PAR stands for Parabolic Aluminized Reflector. BR stands for Bulged Reflector.
What does the number after PAR or BR mean?
This number is indicative of the diameter of the lamp in terms of 1/8ths of an inch. For example, a PAR38 bulb is (1/8 x 38)” or 4 ¾” across. A PAR20 is (1/8 x 20)” or 2 ½” across. A PAR16 is (1/8 x 16)” or 2” across. And so on and so on…
What is the difference in construction?
PAR bulbs are incandescent, tungsten-halogen, metal halide (some even now have LED replacements, which we’ll touch on later), and have a hard glass cover which is hermetically (airtight or impervious to air or gas) sealed to the reflecting surface. Inside are precisely placed lenses that controls beam spread and cannot be altered in position in relation to the filament. These items’ positions cannot be adjusted or altered in any way. There are flood bulbs and spot bulbs. Flood bulbs diffuse or scatter light, while spots focus all light in one direction.
BR bulbs are a common reflector lamp, w0 ith a bulged reflector. They’re incandescent or electric discharge (as well as LED replacements, but that’s for later!) bulbs. The sides of the outer part of the blown glass bulb are coated with a reflecting material that directs light. The light transmission pattern can be clear, frosted, or even patterned.
That all sounds great and everything, but where do I use them?
A common misconception is that PAR bulbs are only meant for the outside, like in corner “emergency light” applications and that BR bulbs are superior for the indoors. This is false. It really comes down to what application and what you desire for the light appearance. In reality, PAR bulbs have better photometric qualities due to their brightness and light temperatures. They’re also shorter bulbs, allowing them to sit higher in the fixture than a BR bulb. This makes the bulb harder to see (which is desirable), and reduces unwanted glare.
Now—that doesn’t leave BR bulbs without their advantages. The frosted/patterned coating on BR bulbs may create a desired room appearance. PAR bulbs also tend to be a little harsher when it comes to where the light starts and where it ends, due to the way their reflective surface and lens are situated. The lens doesn’t allow light to spread much further than the angle of the beam spread. BR bulbs tend to have a more gradual “fade” in light as the light reaches the outer limits of the beam spread. BR also produce less shadow than PAR bulbs.
In the scheme of things, modern PAR or BR bulbs can be used in a variety of applications. In the past you had to spend time finding an outdoor bulb that was resistant to moisture. Modern PARs make it rather easy to find such a bulb. PARs are still typically better suited for the outdoors than BR or R bulbs are. When it comes to the indoors, it really is all a matter of room appearance. Both are usually considered for use in track lighting, recessed lighting, or as flood lights. BR or R bulbs are often used in common areas and hallways. You see PAR can lighting in some home theater applications. However, these can be entirely switched around just depending on how you want the lighting in your living areas to appear. Keep in mind the “soft edged” lighting of BR bulbs versus the “hard edged” beam spread of PAR bulbs.
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