How to Choose the Best Light Bulb for Your Home

2015 Jun 23
Posted in: Electrical

Have you tried to pick out a light bulb and been overwhelmed by the options? 

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s how to navigate the light bulb aisle like a pro:

  • Know your bulb types (LED, CFL and incandescent)
  • Focus on lumens, not watts
  • Match your light colors

So let’s begin…

The 3 main types of light bulbs

There are 3 main types of light bulbs for everyday use in your home. They are:

  • Incandescent
  • CFL
  • LED

Let’s look at each of them in a little detail.

Incandescent bulbs

Originally patented by Thomas Edison, these bulbs have been the prevailing method of illuminating homes for over a century.

How they work: A small wire (or filament) is heated until it glows, producing light. 

Pros: They’re simple and cheap.
Cons: They are very inefficient, converting as little as 5% of the energy they use into light (the rest is converted into heat).

CFL bulbs

CFL stands for compact fluorescent lamp. These bulbs were introduced as a more energy efficient replacement for the incandescent bulb. 

How they work: Electrons and mercury atoms create ultraviolet light that is then converted to visible light as it strikes the fluorescent coating on the bulb.

Pros

  • Much more efficient than incandescents, using as little as ⅕ of the electricity of an incandescent bulb.
  • Longer lifespan. They can last 18 times longer than an incandescent bulb.
  • Less expensive than LED bulbs.

Cons:

  • More expensive than incandescent bulbs
  • They contain mercury, which is extremely poisonous
  • Most are not dimmable
  • Can be damaged by being turned on and off frequently
  • They take a little bit to ‘warm up’. So you might notice the lights come on slowly when you flip a switch

LED bulbs

LED bulbs are actually a device composed of many smaller LEDs. 

How they work: LEDs are small devices where electrons combine with electron holes, giving off light (photons). 

Pros:

  • The most efficient lighting available
  • Longest lifespan
  • Most are dimmable
  • Don’t take any time to warm up
  • Don’t give off any noticeable heat

Cons

  • Most expensive to purchase
  • Not all are dimmable
  • Light output may lessen over time. However, this happens with most types of lighting

So which one is best?

For overall quality, efficiency and lifespan, you can’t go wrong with LED bulbs. They’re more expensive to purchase upfront, but you’ll probably sell your home before you need to replace them. And they don’t give off any heat, which means you could save on your air conditioning bills, also.

If you just want a cheap replacement bulb, incandescent bulbs are your best choice. Just know that you’ll likely be spending more money on them in the long run (both on purchase price and energy costs).

CFLs are a nice middle ground. They’re more efficient than incandescent and less expensive than LEDs. However, they also come with some serious limitations (not dimmable, taking time to warm up, containing mercury).

Lumens vs. watts

Nowadays, you’ll probably see both watts and lumens on every bulb package. But the important one is lumens.

Lumens is a measure of brightness — how much light the bulb will give off.
Wattage is a measure of energy consumption — how much energy the bulb will use.

It used to be that if you were replacing a light bulb, you’d look for a new one with the same wattage as the old one. However, since LED and CFL bulbs are more energy efficient than old incandescent bulbs, they use fewer watts while achieving the same brightness.

Therefore, you’ll want to focus on lumens rather than watts

For example, an old 60-watt incandescent bulb is 800 lumens. So if you’re looking to replace that incandescent bulb with an LED bulb, you’ll want one that’s around 800 lumens, even though it will likely be only 8-10 watts.

Here’s a conversion chart from the NRDC. You can learn more about lumens vs. watts here.

Light bulb options

Now that you know the type of bulb and brightness you need, it’s time to look at light color…

Find your color

Old incandescent bulbs all gave off close to the same color — a warm reddish light. But with the introduction of CFLs and LEDs, you now have many more choices. 

Light bulb color is measured on the Kelvin scale and ranges from 2700K to 6500K. The lower the number, the warmer the light (think candlelight) while the higher numbers are closer to white or blue cool (like daylight).

The packaging will likely have the Kelvin measurement on the packaging as well as a description like “warm white” or “daylight”. Refer to the handy chart below for reference.

Choosing the right light color
A light color chart from Energy Star.

There really is no right or wrong about which color bulb you choose — it comes down to personal preference. 

Choose warmer lights like ‘warm white’ or ‘soft white’ (lower on the Kelvin scale) if you like the light you get from incandescent bulbs. On the other hand, choose cooler lights (higher numbers on the Kelvin scale) if you prefer the color of natural light from windows.

We do recommend at least keeping all the lights in the same room around the same color. That way your decor will look the same no matter which light is on.

That’s it!

Use these 3 steps to help you navigate your home lighting options like a pro! 

And if you need help with something a little more complicated (like installing a new fixture or ceiling fan), we’d be happy to help. Contact us for more information.

George Brazil Plumbing & Electrical is ready to help when you need an electrician in the Phoenix area.