Lighting Terms
Accent Lighting

Localized and directional lighting used to highlight, focus attention or dramatize a room or outdoor space. As part of a decorating scheme, it is used to spotlight paintings, houseplants and other possessions, or to highlight the texture of a wall, drapery or outside landscaping. Accent lighting requires at least three times as much light on the focal point as the general lighting around it.

Architectural Lighting

This broad term generally refers to built-in fixtures, such as downlighting, valance lighting or a luminous ceiling. Some people also include functional lighting, such as track or simple fluorescent, which has an architectural appearance.

Average Rated Lamp Life

The number of hours required for half of a large group of lamps to fail or burn out. The actual life of any lamp or small group of lamps will typically be different from the average rated life.


Electrical or electronic component required for fluorescent (and HID) lamps. Ballasts provide enough voltage to start the lamp and then limit the current for continuing operation.


The end of the lamp that inserts into a lamp socket. The end or ends of a lamp that makes electrical and mounting connections.

Brushed Finish

Satin or lightly textured finish, usually on metal, produced by brushing with a wire wheel or buffing with a fine abrasive.

Built-In Lighting

Built-in lighting generally refers to lighting equipment mounted into coves and cornices, behind valences, or integrated into furniture and bookcases.


The everyday term for an incandescent lamp. Also refers to the outer glass envelope of the lamp.

Color Temperature

The appearance of white light in terms of warmth or coolness.

Cove Lighting

Light built into a cove, a shelf or ledge at the upper part of a wall, to illuminate the ceiling. Typically fluorescent, cold cathode or low voltage strip.

Damp Location

UL listing for fixtures used in a moist unexposed area, such as a bathroom or porch area.

Deck Lights

Deck lights typically mount to the outside of a home or to the railing of a wooden deck. Since they are located near where people sit, good shielding and proper mounting height are important to reduce glare.


Light control device that spreads light by scattering it. Opal glass and plastic, etched glass, fabric and paper shades act as diffusers.


Control that varies the output of the light source by reducing the voltage or current to the lamp.

Direct Lighting

Lighting that casts all, or at least 90%, of its light downward. The term can also refer to the distribution of light or the fixtures that produce this type of lighting. With intense beams, direct lighting is very dramatic, rendering forms and textures well. Typical fixtures include recessed lights, track lights, some pendant lights and task lights.

Extended Life Lamp

Incandescent lamp with 2500+ hours of rated average life and reduced output; uses a stronger filament.


The tightly coiled tungsten wire of an incandescent lamp; glows to produce light when electricity flows through it.

Fluorescent Lamps

Lamps which operate by creating an electric arc inside a gas-filled tube. The colour of the light is determined by the type of phosphor coating used in the lamp.


Unit of illuminance (light falling on a surface). One lumen falling on one square foot equals one-foot candle. Also, a measurement of the amount of light reaching a subject.

G Lamp

Globe-shaped incandescent, generally for exposed use.

General Lighting

Also known as ambient lighting, general lighting provides an area with overall, non-specific illumination. General lighting radiates a comfortable level of brightness, enabling one to see and walk about safely. It can be accomplished with chandeliers, ceiling or wall-mounted fixtures, recessed or track lighting or with outdoor fixtures.


Bright lighting that causes discomfort and impairs good visibility. Possible causes may be light sources that are too bright for the application, or fixtures that may not conceal bulbs sufficiently, among many others.

Grazing Light

Directional light at an acute angle, which emphasized texture. The sources of grazing light must be close to the surface. See also Wall Grazing

Halogen Lamp

Incandescent lamp with halogen gas fill and a quartz glass capsule. The quartz capsule requires a separate glass shield or enclosure. Due to the halogen cycle, halogen lamps operate at higher internal temperatures, producing more lumens per watt and brighter light than ordinary incandescent; lamp life is also extended. Halogen lamps include A, MB, T, PAR and MR types.

Incandescent Lamp

Produces light with a wire filament, which create light as it is heated by electric current.

Indirect Lighting

Lighting that directs all or most light upward for ambient or general illumination; comfortable illumination with few shadows.Typical fixtures include uplight cans, fluorescent lighting aimed up, track lights aimed up and torchieres.

Junction Box

Enclosure that protects spliced wires and supports surface fixtures, such as wall fixtures or ceiling fans. Also called an outlet box.


Scientific unit of temperature. Colour temperature is measured on the Kelvin scale.

Kilowatt Hour

KWH. A unit of measurement for electrical energy. One kilowatt hour equals 1000 watts of energy used for one hour.


Equipping a fixture with a lamp.


Light Emitting Diode. A small, solid state device used to indicate dimmer or control status; also used in signs and control units.

Lighting Controls

Devices which give you flexibility, decorative effects and multiple uses from your lighting sources. Today's sophisticated dimming systems enable you to lower the light level to conserve energy and increase bulb life; vary the mood of a room; alter light source intensity; create lighting scene in each room. Types of controls include integrated dimming systems, touch dimmers, slide dimmers and rotary dimmers.

Light Distribution

Pattern of light produced by a fixture, or created in a room

Light Sources

The performance of any light fixture depends on the light source, or bulb, that's used. Different sources produce different effects.

Low Voltage Fixtures

Task, linear or accent lighting products for low voltage lamps. A transformer is required for these fixtures and may by integrated, local or remote.

Low Voltage Lamps

Incandescent lamps that operate at 6, 12 or 24 volts. Low voltage lamps require a step-down transformer to reduce the voltage from the normal household 120 volts.

Low Voltage Lighting System

A type of lighting that operates on 12-volt or 24-volt current rather than the standard 120 volts. Power is supplied by a transformer, which is itself connected to 120-volt power.


The amount of light that a bulb produces. Unit of output; technically "Luminous flux."

Motion Detector / OC sensor / Occupancy Sensor

Control that uses passive infrared or ultrasonic detection to sense whether someone is present or not, and to turn a light on or off appropriately. Commonly used in outdoor flood or spot fixtures. "Automatic On" sensors turn lights on when presence; "Manual On" sensors require you to press a switch. Both types turn lights off automatically when they no longer sense a presence.

MR Lamp

Multi-facet reflector lamp, of which the most popular is MR16. MR lamps surround a halogen capsule with a computer-designed glass, or metal reflector with many surfaces or facets. These compact lamps require a glass cover, either integral or with the fixture.

Outdoor Lighting

Any hard wired, low-voltage or solar powered lighting system that is used in an exterior space. Outdoor lighting can enhance the beauty of your home, making it safer and more secure. Outdoor lighting typically is an investment that pays off in the value it adds to a home.


Light-sensitive device used to operate fixtures according to available daylight. They are used in solar lighting and to turn outdoor or security lights on and off at dusk and dawn.

Quartz Lamp

Or quartz halogen. Term derives from the quartz glass that encloses the filament and halogen gas. Quartz glass can withstand the high pressure of the halogen lamp, but it transmits more UV radiation than ordinary hard glass. Touching the quartz glass with bare hands leaves an oily residue that greatly reduces lamp life.

Rated Lamp Life

The point in hours where 50% of a lamp type initially started will still be functioning.


A piece of material with a reflective surface that directs light in a desired direction. Reflectors are frequently specular, but may also be glossy, diffuse or matte.


A project where the existing lighting fixtures in a home or office setting are cleaned and new lamps installed.


Upgrading a fixture, room or building by installing new lighting fixtures, parts or equipment.

Satin Finish

Slightly textured or brushed surface having a fine grain that reflects light with some diffusion.


The arch or scallop-shaped pattern from a light fixture.


Accent lighting technique that creates a dramatic outline by back lighting. Also used in landscape lighting.


In architecture, the underside of an overhead component, such as an arch, cornice, beam or balcony. Often used to describe an area of the ceiling that drops below the primary surface.

Solid State

Electronics that use semi-conductor chips and circuitry.

Specialty Lighting

A broad term referring to everything from line and low voltage strip lights to special display or controlled lighting as seen in retail and commercial applications.

Specular Finish

Highly polished and mirror-like. Semi-specular finish is generally bright, but without a well-defined mirror image.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel resists corrosion and has a rich, deep lustre. It is particularly used in bathroom and kitchen settings for a clean, contemporary look.

Step Lights

Step Lights are recessed into walls and stairs so they illuminate the treads of stairs or pathways. An eye shield is often used to block direct view of the light source.


Tubular Lamp; may be incandescent, halogen or fluorescent.

Task Lighting

Light directed to a specific area or surface that provides illumination for visual tasks, such as reading, sewing or cooking. It can be provided by recessed and track lighting, portable lighting or pendant lamps. Task lighting should be free of distracting glare and should be bright enough to prevent eyestrain.


Device that turns lights on and off at pre-programmed times.


Indirect floor lamp that sends all, or most, of its light upward.


A device used to raise (step up) or lower (step down) the electric voltage. For example, many halogen ceiling fixtures require a transformer to function properly. Step down transformers reduce household voltage (120 volts) to low voltage used in accent and landscape lighting. Larger transformers reduce high voltage used for efficient power distribution to safe and flexible household voltage. Input voltage is on the primary tap; output voltage on the secondary tap.


Sometimes the edge or visible part of a recessed downlight; as in "white trim". Sometimes the finishing section of the recessed fixture; as in "housing and trim."


Recessed fluorescent fixture for use in a suspended ceiling; derived from the words "trough" and "coffer."

Tungsten-Halogen Lamp

A gas filled tungsten incandescent lamp containing a certain amount of halogens that intensifies the light source. More commonly referred to as "Halogen" lighting.

Undercabinet Fixtures

Fixtures which are placed under a cabinet or room recess to provide task and accent lighting. Under kitchen cabinets they can light a countertop with task lighting. In a display cabinet they can be used to illuminate a prized collection. They include slim, energy-efficient fluorescents, miniature track lighting and strips of low-voltage mini-lights.


Underwriters Laboratory. Commonly referred to as "UL". An independent organization whose responsibilities include rigorous testing of electrical products. When products pass these tests, they can be labeled and advertised as "UL Listed". UL tests for product safety only.

Ultraviolet Light (UV)

Light that is shorter in wavelength and higher in frequency than visible violet light.

Valance Lighting

A fixture installed behind a horizontal shielding over a window or along a wall. Light is distributed up and down, usually from a fluorescent source.


Unit of electrical force or pressure. Household voltage in the UK, nominally 240V, varies between 220V and 250V. Household voltage in the United States, nominally 120 volts, varies between 110 and 125 volts.

Voltage Drop

Difference in voltage along a circuit. Voltage drop becomes a problem with low voltage wiring and small cable, reducing the intensity of the lights at the far end of the cable.


A unit of electrical power.


The amount of electricity consumed by a bulb.


A heavy, colorless, and relatively inert gaseous element that occurs in air as about one part in 20 million by volume. Xenon Lamps are often used for under cabinet and cove lighting systems.

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