What Are The Different Bulb Types For Recessed Lighting?

Understanding the different light bulb types used in recessed lighting can be a little tricky. But having the correct bulb can make a world of difference. Read on to discover the different types of bulbs, what the different shapes provide, and which ones are best for your specific application.

What Type Of Light Bulbs Are Used For Recessed Lighting?

Four common light bulb types are used in residential recessed lights. These are incandescent, compact fluorescent, halogen, and LED. So, let’s discover more about each of these light bulb types.

Incandescent Light Bulbs

This light bulb is the most traditional light bulb and has been used for over a century in houses worldwide to provide light. The incandescent light bulb is by far the least efficient. On average, it only uses 10% of the electrical energy to provide light. The remaining 90% is lost in the form of heat.

inserting incandescent light bulb into recessed light

The incandescent light bulb works by letting an electrical current pass through a thin filament wire. The current causes the filament to become hot and glow, giving off visible light.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL)

The CFL is much more energy efficient compared to the incandescent light bulb and is a perfect alternative. This bulb uses a gas-filled tube that can be twisted or folded to keep it compact. This helps it maintain a long enough structured tube while taking up the same amount of space as the traditional bulb.

A CFL works by allowing an electrical current to flow through the gas-filled tube. The electrical current then reacts to the phosphor coating inside the tube wall to emit visible light. CFL bulbs require a ballast to regulate the electrical current flow through the tube.

compact fluorescent lamps for recessed fixtures

They can be found in two forms: self-ballast bulbs, which have the ballast inside the bulb structure itself, or non-ballast, which will require the recessed light fixture to have ballast.

Halogen Light Bulbs

Similar to a traditional incandescent bulb, the halogen bulb is smaller and utilizes a filament housed inside a tiny quartz capsule. This quartz capsule is filled with halogen gas. These light bulbs are more efficient than traditional bulbs but burn much hotter, brighter, and last much longer.

inserting halogen bulb in recessed lighting socket

Light Emitting Diodes (LED)

LEDs are semiconductors that emit bright light when an electrical current is passed through them. This technology is quickly replacing the traditional incandescent, halogen, and CFL bulbs as they are the most energy efficient by a significant margin.

The benefits of using LEDs are that they are dimmable and do not contain any harmful gas. An LED bulb will last for many years without failing. The benefits of LEDs compared to other light bulbs make them a popular choice.

LED bulbs used for recessed lighting

The Different-Shaped Bulbs For Recessed Lights

The bulb’s shape will determine the direction of light that will be emitted from it. A standard letter code that refers to the shape of the bulb can be found on the package.

  • Arbitrary bulbs (A) – are the traditional style of the incandescent light bulb. They are omnidirectional and have no reflector to direct the light.
  • Reflector bulbs (R) – use a reflector surface to direct the light in a single downward direction. This reduces the upward light by redirecting it downwards.
  • Bulged Reflector bulbs (BR) – are the improved version of the reflector bulb. The bulge near the bulb’s base focuses more of the light directly in the beam that emits the light downwards.
  • Parabolic Aluminized Reflector bulbs (PAR) – are cone-shaped and have a reflective surface that emits a tighter beam of light. This bulb is ideal for stage lighting or home art display cases.
  • Multifaceted Reflector bulbs (MR) – have a highly reflective surface that is filled with small facets (mirror surfaces). These facets collect the light and shape it into a tightly controlled beam.
  • Tube, Twist, or Spiral CFL bulbs (T, TT, S) – are shaped fluorescent bulbs. This increases the length of the tube, increasing the amount of emitted light. The tube is usually placed inside a cone shape reflector to direct the light in a single downward direction.

The Lighting Facts Label

The lighting facts label that can be found on the bulb packaging has the performance specifications of that particular light bulb. The label will help you determine if the bulb is correct for your application. Let’s examine some of these facts that are found on the label.

  • Light Brightness or Output – is the amount of light contained in an area. This measurement is in lumens. The higher the lumens amount, the brighter the light.
  • Watts or Energy Usage – is the amount of energy the light bulb uses to stay illuminated.
  • Yearly Energy Cost – is the quantity of energy the bulb will consume in a calendar year. It is based on the average usage of three hours per day and is measured in Kilowatts (kW)
  • Average Life – is given in total hours or years. The yearly figure is based on three hours of usage per day.
  • Color Accuracy – is based on the Color Rendering Index (CRI). It measures the color accuracy out of 100.
  • Light Appearance or Light Color – is the color temperature of the light the bulb emits and is measured in kelvins (k). A lower figure describes a warmer appearance, while a higher figure a cool to bright white light.

The Best Bulbs For Recessed Lights

Using the correct light bulb in your recessed lights can make a vast difference in the appearance of the room or object you want to illuminate. Below are a few examples with the information from the fact label.

General Recessed Lighting

General lighting will illuminate the whole room. The bulbs must be bright with a wide beam angle to cover a large area. The color temperature of less than 3,000 kelvin will be warm and inviting.

BulbTypeLumensWattsKelvinCRILife (years)
BR 30Incandescent650 – 7006527001001 – 3
BR 30CFL670 -75014 – 162700 – 6500905 – 9
BR 30LED570 – 80011 – 152700 – 650095up to 25
BR 40CFL1050 – 1200232700 – 6500905 – 9
BR 40LED950 – 120015 – 242700 – 650095up to 25
Bulb types for general recessed lighting

Task Recessed Lighting

Task lighting should be a steady light that illuminates where needed, such as in studies, kitchens, or display cases. PAR bulbs are best suited for this purpose.

BulbTypeLumensWattsKelvinCRILife (years)
PAR 20Halogen550 – 5705030001002 – 4
PAR 20LED320 -5505 – 112700 – 650095up to 25
PAR 30Halogen1030 – 11007530001002 – 4
PAR 30LED620 – 72011 – 152700 – 650095up to 25
Bulb types for recessed task lighting

Accent Recessed Lighting

For accent lighting, the color temperature, beam control, and color rendering must be perfect for displaying a specific item. MR 16 bulbs tick all three of these boxes and are recommended for accent lighting.

BulbTypeLumensWattsKelvinCRILife (years)
MR 16Halogen380 – 430502800 -31001002 – 4
MR 16LED320 – 4405 – 92700 – 650095up to 25
Bulb types for recessed accent lighting