By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Confused about light bulbs? There’s a dizzying array on the market, not just at Home Depot and Lowe’s and online at 1000Bulbs.com, but at many home supply stores.

For any given lighting job, you may find yourself confronted with several types of bulbs that could work — CFLs (compact fluorescent bulbs), a halogen or two or ten, and some of those ongoing, but supposedly outgoing, incandescents. Conversely, for specific needs, like say the flame-shaped bulbs you need for your chandelier, you might find the choices wanting, perhaps there’s an incandescent available, but not an EnergyStar CFL.

To shine some light on these issues, GE has set up websites that are, frankly, incredibly comprehensive. (But then this is where they really shine, eh?) The result is that you can study the specs on bulbs in every shape and size, for indoor, outdoor and specialty use. There’s a new component, just announced today, where you can “Find Your Lighting Style” by answering some quiz questions and then listening to tips from a non-threatening, bespectacled fellow who’s apparently a really bright bulb in the bulb department. It’s helpful, and interesting.

Unfortunately, we, and you, may not always have a great deal of time to fiddle around figuring out that you’re a “fuzzy slipper” type person who likes romantic lighting in a game room. In other words, the new website (and related websites) that GE has put up can be nearly as mentally taxing as pacing around the lighting department of your local big box store wishing for someone to just hand you the right item.

GE does cut to the chase with several pages of charts about light bulbs, called Bulb and Fixture Basics, where you can compare and contrast lighting choices. There you can click on a certain shape or type of bulb — like a Blunt Tip or a Tube Shape or a PAR light — and learn all about it. You’ll quickly pick up that halogens and CFLs last longer than incandescents. This tool tells you the estimated life hours for bulbs and their voltage and lumens, so you could jot down what you need and then go buy it somewhere.

If you want to stick strictly to CFLs, GE has a few pages devoted to them, including this one that demonstrates how a single 13 watt CFL can save you $34 over the life of the bulb compared with a 60 watt incandescent.

There’s also a glossary to help you sort out terms in what turns out to be a vast lexicon, explaining words  such as Amperes, Ballast and Coefficient Utilization. You’ll have to be your own guide as to what info you can use.  You can see it gets pretty deep and we only got to the “C”s.

Some useful info about color is embedded in the glossary, where it explains that the Correlated Color Temperature (CCT) can tell you how blue or yellowish the light cast will be. Color is measured on the Kelvin scale, with the lower numbers representing more yellow and “warm” colors and higher numbers, up to 6000 for “daylight”, being “cooler”. This has been a dicey area for CFLs, which started out on uneven ground; aside from flickering, humming and turning ghostly in cool air in their early days (and sometimes even lately), CFLs became notorious for casting rays that seemed unnaturally greenish or blueish.

Knowing the CCT or Kelvin rating that you’re seeking might help you avoid this problem. It is certainly better than diving in uninformed. But these color definitions can only go so far in virtual reality. To see what “daylight” looks like in your ochre bathroom or on your fuzzy slippers, you’ll have to try one out. Or at least see it. Which means, you may have to go to the store, to the lighting department…

(Photo credit: GE Biax bulb for restaurants and offices, GE)

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