Have you ever wandered into your hardware store's lightbulb section and wondered where to begin? Finding the perfect bulb can be tricky unless you understand your specific needs and what's out there. The right product selection considers details like bulb shape, how much energy each type uses, and how color temperature affects mood.
The more you know about lightbulbs and how to best use them, the better you can develop an exceptional lighting strategy for your entire home.
While browsing for bulbs, you'll notice a label on the front of every package. These Lighting Facts, which resemble the Nutrition Facts label on food packages, include information on the brightness, wattage, light appearance, life expectancy, and estimated operating costs of the lightbulb for a year. Consumers can save money by comparing the most energy-efficient lightbulbs that also suit their practical and aesthetic needs.
When it comes to brightness, think lumens, not watts. Lumens measure the amount of light a bulb emits; more lumens indicate a brighter bulb, while fewer means dimmer light.
Wattage, on the other hand, signifies a lightbulb's energy consumption. When incandescent bulbs were the norm, shoppers could make selections based on wattage. These days, with more energy-efficient bulbs on the market, lumens make for a more accurate comparison of what buyers are looking for.
Incandescent bulbs are the traditional lightbulbs that most of us remember from our childhood. Electricity heats a filament wire inside the bulb until it glows, an inefficient method that transforms most of the energy used into heat, not light. These bulbs also need replacing every year or so, but they work well with a dimmer. To substitute a standard 100-watt incandescent lightbulb, you'll need another type of bulb that emits 1600 lumens (remember, look at lumens, not watts). A 60W incandescent bulb replacement is equal to about 800 lumens, while 450 lumens will do just fine as a substitute for a 40W bulb.
Light-emitting diode bulbs, or LEDs, are the most energy-efficient of all lightbulb types. They're available in numerous colors — including white —and produce the same lumens as a traditional incandescent bulb while using 25% of the energy. LEDs are perfect for any room or space that needs consistent lighting output with a long-lasting bulb. Though they can be expensive, these bulbs last up to 25 times longer than incandescents. LEDs aren't always dimmable, though, so make sure to check the packaging for detailed information.
Fluorescent lights are the long, cylindrical glass tubes in the ceiling fixtures of kitchens, classrooms, and garage workspaces. These bulbs convert UV light into visible light, and they're almost as efficient as LEDs. CFLs, or compact fluorescent bulbs, are similar, creating very little heat and lasting for thousands of hours. Still, the light they emit is relatively harsh on the skin — not ideal for vanities — and they don't always work with dimmers. They're better suited for overhead fixtures and task lighting, like in your reading lamp.
While halogen bulbs use less energy than incandescent bulbs, they also work by heating a filament to produce light. They last just as long, too: between one to three years before needing replacement. The advantage of halogen lighting is the quality of light, which brings out the vibrant tones in decor and furnishings. Halogen bulbs are the closest to natural daylight. They can get very hot, however, so use them in fixtures not accessible to children or likely to be bumped, like hanging pendant lights, accent lighting, and exterior floodlights.
Smart bulbs are wifi-capable lightbulbs that fit existing lamps and fixtures in your home or office. Connecting smart bulbs enables you to program lighting schedules, create custom illuminations, and control home lighting remotely from a mobile device. Wifi-capable LED bulbs are best for automating overhead and exterior lighting or lamps that you want to come on while you're on vacation. Make sure the pricey bulbs are compatible with your smart home device before investing.
Did you know there's more than one shade of white light? When it comes to lightbulbs, "white" ranges from warm, honey hues to cool blue tones, all measured in degrees Kelvin. Extra warm white light, the color of traditional domestic rooms where brightness isn't essential, is approximately 2700 Kelvin. The brighter, more natural lights used in workplaces are closer to 4000K, while 6000K lights, more akin to daylight, are best for illuminating craft or art stations.
Soft or warm white lightbulbs emit a cozy, yellow tone that makes a bathroom, bedroom, or living area feel more relaxed and welcoming. Bright or cool white lightbulbs, ranging from 3100K to 4500K, emit a more neutral light that's not quite yellow or blue. Use them in the kitchen or home office, incorporating vintage-style bulbs or unique shapes for aesthetics. Anything above 4500K is a daylight bulb and gives off a crisp bluish appearance similar to the sun at noon. Use this bulb to show off decor or in craft rooms and in workshops to increase productivity.
Now that you know how to choose your bulb's brightness, energy consumption, and color temperature, it's time to make last-minute choices on your bulb's shape. Shape variations include globe, flames, and pear-like forms, but vintage-style "Edison" bulbs are a growing trend. They still come in LED, but the bulbs mimic old-school filaments for a classic look. LEDs are still much more versatile, with some bulbs producing lights from the whole color spectrum.