Common Lighting Terms Explained

To make the most out of your lighting project as well as save valuable time and money, be sure to familiarize yourself with the meaning of basic lighting terms

To make the most out of your lighting project as well as save valuable time and money, be sure to familiarize yourself with the meaning of basic lighting terms

By Clarissa Allison | September 18th, 2015

Shopping for new lighting fixtures for your home or business can be exciting. Most of us are preoccupied with thoughts of how the lighting fixtures will perfectly reflect our tastes as well as what items will be affordable and yet still make the right statement.  We also want lighting fixtures that provide an aesthetic that complements our surroundings. But what about the technical aspect of lighting? It’s important that the consumer understand basic terminology used in the lighting industry in order to be able to make the best decisions for a new project or remodel. You don’t have to be a lighting designer to put this information to use! Read on to learn the definitions behind some of the most common lighting terms, and view some of the most popular lighting categories on to peruse the thousands of quality lighting fixtures and accessories available for purchase.

Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFLs)

RAB Lighting VX1F26- Vaporproof CFL Ceiling 26W Quad Tap with Glass Globe

RAB Lighting VX1F26- Vaporproof CFL Ceiling 26W Quad Tap with Glass Globe

We are all familiar with the standard incandescent light bulb. Most of us grew up with these bulbs as being the gold standard for lighting our homes. Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFLs) produce light differently than incandescent bulbs. With incandescent bulbs, electric current runs through a wire filament and heats the filament until it starts to glow. In a CFL, electric current is driven through a tube that contains argon and a small amount of mercury vapor. This combination generates invisible ultraviolet light that excites the fluorescent “phosphor” coating on the inside of the tube.  This phosphor coating then emits a visible light.

CFLs  can start off needing more energy when they are first turned on, but after a short time CFLs use about 70% less energy than incandescent bulbs. A CFL’s ballast helps to regulate the current once the electricity starts flowing.

  • In a fluorescent lighting system, the ballast regulates the current to the lamps and provides sufficient voltage to start the lamps. Without a ballast to limit its current, a fluorescent lamp connected directly to a high voltage power source would rapidly and uncontrollably increase its current draw. - (via

Older CFLs used large magnetic ballasts that caused a buzzing noise in some bulbs. Most CFLs today — and all ENERGY STAR certified CFLs — use electronic ballasts, which do not buzz or hum.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs)

Artemide Lighting 15918A LED Net Line Ceiling Light Standard

Artemide Lighting 15918A LED Net Line Ceiling Light Standard

LED’s have now exploded onto the market as the go-to choice for ecological lighting.

They can slash power by around 80-90 per cent – bringing electricity bills and carbon emissions way down -and many boast a typical longevity of 50,000 hours meaning they will be replaced far less often than incandescent, halogen  and CFL lamps. LEDs can also produce a very direct source of light, making them great for applications which need directional or spot lighting.

Color Temperature

Understanding the color of light, also known as Kelvin temperature (K), can make it easier for you to choose lighting that will give you the effect you want

Color temperature is a characteristic of visible light that has important applications in lighting, photography, videography, publishing, manufacturing, astrophysics and other fields.  Basically, color temperature is a measure of the light bulb’s color when illuminated, and is measured in degrees Kelvin. Basically, the higher the number, the whiter and then the bluer, the color output will be.

Check out this cool video made by which easily depicts the different cast of each color temperature.


Lumens measure how much light you are getting from a bulb. More lumens means it’s a brighter light; fewer lumens means it’s a dimmer light. These days, it’s more important than ever to consider how many lumens a bulb has as opposed to wattage. With LEDs, the wattage number is going to be a much lower number than a standard incandescent bulb, but will still match or surpass it for brightness (lumens).


 UL Listings for Dry, Damp or Wet Locations

Most of the lighting fixtures sold in the United States have been tested and rated by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent product safety certification organization. The UL Listed rating can be very confusing if you aren’t familiar with how the listing is determined.

UL Listed (for Dry Locations)

A fixture with a UL Dry Rating may be used in any area  indoors, which is not directly exposed to excessive moisture and water.  A guideline to keep in mind is that, if the fixture is not explicitly rated for wet or damp applications it should be considered a UL dry location fixture at all times. Dry Locations include living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, hallways and most areas in bathrooms.

UL Listed for Damp Locations

Only lighting fixtures and fans marked “Suitable for Damp Locations” or “Suitable for Wet Locations” can be used in damp locations. A fixture with a UL Damp Rating can be used in protected outdoor areas that are sheltered from direct contact with excessive moisture (such as rain, snow or ocean spray). Indoor Damp Locations include indoor pool areas, utility rooms and over bathtubs or showers in bathrooms (without risk of direct water contact). Outdoor damp rated fixtures can only be used in fully protected locations like covered patios that are not directly exposed to water, even during storms.

UL Listed for Wet Locations

Only lighting and fans marked “Suitable for Wet Locations” can be used in wet locations, both indoors and outdoors. A wet location is a location in which water or other liquid can drip, splash, or flow on or against electrical equipment. A wet location luminaire will be constructed to prevent the accumulation of water on live parts, electrical components, or conductors not identified for use in contact with water. Outdoor Wet Locations include open-air decks and patios, uncovered porches, outdoor dining areas, exterior walls, gazebos, pergolas and walkways. Indoor Wet Locations include shower enclosures.

If you have questions on more lighting terms, we’re happy to help. Please contact us toll free at 1-877-385-2104 or email The Louie Lighting Team wishes you a safe and happy weekend.

Common Lighting Terms Explained

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