How to Buy New Light Bulbs Without Guessing

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The days of incandescent lighting are coming to a close, and most of us agree it's for the best. But if you've been buying incandescent bulbs for years (and who hasn't?), replacing these bulbs with CFL or LED options can be a frustrating task. Since the terminology used for labeling new bulbs is somewhat different than that of old bulbs, it can be tough to figure out which one is right for you. We can help decode all that. 

Give Up Watts

In the olden days, watts were essentially the most important detail on a bulb. In order to light your space correctly, you matched your old bulb wattage to new bulb wattage. As it turns out, watts refers to the amount of energy a bulb requires, not the amount of light it gives off. CFL and LED bulbs can give off more light without using as many watts as incandescent bulbs, so when you're checking wattage, go for the lowest number possible. 

Look for Lumens

If you want to know how much light your bulb will give off, check the number of lumens. Lumens represent how much light a bulb produces, regardless of how many watts are required to produce it. Since we're so used to checking bulb wattage, we often ignored this information with incandescent bulbs, but with new, eco-friendly bulbs, it can be the most important! On average, a 60W incandescent bulb produces 800 lumens of light. For brighter spaces, opt for more lumens. And vice versa. 

Mind Appearance

If you're used to shopping for "soft white" or "daylight" bulbs, it can be frustrating to not find those terms on CFL and LED labels. This information is still there, in fact, it's even more detailed! Check your bulb packaging for the term light appearance. This measurement includes the temperature of a bulb in Kelvins. You can find more detail on that system here, but in general, the lower the temperature, the warmer, more yellow your bulb will be. Bulbs with higher temperatures, or cool bulbs, give off light more similar to natural daylight. 

In addition to these important details, you can also find this helpful information on your CFL or LED bulb packaging:

  • Estimated yearly cost - Typically based on average United States energy costs and usage
  • Life - How long your bulb will last, usually based on 3 hours of use per day
  • CRI - Color rendering index - A rating of how accurately colors display under this light

 You can even check to be sure that the bulb you're selecting is dimmable! While it may be a bit of a change to move from incandescent lighting to more eco-friendly options, with a little adjustment and practice, buying a light bulb can be just as easy as it's always been, and maybe even more effective! 

by Anjie Cho