Follow our simple guide to which bulbs should be used for which purpose, and you won't go wrong.
Remember: never to put a higher wattage bulb than the fitting instructions suggest; and buy the highest wattage allowed then control it with a dimmer.
The everyday household bulb.
- Light: warm, yellowish.
- Available in: clear, pearl, silver reflector or coloured versions with bayonet cap (BC), small bayonet cap (SBC), Edison screw (ES or E27) and small Edison screw (SES or E14). The clear type is best when the bulb is visible, in a chandelier for example, whereas the silver reflector is perfect for spotlights.
- Ideal for: creating warmth, cosiness, intimacy.
- Advantages: cheap and easy to find. They use mains electricity and don't need transformers or additional equipment.
- Disadvantages: if you use a wattage that's too high your paper shade might get scorched, which could be dangerous. Constantly switching them on and off will shorten the lifespan. They tend to blow suddenly.
Known simply as halogen bulbs, they burn at a much higher heat than tungsten and the case has to be made from quartz rather than glass to withstand the temperature.
- Light: whiter and purer than tungsten.
- Available: in low voltage (low-voltage tungsten halogen or LVTH) and mains voltage. For the former, you'll need a transformer, fitted or inbuilt, to keep the wattage down to 12 volts.
- Ideal for: uplighters.
- Advantages: energy-efficient. With low-voltage bulbs, the design can be slim and compact. The mains-voltage type can be used in conventional fittings without a transformer, but ask your electrician or manufacturer to be sure.
- Disadvantage: expensive to replace.
They're associated with the harsh, buzzing strips of factories and offices, but they're now available in lots of new varieties.
- Light: flat (curved and circular tubes are better).
- Available in: compact fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent bulbs (known as compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs) that look like ordinary ones.
- Ideal for: mini strip lights in kitchens.
- Advantages: energy efficient and economic. Can be used with mains-voltage fittings.
- Disadvantages: can't be fitted with dimmers.
They cast distinct pools of light onto the surface below. They're usually recessed into the ceiling or mounted on the surface and can be fixed or directional. They suit modern and period homes, but you might not have enough recess in the ceiling or prefer not to cut into it and disrupt plasterwork or period detail.
Install downlighters in areas where fixtures are unlikely to move, such as above kitchen and bathroom surfaces, rather than at the ends of furniture. Without wall lights the effect can be gloomy, and rows of them can make you feel as though you're in a shop.
The eyeball type of downlighter that can be swivelled is perfect for accent lighting to highlight a particular feature.
Lighting empty rooms and using bulbs of the wrong wattage for the fittings are two of the most common ways to waste energy.
Try these simple ways to cut down your electricity bills and help save the planet.
- Turn lights off when you leave the room.
- Replace ordinary bulbs with low-energy ones, especially those you leave burning for four hours or more. You might have to pay more up front - £5 as opposed to £1 - but you'll save in the long run. They're available in many shapes and sizes, although some can't be used with dimmers.
- Look for CFLs - they use 25 per cent less energy than ordinary bulbs and last up to 13 times longer.
- Fit timers and dimmer switches. Motion sensors that turn on and off when you enter and leave are already being installed in some houses although they're expensive at the moment.
The bulb is encased in a housing and can be ceiling mounted or recessed.
Consider how the fittings will distribute the light. This will depend in part on where you put them and whether you conceal or make a feature of them. Visit the lighting shop armed with your lighting plan.
Think about the look you want. Do you prefer minimalist, for example, or period. Chances are, it's a mixture. Track spotlights can sit comfortably alongside Victorian shades, although they have to be mixed carefully. It is a shame to cut into elaborate plasterwork ceilings to fit recessed downlights, and a chrome-and-steel light fitting might look inappropriate hanging from a Victorian ceiling rose.
Look at the light when it's off as well as on - it can appear quite different. More light will get through transparent shades than opaque ones, which give more localised pools of light.
There are two types of glare - direct and indirect.
Direct glare occurs when you look at a bare bulb - you'll get spots before your eyes and maybe see a lasting image, especially if you're in a darkened room.
Indirect glare is caused by a reflection of light, perhaps in a television or computer screen or even a polished surface. Avoid it by positioning lights so you can't see the bulbs directly. Pendants hanging at eye level are especially uncomfortable for dinner guests.
These usually hang from the centre of the room. Used alone, they're the main cause of the 'interrogation cell' look. Although they're a good starter for general lighting, they need a boost from other sources.
They tend to flatten shadows and cast a dim light. It helps to fit a dimmer or hang them on an adjustable flex so you can change the height or clip them out of the way. They come in a myriad of styles, from the ubiquitous paper lantern to chandeliers.
Lighting is often seen as a technical minefield, but many lights are easy to put in and require no more than an understanding of basic electrical concepts. You should be able to change a fuse, wire a 13 amp plug and know how to select the correct size of fuse so that you don't overload a circuit.
Always read the instructions for any fitting and keep them for future reference. If in doubt, consult a qualified electrician. Once you get into changing the permanent wiring of your house, complicated track lighting and computer-activated lighting systems, it's time to call in the pros.
A tall, freestanding light with a heavy base, which moves up, downand sideways.
Several spotlights or floodlights can be attached to a track to take rows of LVTH or mains-voltage lights with no need for a transfomer. You can use more than one circuit, so you can have all the lights on at once or just some.
They throw light onto the ceiling, which then bounces off, creating a soft look. They work best in rooms with light-coloured ceilings, particularly in studies as the fact that the light is directed upwards prevents glare.
Use them behind sofas or large pieces of living room furniture. The light they create matters more than the lamp, so they're usually tall and slender with minimal decoration. Put them in corners or in pairs and fix them at eye level or higher. A clip-on spotlight angled upwards creates the same effect.
Any fitting mounted on the wall, from shades to frosted fittings. They diffuse light gently into the room and are perfect for adding general lighting. Ceramic bowls diffuse light towards the ceiling; translucent ones give a softer light. They're perfect for hallways and living rooms.
They give off an even stream of light. Often mounted on or recessed into the ceiling. Sometimes only the silver reflector shows, which gives out a brilliant light.