The Difference Between Indoor & Outdoor Light Bulbs

Dec 21, 2021

When it’s time to replace outdoor lighting, it is very important to make sure you buy the right kind of bulbs. Not only is it a safety concern, but also a function concern. Bulbs that are not built to be used outdoors will not function well when exposed to moisture.

While it is not recommended to use indoor light bulbs for outdoor fixtures, outdoor bulbs are a bit more versatile. Outdoor bulbs are almost always appropriate to use indoors as well.

Looking for clarity on the difference between indoor and outdoor bulbs? Read on to learn about the way bulbs are rated for outdoor use, and the different types of light bulbs for outdoor fixtures.

UL Rating

When you read the online description or look at the box for a light bulb, you will see a UL listing. This rating is representative of the bulb’s ability to withstand damp or wet conditions. Use the UL listing to determine the difference between indoor and outdoor light bulbs.

UL listing categories are as follows:

“Dry Locations”
Can be safely used in living rooms, bedrooms, hallways, and kitchens. Dry location bulbs should not be used outdoors.

“Damp Locations”
Can be safely used in bathrooms, including in the shower, indoor pool areas, utility rooms, and unfinished basements. Damp location bulbs can be used in fully covered areas outdoors. For example, covered porches, gazebos, and under large awnings are all suitable locations for damp location bulbs.

“Wet Locations”
Can be safely used in open outdoor areas such as dining areas, walkways, and patios. If you have landscape or hardscape lighting around your home, including path lights and garden accent lighting, these bulbs will need to be wet location rated.

If you find yourself uncertain about whether a fixture will need a damp or wet location rated bulb, it is always best to err on the side of caution and choose the wet rated bulb.


Standard incandescent light bulbs can be used outdoors so long as they are not directly exposed to rain. Covered locations are best for standard incandescent bulbs. If you think a light bulb will be exposed to the elements, check its packaging to be sure it is rated for outdoor use.

LED Lights

LED light bulbs are available in all UL rating levels. If you are planning to use energy efficient lighting outdoors, check the LED packaging for its UL rating. Depending on the level of weather exposure, choose a bulb that is either damp or wet location rated.

If the LED bulb will be completely exposed, use a wet location bulb. For enclosed fixtures or fixtures under an awning, a damp location rating is the minimum.


You are not likely to find fluorescent lighting for outdoor use. Fluorescent tube lighting (T8s) are temperature sensitive, which makes them a poor choice for outdoor use in places with variable temperatures throughout the seasons.

With this in mind, it is important to check on the T8s in your garage. If your garage falls below zero degrees Fahrenheit, they may stop working.

In addition, the ballast fixture for your T8s should also be rated for the same temperature resistance.


CFL bulbs should only be used indoors because they will not function in cold weather. Typically, CFL bulbs are UL rated for dry indoor locations only.

If you really must use CFLs outside or in a cold location, you can find Cold Cathode CFLs (CCFLs), which are suitable for colder temperatures.

TCP Lighting Solutions

Now that you know what kind of light bulbs you can use outdoors, you’re ready to transform your outdoor spaces for increased curb appeal.

In the same way that lighting can change the feel of interiors, investing in outdoor lighting can bring a great ROI when it comes to curb appeal and the appearance of your outdoor entertaining spaces.

Ready to light up your yard, patio, or porch? Shop TCP’s selection of outdoor LED bulbs. As leaders in innovative energy efficient lighting, TCP’s outdoor bulbs are built to last and save you money on your monthly electricity bill.

Use our Easy-to-Buy TCP online quote program to create your shopping list. Then, we’ll connect you to the best distributor near you so you can make your vision a reality.

Shop TCP Bulbs >

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