Choose the right bulb and you’ll get the best performance out of recessed can lighting. You want the right level of brightness, light coverage, esthetics, and energy efficiency. If you have trouble finding bulbs that work perfectly with your can lighting fixtures, your local electrician can always help make the call.
Tons of Options
This article will explain the different types of bulbs and why each one suits different applications.
First, let’s go over what the alphanumeric names of different light bulbs mean:
- The letters (A, R, BR, etc.) tell you the shape and style of bulb.
- The numbers tell you the size of the bulb, in eights of an inch.
- Example: R20 means a reflector bulb with diameter of 20/8 inches, or 2.5 inches.
- Lighting fixtures can usually accept any bulb of the correct diameter.
Standard “A” Bulbs
Traditional incandescent bulbs can be used in many recessed fixtures, but not with great results. Your local electrician can help you choose a reflector trim to help scatter the light if you plan on using A bulbs, but usually the best option includes upgrading other kinds of bulbs.
Reflector “R” Lamps
R bulbs offer good, basic performance in recessed can lighting. They are shaped more or less like regular incandescent bulbs, but have a reflective mirror coating on the inside. The reflector creates area lighting instead of a beam of light.
Bulged Shape “BR” Bulbs
Bulged Reflector (BR) bulbs have a basic reflector coating inside and a floodlight-style “bulge” shape. When installing can lighting, ask your local electrician for guidance with bulbs like these because the bulb may protrude below the ceiling line if you choose a model that is too long.
Bright, White “PAR” Bulbs
Your local electrician will often recommend PAR bulbs for commercial or residential purposes. PAR stands for parabolic aluminized reflector. These bulbs maximize brightness and produce a pleasant white light. You can choose PAR bulbs designed either for area lighting or focused spotlights.
Flood or Spot Beam “MR” Bulbs
Multifaceted Reflector (MR) bulbs are your best choice for narrow focus beams. They use a special reflective system that gathers the light inside the bulb and emits a highly concentrated beam. When you want to throw a spotlight on artwork at home or create lighted areas in a commercial setting, your local electrician will often recommend MR bulbs.
When saving energy is your guiding principle, look for eco-friendly versions of the light bulbs listed above. Manufacturers make CFL, CCFL, and LED options of reflector bulbs suitable for can lighting.
Talk to your local electrician about what makes sense for your home’s wiring and setup, and consider the differences between the energy-efficient options:
- Compact fluorescent lights (CFL) are long-lasting and save tons of energy compared to incandescents. The downside: they take about 15 minutes to warm up to full brightness.
- Cold cathode fluorescent lights (CCFL) get bright immediately and last at least as long.
- Light emitting diode (LED) bulbs cost more but provide the greatest energy savings and longest lifespan.
When in doubt, ask your local electrician!
Other factors to consider include bulbs approved for wet areas, dimming bulbs, and adjustable focus bulbs. Talk to your local electrician to find out whether your wiring or fixtures call for a certain type to be used.
Ask a knowledgeable local electrician for advice on the best bulb choice whenever you are installing or renovating can lighting—we may know about a new technology or have recommendations that best suit your needs.