Light Bulb Buying Guide

Many people think about light bulbs in the same way they think about paper towels for their kitchen: purely pragmatic objects that are best purchased generic, in bulk, and at discount. But if you aspire to create a truly warm and welcoming home, this mindset robs you of the unexpected pleasure of finding the perfect bulb to complement every room and light fixture.

On top of that, we here at Schoolhouse often design our light fixtures to be used with specific bulbs. That doesn’t necessarily mean there is only one bulb that will work with the fixture. But if you are going to invest in a quality light fixture in the first place, why not pair it with the bulb that the designer felt would let it shine brightest (figuratively and literally)? To help you navigate the many differences in shape, size, and style of light bulb that are available today, we’ve created the short guide below. If you need help choosing the perfect bulb for your Schoolhouse fixture, feel free to stop by one of our stores or contact our Customer Support team.

Shopping by Type of Bulb

During the past couple decades, several types of light bulb technology, including incandescent, compact fluorescent, LED and others, were competing to become the go-to light source in homes around the world. Today, that competition is mostly over and LED technology is the clear winner. Where in the past the light from LED bulbs was considered harsh and unpleasant, evolving technology has allowed LED bulbs to become softer and warmer. Energy efficiency is also a big plus with LED bulbs, as they use about a tenth of the electricity of an equivalent incandescent bulb, saving you money on your power bill and reducing the environmental impact of lighting your home. LED light bulbs also last much longer than the standard incandescent bulb, and the technology has also become much, much cheaper than it was previously. When you look at the upsides, it’s pretty clear that LED should be the standard for most lighting tasks. 



We also offer a system called Integrated LED on many of our fixtures. The benefit of Integrated LED is that this system is better at controlling the temperature of the LED module, which improves the system’s lifespan compared to its LED bulb counterpart. While a filament LED bulb may only last 15,000 hours, an integrated LED module can be expected to last about 50,000 hours. Depending on how much the fixture is used, you may not have to change the Integrated LED module for years or decades to come.

While LED certainly represents the future of lighting technology, many people feel there is still a place for incandescent bulbs. The warm, red-orange glow of an incandescent bulb is perfect for decorative use. Incandescent bulbs also come in a variety of unusual shapes and sizes for which you won’t find an LED equivalent. While many LED bulbs are dimmable to one degree or another, incandescent bulbs tend to have a broader spectrum of dimmability. If your lamp or light fixture has an exposed bulb and is used primarily for ambience rather than utility, an incandescent bulb can be a good option.

Shopping by Shape and Size

Light bulb manufacturers use a specific code of letters and numbers to differentiate light bulbs from each other. These codes indicate the shape, size, and base diameter of their respective bulbs. We’ve tried to keep bulb shopping simple by designing all our fixtures (with the exception of the Integrated LED fixtures, which don’t require bulbs at all) to use the same size base. Hence, the letter and number combination on one of our light bulb product pages refers to the bulb’s shape and size.
To start, the letter indicates the bulb’s shape. While every letter in the code has an actual meaning, there is nothing particularly intuitive about them. For example, the “A” in A19 (the teardrop bulb most people recognize as the standard bulb shape) literally stands for “arbitrary.” As a general rule, you probably don’t need to worry too much about the letters.


It is important, however, to consider the number indicating the light bulb’s size. When buying bulbs for shaded fixtures, the bulb will have to fit inside the shade. Bulbs are measured in eighths of an inch, and the code number refers to how many eighths of an inch wide the bulb is at its widest point. That is to say, an A19 bulb is 19/8ths of an inch wide at its diameter, or 2 1/8ths inches. The T14 bulb is 14/8ths, or 1 3/4 inches.




Shopping by Brightness

Balancing bulbs of different brightnesses in a room will help to give the space the best combination of utility and ambience. As a general rule, the more activity that takes place in a space, the brighter its lights need to be. Kitchens function best when they have plenty of light to reach into dark cupboards and illuminate work surfaces. Bathrooms always benefit from a bright vanity light for fixing hair or putting on makeup. Spaces like offices and living rooms, however, tend to benefit from dimmable overhead lighting paired with several types of accent lighting.

Most of us grew up thinking about the brightness of a light as measured in watts. The quick and dirty formula for converting watts to lumens is as follows: 
1 Watt = ~12.5 lumens

This formula doesn’t quite hold true at higher brightnesses, though. And since most incandescent bulbs have been replaced by LED bulbs, it’s worth retraining yourself to think about lighting in terms of lumens per square foot. For general lighting, you’ll need about 20 lumens per square foot. Elevated surfaces like countertops and tables require a little bit more, usually about 30 lumens a square foot. Work surfaces and vanities work best with 40-50 lumens per square foot. To figure out how many lumens an area you want to illuminate will require, take the square footage of the area and multiply it by the number of lumens indicated above. A 250 square foot dining room, which needs 30 lumens per square foot, will require about 7500 total lumens.

Shopping Light Bulbs by Look

Exposed bulb fixtures give you the opportunity to transform the look and function of your fixture as often as you like. Decorative incandescent bulbs are ideal for providing a warm glow akin to candle light. The Radio Bulb, Edison Marconi, and Edison Beacon bulbs are good options if you want to experiment with how different bulb shapes change the feel of the fixture. Gold and silver tipped bulbs give a bright metallic flash that’s perfect for chandeliers like the Satellite 6, or in sconces like the Alabax. Our porcelain LED bulbs add a different type of refinement to fixtures. Chandeliers like the Vega 5 come alive when paired with the Oval Matte Porcelain LED Bulb, no shade required.

Hopefully this guide has given you the tools you need to know how to shop for light bulbs. Remember that experimentation is the best way to dial in your personal space because every room has its own unique requirements depending on its paint color, natural light availability, amount of work area, and more. Take some time to swap in different shapes, sizes, and finishes of light bulb and watch how your space changes.


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