If you’ve stopped at your local Home Store in the last 2 years, you’ve probably noticed a quickly expanding light bulb section. Gone are the days of 60W or 100W options. Now you can choose your shape, technology, lumens, and more. Huh?? Stress no more. Here’s a quick guide to finding what you need.
Did you know that incandescent light bulbs (what you might call “normal” or “old-school”) have basically not changed since Thomas Edison invented them back in 1879? They make light by heating up a tiny strip of metal so hot that is glows. Basically, they’re really inefficient and they don’t last very long.
The good news is that there are great options out there. You might have heard some ugly rumors about the new bulbs on the market – CFLs and LEDs – but the technology has been ironed out a lot in the last few years, and quality CFLs and LEDs are now inexpensive, reliable, efficient, long-lasting, and produce great light.
What do you need to know to choose your new bulb? Just three decision to make:
How bright do you want your light? Most experts agree the next generation of light bulb buyers will shop for an “800 lumen” bulb instead of a “60 Watt” bulb.
Lumens is the science term for how much light something makes. What you need to know is that more lumens equals a brighter lamp or room. Most boxes still say things like “60 W-equivalent”, but better avoid getting something too bright or too dim by using this quick chart:
- 40W incandescent = 450+ lumens
- 60W incandescent = 800+ lumens
- 100W incandescent = 1600+ lumens
Quick note – this chart is best for readers in the US, Canada! Other countries have different electricity systems, making the numbers a bit different.
Kelvin – what color?
This part is much easier than it sounds, and lets your eyes be comfortable in your light. Basically light is not all the same color. Some lights are more yellow, like a candle flame, and some are more blue/white, like daylight in the middle of a summer day.
All LEDs and some CFLs will be labeled with a Kelvin (K) number. The lower the number, the yellower the light. If you want to stick with tradition, look for 2700K – the same color as old incandescent bulbs. Daylight is considered 5500K. The “cool white” fluorescent bulbs in office buildings are around 4200K.
The only real “rule” about choosing the Kelvin scale is to always get matching K-level light bulbs! If you have a 2700K bulb in your lamp and 4200K bulbs in the chandelier, the light colors will visibly clash and just look weird in your space. So pick one “color” you like and go with it for an entire room or connected space!
Fun fact: some communities now have LED “rentals” or displays where you can try out different K-levels of light and see what works best before buying.
CFL or LED?
CFLs, or “those swirly bulbs”, have been around long enough that most people recognize them. They’ve gotten much better since they first came out. LEDs are quickly becoming more popular. Just a few years ago they cost $50-$100 per bulb! Now you can find many options between $5-$15 per bulb. Both CFLs and LEDs have pros and cons. Here’s a run-down on what might work best for you.
- Warm-up time: LEDs are instant on. CFLs usually take a few seconds to get fully bright, so are less ideal for places you need light right away, like dark scary stairways.
- Lifetime: LEDs definitely last longer, around 25,000 hours on average. That means they’re awesome for vaulted ceilings, crawl spaces, and other places you’d rather never have to change a bulb again. CFLs last about 12,000 hours if they’re used in long doses. Switching CFLs on and off quickly or using them in cold places (cellar, outdoors), can shorten their life significantly. Both are much longer lasting than the 1,200 hour average life of an incandescent bulb.
- Energy Use: CFLs use about 70% less energy than an incandescent. LEDs can use up 80-90% less than an incandescent. No wonder folks are making the switch!
- Disposal: Both CFLs and LEDs can be recycled at special locations (not in your curbside bin!). It’s very important to recycle CFLs because they contain a tiny amount of mercury that really shouldn’t go into our landfills.
- Cost: As of today, it’s possible to find CFLs for about $1 per bulb. LEDs are commonly $5-$10 per bulb, and prices are dropping!
- Dimming: CFLs generally do not work in dimmable fixtures, so those are better to fix up with LEDs that are specifically marked “dimmable”.
The bottom line: for places that need instant-on, dimmable, on-again-off-again, change-me-once-a-decade, or cool temperature lighting function, go with LEDs. Places where lights stay on for 30+ minutes at a time and can handle the other restrictions, CFLs might be a good option for you.
Take this post with you next time you shop to guide you to the new light of your life!