Different light bulbs used in outdoor lighting
Hi there. And welcome to this article about the light bulbs for outdoor lighting.
Firstly I define what I mean by outdoor light is, and the different types.
Then I take a survey of the different light bulbs used for outdoor lighting.
Finally I discuss some features of these different bulbs types.
Hopefully by the end of this article you will know more about outdoor lighting and the bulbs it uses.
What is Outdoor Light
Firstly, I know what you are going to say. Outdoor lighting is lighting that is outdoors. Indeed it is.
However, if I just said that a car has four wheels, a body and a couple of doors that is true too. And then nobody would write car review articles.
Given that there are lot of different types of outdoor light lets review the main ones.
Main Types of Outdoor Lighting
Firstly let’s divide up outdoor lighting into security, external house and highlighting.
In general security lighting floods particular areas around the home with light. In order to deter criminal activity and increase a sense of security.
By and large the options for security lighting are:
- Dawn-to-dusk lights. Which automatically turn on at dusk and off at dawn. As a result of an internal light sensor.
- Motions sensor lights. Whereby the light is triggered by movement in a specific area. Generally use a wide flood light to illuminate the zone in question.
- Manual switch lights. In this case the home owner switches the external light on and off. For example, porch lights.
Outdoor House Lights
In general we tend to have lights attached to the outside of the house as well as the inside. These can be on outside walls lights to illuminate doors, pathways and stairs. That is, anywhere where we need a little extra light to maneuver safely after dark. In brief, we are talking about accent lighting to highlight specific outdoor features.
Additionally, for those of you lucky enough to have a gazebo or back porch, you may have some outdoor ceiling lights. In effect these external areas are extra rooms in our homes. As such we light them with ceiling mounted lights and pendent fixtures.
Also if you live in a warm region you may have an outdoor ceiling fan. Or order to provide cooling and deter insects. Many of these fans come with an attached lighting fixture.
Landscaping and Highlighting
Finally we also have lighting in our gardens. For example the little solar lights that press into the ground via a spike. Additionally there is external lighting that shines back on the house highlighting various features.
Landscape gardening includes path and stake lighting to illuminate walkways through the garden. Also, deck lighting to shed light on the surface making it easier to navigate.
Highlighting is accent lighting. In order to show off some architectural feature of the house or the outdoor living space. Or to highlight an external feature for safety reasons. Such as stairs or steps.
So what bulbs are in outdoor lighting?
In order to find out what light bulb are most typically used I reviewed a major lighting seller. Lowes offer a huge range of outdoor lighting. As well as selling the bulbs to go with it.
Firstly an overall point. Lots of the outside lighting I looked at had integrated lighting. That is, the light bulb is built directly into the fixture. On the positive side you don’t have to buy bulbs. On the negative side you cant easily change the bulb when it breaks.
Integrated light bulbs lets the manufacturer charge more. Because they are in effect throwing in the bulbs. Also it allows them to seal up the housing protecting the internals against the weather.
If you are going to buy an integrated device my advice is to pick one with a long expected lifetime for those integrated bulbs. Otherwise you could end up having to buy a whole new fixture sooner than you think.
So I looked at the different types of security lighting available
- Dusk to Dawn Lights – 50% were integrated, with mainly LED light sources. In general those that took bulbs used E26.
- Motion Sensor Flood Lights – almost all of these had an integrate LED light sources
- Manual Switch Lights. In contrast most (86%) of these fitting took a separate bulb. Mainly E26, with a few GU8
Outdoor House Lights
Overall I split up outdoor house lighting into four sections. As can be seen below. Again there was lot of integrated light sources.
- Outdoor Wall Lights. As these in effect fixtures, lots did not come with a bulb. Mainly they have E26 bases with a few GU24s.
- Outdoor Flush Mount Lights – Almost all of these take E26 bulbs with a few of the smaller E12s
- Pendant Lights. Unsurprising as these are pretty much standard fixture, only outdoor, none of them were integrated. Overall they took E26, E12, G9 and GU24.
- Ceiling Fan Lights – Those not integrated took E26 and E12 bulbs.
Landscaping and Highlighting
Again lots of models with integrated light sources.
- Path Lights – Non-integrated bulbs were E26 plus a lot of specialist sizes; GU4, GU5.3, GU9, Wedge and E17
- Spot and Flood Lights – About two thirds were integrated, the other taking E26 and GU5.3
So, What Are The Bulb Types
As can be seen there are a couple of main types of bulbs. In fact, these are not bulb shapes. Rather they are the connectors at the bottom of the light bulb.
- The Edison Screws: E12, E17 and E26
- General Usage Pins: GU4, GU5.3, GU9 and GU24
- Wedge Connector Bulbs.
Edison screw light bulbs are the most common type we use in our homes. As shown in the image above, they have a screw base. Normally made out of aluminum.
For E12, E17 and E26 bases, the E stands for Edison Screw and the number is the size in millimeters. So an E12 has a 12mm (1/2 inch) base. Similarly an E17 has a 17mm (5/8 inch) base. And a E26 has a 26 mm (1 inch) base.
Seeing that E26 and E12 are standard, and very popular base sizes almost all bulb shapes can come with these fittings. Often E26 is referred to as medium fitting and E12 as candelabra.
So for outdoor house light you can choose almost any light bulb shape. Whatever suits the fitting style and your preferences. For example, you could pick, bulged, candle, globe, pear, tubular or vintage.
With spot and flood lighting you need to choose the appropriate reflector bulbs. For example, for flood lights you can choose from Bulged Reflector (BR) with a 90 degree beam or Parabolic Aluminized Reflectors (PAR) bulb for a 45 degree beam. PAR and general reflectors (R) also come in tighter beam options. In general smaller bulbs (R20 or PAR20) tend to have tighter beams.
If you want some ideas on the best bulbs see our article on the best E26 light bulbs and E12 light bulbs in the articles section.
Finally E17 is a specialist base size often for appliance and furniture accent lighting. Often referred to as an intermediate base.
General Usage Pins
In brief, general usage (GU) connectors have two points of contact between the bulb and the power. The number after the GU is the distance, in milometers, between the two pins.
However that is where the simple definition ends. Because GU connectors are confusing.
In general the smaller ones have pins. And most of the bulbs with these connectors have a MR body. That is, MR is the bulb type, standing for multifaceted reflector.
- GU4 are the connector for MR14 and take 12 volts
- GU5.3 are the connector for MR16 and take 12 volts
GU9 have 2 loop connectors at the bottom and run off 120 volts. The is no particular bulb shape.
Finally GU24 has 2 connectors that look like small round clogs. Also the bulb runs off 120 volts and is often A-shaped.
In summary general usage is correct. In that these connectors are affixed to a mixed bag of bulb shapes taking different voltages. So take care if you need to buy them. Double check the exact connector and voltage requirements.
If you are interested I discuss further confusing in this connector class in GU10 vs MR16 bulbs.
Finally we come to wedge shaped connectors. Firstly I have to admit that I had not heard of them before researching this article. And secondly they don’t look very wedge shaped to me.
In fact the wedge connector is just two wires that run around the base. As you can see in the image above.
In general you will find these bulbs in automobiles and landscaping. Whereas a smaller version appears in Christmas tree lighting.
So, hopefully this article has given you a good idea of what bulbs are used for outdoor lighting.
Remember when buying outdoor light bulbs make sure that they have an outdoor or damp rating.
To summarize, you will mainly find Edison Screw bulbs, E12 and E26. Also General Usage Pin bulbs GU4, GU5.4, GU9 and GU24. Finally landscape lighting wedge connector bulbs are used in path lighting.