If your eyesight is dimming with age or repair and maintenance issues seem to be shifting to darker corners of your house, it's time to search for the right work light.

Need to know: You want a light that's truly versatile - one that can be squeezed into tight spaces without getting in the way of what you're doing and, at the same time, won't generate lots of heat that might affect the materials you're using or burn your skin.

Choices, choices: A variety of lights are appropriate for home use. Halogen spotlights provide the greatest illumination - especially good for indoor painting on cloudy days - but they generate excessive potentially dangerous heat.

Work lights that use bare incandescent bulbs are the least expensive but also are hot to the touch, can ignite material, and often cast shadows that distort colors. Better versions surround the bulbs with steel or plastic cages to prevent contact with the user or the surface. Some come with hooks; others have clamps that can be fitted to posts, 2-by-4s, and workshop tables.

In a workshop, nothing is better than a shop light that uses cool fluorescent bulbs, but they throw a greenish tint that can make colors look different.

Work lights that use LEDs (light-emitting diodes) cost little to operate and are cool to the touch. They won't brighten a room, but they might shed enough light for under-the-sink pipe repairs or figuring out where all those ants are coming from.

Tight squeeze: Working on car engines means illuminating very small, dark spaces. A fluorescent drop light is best.

Be sure to ask: How often will the bulbs need to be replaced? What do they cost? And how easy are they to find? Work lights often last longer than their manufacturers or the tool line you bought them from, so it's possible you might have to buy a new light just because the bulbs that fit your tried-and-true assistant are available only from a dealer overseas and at great cost.

Good advice: Have plenty of replacement bulbs on hand. They typically burn out just when you need them.

An ounce of prevention: Always make sure you have enough heavy-duty extension cord to connect the work light to a power source. Make sure the outlet is grounded, and, if it's outdoors or in a damp area, on a ground fault interrupter circuit.

Cordless alternatives: Battery-operated lanterns often are sold as part of a package deal that includes other tools. These lanterns often have adjustable heads you can use to focus the light up, down and side to side, are cool to the touch, and operate on a 12- to 24-volt rechargeable battery. They don't cast a lot of light, however, and get weaker as the battery loses its charge. Make sure you have another battery in the charger at all times.

What will it cost? Work lights run $20 to $300, depending on the features offered.

Want Alan J. Heavens' advice on a home-improvement project or purchase? E-mail him at aheavens@phillynews.com or write to him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101.