How to find the right light bulb

Overwhelmed by all choices in the light bulb aisle at the store? What is wattage, lumens and Kelvin? What's the difference anyway and why do we need all these different light bulbs?


Lighting in your home, I believe, apart from paint, is one of the most important factors to making the space feel the way you want it to. How bright (or not) the room is, the color of the light and how much it costs you to power those lights all depend on picking the right light bulb. So if you are not happy about the lighting in your home, you are embarking on a redesign project, are picking paint colors to change your room(s) completely or (especially) if you are about to put your house on the market for sale, it is time to take a close look at the light bulbs you currently have in your home and likely invest in some new ones to get things right and bright.


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Definitions

Let's start at the beginning by defining, in simple words, what all those terms mean that you see listed on light bulb boxes.


Wattage: the amount of energy it takes to make a light of certain brightness. Incandescent light bulbs ("standard" bulbs) for instance, for a 60W bulb, it creates a light with brightness of about 800 lumens (see definition below).

Lumens: is the measurement for brightness of light (again, wattage the amount of energy it takes to make the light that bright).


Why do wattage and lumens matter?

More energy efficient bulbs light like CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights - the ones that looks like spirals) or LEDs need a lot less watts to make the same brightness as a standard incandescent bulb, so they are a lot more energy efficient. e.g. a 9W LED lamp can produce a light of 800 lumens brightness, just like a "standard" light bulb, which however needs 60W to create that brightness. So if you use LED, because it uses less wattage, you save $$$ and/ or you can get a brighter light for a light fixture.


Max wattage for the light fixture: each light fixture has a max wattage for the light bulbs that you can use. Usually you'll see that by looking at a sticker around where you insert the light bulbs themselves. It'll tell you what type/ shape of light bulb is needed as well as the max wattage. Don't ever use a bulb of a higher wattage than the fixture is made for just to get a brighter light. So what if your light fixture says max 30W but you want a much brighter light? Now that you know that LEDs for instance use a lot less wattage to create the same brightness means that by going with a higher watts LED bulb, you can achieve more brightness.

The next step is where things usually go wrong...

If you just paid attention to the box of the light bulbs and their recommendations on what bulbs you should use where, you'll likely end up with dentist chair lighting in your kitchen and bathrooms. That's because you will see light bulbs called 'Daylight' lighting recommended for those areas where you need bright lights. The problem is, that in order to make the light that bright, the color of the light is blue, which unless you are in a workshop area in the garage or an actual dentist chair, is just not flattering or cozy, natural and I think has absolutely nothing to do with "daylight". So what has gone wrong? Apart from wattage and lumens, we need to pay attention to the most important (in my opinion), the COLOR of the light.



Photo credit: Holly Bellomy


Color of light measured in Kelvin (K): Light color or light appearance is measured on the Kelvin (K) temperature scale. Lower Kelvin numbers means more yellow light; the higher the Kelvin number, the whiter or bluer the light.


2700K is a warm yellow light, probably the one most often used at least in the past (with standard incandescent light bulbs) and based on many articles the light that resembles natural sunlight the best which translates into colors looking "true". So if you are looking for a warm light, slightly yellow, 2700K is for you.


3000K is a little less yellow, appears a little brighter and cleaner. It brightens up a room considerably without making it look sterile or cold. In my opinion, for most applications if you are looking to brighten things up, are remodeling and modernizing, or staging to present your home as airy and bright, this is the color you want to go with: 3000K.


If you go to 3500K, 4000K or higher, the light will appear blue. Unless it is a workshop in the garage, a dentists office chair etc I wouldn't go there even if the box says "great for kitchens and bathrooms. If you are about to put your house on the market and have any of these 4000K or 5000K light bulbs in your home, it is definitely time to switch them out before photos are made for the listing.


Light bulb manufacturers categorize colors by grouping them, but I caution from just using the terms below since I have seen inconsistencies in the naming convention/ categorization. E.g. some manufacturers count 3000K to Soft White while others adds it to the Warm White category. It is best to use the number Kelvin.


  • Soft white: yellow light. Mostly 2700K, some manufacturers include 3000K in this category.

  • Warm white: a little less yellow, cleaner. 3000K-4000K.

  • Bright white: between the bright white and blue range. 4000K-5000K.

  • Daylight: blue range. 5000K-6500K (Hello dentist!)


So what is the perfect light bulb?

Personally, my go to are LED light bulbs (like these 3000K dimmable LED bulbs) because of their energy efficiency (remember, can get brighter lights with less wattage!), longevity, with a color of 3000K because i like the slightly cleaner and brighter light for modern updated spaces or spaces with little natural light.


I don't like CFLs because they take forever to get bright and I don't like the look of them if the light bulbs are exposed.


I especially love the LEDs that have the Edison bulb look because they have the vintage look but you can still get them in a 2700K or 3000K and they look awesome and are energy efficient. My favorites that I have used in many homes including my own are: 6W Dimmable Edison Style Vintage LED Filament Light Bulb, 3000K Soft White or LED Vintage Edison LED Bulb, Dimmable 7W, 3000K Soft White, Pack of 6


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