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Types of Bulbs Used in Security Lighting


Two Uses for Security Lights

Security lighting is used in two ways:

1.      Constant light (at night) as a deterrent for intruders.

2.      Light triggered by a motion sensor to alert the intruder that he is in unsafe territory and/or to alert the owner.


If a constant light is needed, then the bulb needs to be bright and also, if feasible, energy-efficient. If the light is triggered by a motion sensor, then energy efficiency of the bulb may be less of an issue and brightness becomes the central goal.


For either of the two uses, security lighting is different from household lighting in that it is often located in places that are hard to reach, such as on or near roofs or on tall poles. It is important, therefore, that the bulbs are long-lasting and not fragile so they don’t have to be changed frequently. 


Strengths and Weaknesses of Preferred Bulbs

Standard incandescent bulbs are fragile and also last a shorter time than High Intensity Discharge (HID) bulbs, halogen bulbs, and light-emitting diode (LED) lights. Standard fluorescent bulbs last longer than standard incandescent bulbs too but they are not designed for outdoor use. HID bulbs, halogen bulbs, and LED lights, therefore, are normally better choices in security lighting.


If HID bulbs, halogen bulbs, and LED lights last longer and are less fragile than standard incandescent bulbs, then you might ask, “Why are they not typically used in household light fixtures?” First, these types of lights are more expensive and second, HID and halogen bulbs run very hot and can be a burn hazard. A halogen lamp can get up to 4,500 degrees Fahrenheit. HID bulbs use a spark instead of a filament and that is why they burn much hotter than standard incandescent bulbs.


Halogen bulbs last longer than standard incandescent bulbs because they use quartz rather than glass to enclose a tungsten gas and the gas is recycled within the bulb to keep it burning longer than a standard incandescent bulb. Halogen bulbs will provide one of the brightest lights, second only to the HID lamps. 


The two primary limitations for LED bulbs for security lighting are cost and brightness. An individual LED cannot put out more than 200 lumens of light. For comparison, a typical fixture with dozens of strong LEDs might be equivalent to a 40-watt halogen bulb. If the security lights are solar powered, LEDs may be the preferred type of light because LEDs require less electricity per lumen than other bulbs.


If a great deal of light is needed, such as for a large yard, the HID bulbs should be considered. The most commonly used HID lamp is the Metal Halide lamp which uses mercury vapor, metal salts, and rare earth. The HID lamps provide the most light among the bulbs but they also cost the most. A powerful (3,500 lumens) HID lamp can cost $500 or more. Further, an HID lamp takes awhile to warm up to full capacity.



If a constant light is needed at night, then LED lighting should be considered for security lighting because it is energy-efficient; likewise, if the light is to be powered by a solar panel, an LED may be the best choice because of the light’s energy efficiency.  If a constant light needs to be bright and cover a large area, then the HID lamp should be considered.  If the light will only be triggered by a motion sensor, then a halogen light should be considered because it produces a strong light (for its size) and will not stay on for very long at a time.