been evacuated. A filament is connected to the electrical current through a switch and produces both light and heat during this process.

Light-emitting diode bulb: LED bulbs are lamps the produce light through light emitting diodes. While they are still relatively expensive to purchase, they are one of the most energy-efficient lights available.

Low-voltage lighting: Low-voltage lighting is often used for decorative or accent lighting, both indoors and outdoors. Transformers are used to step down household voltage to a lower voltage, usually 24 volts. This uses less energy and is also safer around children and pets.

Lumens: The lumen is a measurement of the intensity of the light. Recently it has been added to the packaging of light bulbs to indicate the actual intensity of the bulb. When shopping for lamps of a particular brightness, the consumer should look at lumens and not wattage.

Motion sensor - Watt

Motion sensor: A motion sensor is a type of lighting control that senses movement and can be adjusted for sensitivity. When movement is sensed, the motion sensor closes the circuit and turns on the light.

Photo cell: Photocells are used to charge batteries on some low-voltage lights. They collect the ambient light from the sun and convert it into energy to charge the battery. Low-voltage lights that operate with photo cells eliminate the need for wiring.

Photo eye: A photo eye is a type of lighting control that senses ambient light. When the amount of light drops to a preset level, the photo eye interrupts the circuit to the fixture and shuts off the light.

Spotlight: A spotlight is similar in shape to a floodlight; however, it is used to illuminate a more specific area than the flood. Spotlight bulbs are often used in can lighting and track lighting.

Three-way switch: Three-way switches are used to operate light fixtures from two separate locations. For example, they can be used to turn lights on and off at both ends of a long hallway or from different locations in a kitchen or family room.

Track lighting: A fitting is attached to a junction box in the ceiling or on the wall and a track containing electrical conductors is installed across the ceiling or up the wall. The fixtures can be placed anywhere along the track allowing numerous lighting configurations. The fixtures themselves are usually fitted with spotlights to illuminate specific objects.

Transformer: A transformer is an electrical component that transforms electricity from one voltage to another. It is used to convert 120-volt AC household power into 24-volt DC power for low-voltage lighting.

Voltage: Voltage is the measure of electrical pressure between two points. Household voltage is normally 120 volts on each leg of the electricity coming into the circuit panel. Two 120-volt circuits are combined to make a 240-volt service for appliances such as dryers and electric furnaces.

Watts: The watt is a measurement of power. Watts are determined by multiplying the voltage times the amperage. The total wattage consumption is what the consumer is billed by the electrical company and it measured in kilowatt-hours. It should be noted that the wattage of the bulb is not the measurement of its intensity, but of the amount of power necessary to produce its intensity.

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