Lumens, LEDs and Lighting Terms: A Short Guide

lighting terms

Lighting terms are varied and can be difficult to understand, especially for the less handy among us. What’s a “lumen”? What does “LED” stand for? Let’s examine some of the history of light bulbs and the more confusing lighting terms.

History of Lighting Terms

Edison transformed the world when he filed his first patent for the light bulb in 1878. Gone were the days of gas lamps, torches and kerosene. The light bulb changed the way everyone lived and remained fundamentally the same for over 100 years. Now, new lighting standards have revolutionized the light bulb once again.

New lighting standards began in 2012. Most traditional, incandescent bulbs phased out by 2014 due to their high energy usage. The most common types of bulbs in their place are CFLs and LEDs. This also brought about some of the harder to understand lighting terms.

A simple trip to the hardware store to buy bulbs now has people scratching their heads in confusion, trying to decipher what exactly a “lumen” is. Although these lighting terms seem intimidating at first, they’re not quite as difficult to understand as many think they are.

What’s Lumen Got to Do with It?

Let’s break down some of the lighting terms that tend to confuse those who just want to get a new bulb for their kitchen.

  • Watts measure how much energy a bulb uses. Most incandescent bulbs lose 90% of the energy they use.
  • Lumens measure how much light a bulb emits. The higher the lumen count, the brighter the bulb.
  • Incandescent bulbs are the light bulbs we all know and love. They’re rated to last for 1000 hours.
  • CFL stands for compact fluorescent light. CFLs are rated for 10,000 hours of use.
  • LED stands for light emitting diode. LEDs have the highest hours rated for use, lasting for approximately 25,000 hours.
  • Halogen bulbs produce light via a chemical reaction of halogen chemicals and are generally hotter than most other bulbs. Halogens, like incandescent bulbs, are rated to last for roughly 1000 hours.

The important thing to keep in mind is that the longer the bulb lasts, the more one can recoup the costs. For example, LEDs retail for anything between $9.95­–$19.50, but their incredibly long lifespan more than makes up for their price. LEDs also require less wattage to power them. This means a lower electricity bill, which is something everyone can benefit from!

But what if someone wants to know about dimming options? Color options? CRI rating? Don’t worry. We’ve got that covered too.

Advanced Mechanics

  • Dimmable bulbs do exactly what it sounds like they do: they dim! Most light bulbs dim with proper switches/remotes, but LEDs are easiest to dim.
  • CRI stands for color rating index. The higher the CRI rating of a bulb, the better the color rendering ability.
  • Color Temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (K) and indicates the light color that’s emitted from the bulb. As the color temperature increases, the brighter and more intense the light source becomes.

All of this is important information, but now we need to address the bulbs themselves!

Bulbs, Bases, and Shapes

There are countless varieties of bulbs and bases out there, so let’s focus on some of the more common ones people look for.

  • Appliance bulbs. Picture a light bulb in your mind. You’ve conjured up an image of an appliance bulb, one of the most common shapes. With this bulb usually comes the medium Edison 26 screw base (commonly referred to as medium E26). The medium E26 is a screw base that’s used in most incandescent, halogen and CFL bulbs.
  • Pear shaped bulbs are similar in to appliance bulbs, but they have a larger diameter. This gives them a pear-shaped look.
  • Sign bulbs are slimmer than appliance bulbs, and are used in signs: theater signs, casino signs, store signs, etc.

For some handy comparisons between bulbs, bases and types of lighting, check out this handy chart!

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Labels and Lighting Products

Different manufacturers use different labeling per the Department of Energy guidelines. The DoE has put together a helpful page titled Information for Retailers of Lighting Products. This page contains placards, tip cards and more for store displays and customer info.

And don’t forget that Petra can take care of all your lighting needs! From projector night lights to LED task lights, our Housewares & Personal Care bulbs can light up your home like never before. Need something a little heavier duty? Visit our Outdoor, Recreation & Fitness section for LED Café lights to brighten your porch, or to see LED bulbs that also act as a sonic rodent repeller! Looking for something a little brighter and safer? The Surveillance, Safety & Security section is what you’re looking for. This category is designed to keep you feeling warm and secure, featuring items like plain garage door opener bulbs and smart Wi-Fi bulbs. Whatever your lighting need may be, visit to browse all types of options. Stay bright!

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