Finding the Best Light for Your Office

Shedding Light on Office Lighting

Have you strolled down the light bulb aisle lately? It's a dizzying array of shapes, sizes, colors, lumens and more. It leaves you longing for the days when you simply replaced a two dollar, 60-watt bulb with another two dollar, 60-watter. But with so many choices, come many opportunities to get your office lighting just right for visual comfort and productivity. Here we shed some light on the most common types and uses.


Invented in 1879 by Thomas Edison, the incandescent bulb works the same way now as it did then. Electricity heats up a wire filament which glows and gives off light...and heat. In fact, more than 90 percent of the energy produced by an incandescent comes from heat, not light. That's why many traditional bulbs are being replaced by fluorescents. On the plus side, incandescents are inexpensive to buy, produce a pleasant yellow-white light and work well with dimmer switches. In an office environment they are good for standard ambient light and for task lighting requiring high levels of brightness.


With fluorescents, light emits when an electrical current passes through a tube filled with argon gas and mercury (note: proper disposal is a must). Long fluorescent tubes are ideal for lighting large areas where little detailed work is needed like office hallways, retail stores, or conference rooms. Compact fluorescents lamps (CFLs) are ideal for desk lamps or areas requiring a moderate amount of close-up work. They produce very little heat, have a long life, and use 20 to 40 percent less electricity than incandescents. CFLs cost more initially but more than pay for themselves in the long run. Newer compact fluorescents offer warmer tones and some styles can even be used with dimmers. Here's a rough guide for converting incandescents to fluorescents:

Incandescent Bulbs

25 Watts

40 Watts

60 Watts

75 Watts

100 Watts

150 Watts

Flourescent Bulb (approximate)

4 Watts

9 Watts

13 Watts

19 Watts

23 Watts

40 Watts


With these bulbs, electricity passes through a tube containing halogen gas, creating a bright, white light, similar to the mid-day sun. Ideal for task lighting and close, detailed work like reading, writing, or drawing, halogen bulbs burn much hotter than other bulbs so they need to be placed away from flammable material with plenty of ventilation. Because the oils from your fingers shorten bulb life, handle cooled halogen bulbs with gloves or a tissue.


The light from a xenon bulb is produced by electricity passing through xenon gas at high pressure. This creates a similar brilliant white light as halogen but xenon lasts up to five times longer - 8,000 to 20,000 hours. Xenon bulbs operate at lower temperatures with a color that's cooler than incandescents, but warmer than a halogen. They have specialized use in projectors, desk lamps, showcase lighting, picture lighting and under-cabinet lighting. Light bulb packaging has recently changed simplifying the selection. On the front of every package you'll find "lighting facts" about brightness, energy cost, life expectancy, light appearance (warm/cool/soft), wattage and mercury content (for fluorescents). The lighting you select, the way you arrange the lights and the bulbs you use in your office will make a noticeable difference in your comfort and productivity. Need help? Your local Office Supply Dealer has a variety of options that can help you see the light.



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