Posted by Doug Root on 8th Jul 2020

Operation, Types, and Usage of Metal Halide Lamps

Once you’ve heard a whole bunch of different terms like “light-emitting diode” “circline fluorescent bulb” and “metal halide light,” some of the details can fall through the cracks. This is especially true within particular categories. As it turns out, a fluorescent lamp isn’t simply a fluorescent lamp; there are many different styles of lights, there are many different bases, and each system requires a ballast to work. The same can be said of many other different categories of light bulbs, specialty lamps, and even the accessories that go with them.

One of these terms, mentioned above in passing, is the category of lights known as metal halide lamps. Like other forms of lighting, they come with their own number of distinguishing features, operate on specific principles, and offer their own list of advantages over alternatives. They’re also available in a number of different styles, and each of them is slightly different from the next.

How It Works

To keep things relatively simple, metal halide (MH) lamps are a type of HID (high-intensity discharge) lamp that uses a combination of metal vapor (usually mercury) and metal halides (salts) that work together to produce a very bright light, very efficiently. Many large area lights such as those that are used to illuminate outdoor sports fields and areas, as street lights, in parking lots, and other large open spaces are metal halide lights or other types of HID lighting.

A metal halide bulb consists of an outer glass bulb and an inner arc tube, typically made of fused quartz to withstand the high temperatures created by the bulbs. The inner tube contains metals, often mercury, gases such as argon or other inert mixtures, and halides. The lamp sends a current between two electrodes within the inner bulb to excite and vaporize the metal into a vapor and to ionize the gas that is contained within. As the metal halides move away from the electric arc between the electrodes, they emit bright white light.

Why It Matters

The primary draw of metal halide bulbs is the fact that they are capable of producing extremely bright white light suitable for lighting up large areas. Despite the fact that they are relatively internally complex and expensive to manufacture, they are also relatively energy-efficient in their discharge of bright light; that makes them popular as alternatives to certain high-pressure sodium lights, mercury-vapor lights, and halogen lamps.

Common Types

Shopping for metal halide lamps requires some particular technical knowledge of the bulb base and its other ratings, such as wattage, in order to find a compatible bulb; this is true for bulbs that will be used outdoors as well as indoors, so a little knowledge can go a long way.

In most instances, you will find metal halide bulbs in wattage ratings ranging from 70 watts on the low end to 1000 watts on the higher end, although some metal halide bulbs are manufactured in wattages up to 1500.

The lower wattages have some niche indoor applications such as the lighting of indoor saltwater aquaria, specifically those containing reefs. Smaller bulbs, such as 70-watt bulbs are becoming popular for this; there are some other options between the 100-watt and 400-watt range for these applications.

Other applications involve lighting up large indoor and outdoor areas, and as mentioned, knowledge of the base shape and wattage are important things to consider. Common base types are the screw type bases E26 and E39, examples of both of which we offer here at Atlanta Light Bulbs, as well as BT56 base metal halide bulbs in higher wattage ratings.

Burn Position

Burn position is something else that is also critical to determine when selecting a metal halide bulb, as many are designed only to be used in a specific burn position. These bulbs often require very specific taxis in order to operate, and many of them produce a lot of heat as well; this makes burn position paramount to success.

Typically, metal halide bulbs can be burned horizontally or vertically; but be careful, because not all vertical orientations are the same. Many lamps can only be burned base up or base down, and not either-or. That is an important factor to consider when shopping for them, and we can help you with that process.

ANSI Codes

Since metal halide lamps, like fluorescent bulbs, require a ballast to regulate the current to provide steady light output and desired performance, it can be useful to determine the information needed to pick one out.

ANSI codes are codes developed by the American National Standards Institute which can be useful in determining the type of ballast you need to use with a given bulb. ANSI codes give the type of lamp as a latter and then a number associated with the style of ballast that is required for use with that lamp. Some common ANSI designations are S for high-pressure sodium, H for mercury, M for metal halide, and C for ceramic metal halide.

For a specific example from our store, take a look at the bulb MP350W/BU/ED28/PS that can be found on our website. Although the item’s name appears confusing, it contains some relevant information along with what is listed on the product page. It is a 350W Metal Halide Bulb, and the ANSI code as listed in the product information is M130, designating this as a metal halide lamp that takes an M131/O ballast. As you can see, there is a lot of information including in product names that you can use to help identify them and their associated equipment. Of course, you could just give us a call to tap our knowledge base as well.

Give Us A Call!

If you aren’t a specialist but you’ve been tasked with coming up with lighting solutions, turn to us first. We’d be happy to go over some of the details regarding metal halide lamps and bulbs and help you work with any technical information you might have that is confusing. We’ll also put you in touch with the lamps that will work for your purposes, as well as suggesting an alternative, where possible. We’ll even work with you on pricing and bulk orders, so give us a call at 1-888-988-2852 today.