How to make the best decision when it comes to choosing the right light bulb for the right application.
By Lucie Hanes
Just when you thought choosing light bulbs might be one of the easiest things to check off your to-do list, a quick glance at the packaging makes the whole process feel complicated. Lumens, watts, color, shape, life span, energy efficiency…the sheer number of considerations seems extensive for something so small.
But when you think about it, light has a huge impact on our day-to-day lives. Imagine reading on the couch in the evening under a bright fluorescent light instead of a calmer amber, or working in your office beside a softly lit lamp that makes you feel more like going straight back to bed than churning out emails. Light sets the tone for the day and the task at hand, so it’s important to pick the bulb that will emit the right mood. Plus, lights may very well be your most commonly used appliances, which means you should be aware of their energy output. All those bulbs can add up to a lot of energy usage, or savings, depending on which you choose.
DAILY USE + LARGE COMMON AREAS
LED and CFL lights are the most energy-efficient bulbs out there. LED stands for Light-Emitting Diode. These types of bulbs are known for their long life-span and bright light. They also emit very little heat and do not use mercury, which makes them safer when in reach of curious animals or young children.
CFL stands for compact fluorescent light. Contrary to what you might believe about fluorescent light, these bulbs do actually come in a variety of colors and tones so you won’t necessarily feel like you’re staring straight into the sun. However, they are still best for bigger areas since they may be brighter than you want at all times and have a large splay, or area reached. They last just as long as LEDs at a slightly lower price, but do include traces of mercury. But despite their energy savings, LEDs and CFLs might not always be the right choice. They’re not the most aesthetically discreet bulbs, so if you’re using them in a place where the bulb itself will be highly visible, it may be worth considering how they fit into your overall presentation.
LEDs offer more focused vs. broad light, so they won’t do a great job of evenly lighting a whole room, while CFLs have the opposite effect. And if you’re going to be turning your lights on and off frequently, like in a bathroom or kitchen, CFLs take a long time to reach full brightness and actually lose energy the more often you flip the switch. Both of these types of bulbs also cost more up front, so you’ll need to factor in the initial price to your overall energy cost. Save these bulbs for the lights that you use all day, every day to see the greatest energy savings.
LUMENS + WATTS
Lumens refer to the light a bulb emits; while watts measure the amount of energy used. Higher lumens equals brighter light, and higher watts equals more energy. You might think that more lumens translates to more watts, but the most energy-efficient bulbs are able to produce the same amount of lumens at a lower wattage. That means you’ll save energy (and money) without sacrificing brightness.
INCANDESCENT + HALOGEN
For areas where you don’t need light as often, or need a different vibe, you’ve got options. Traditional incandescent bulbs will cost you the least at the counter, but a little more on your energy bill. They emit warm light and even distribution, though, so they’re ideal for most indoor living spaces. Halogen bulbs then offer an alternative to CFL’s for lighting large areas. They reach full brightness much faster than fluorescents, don’t lose as much energy when turned on and off frequently, and still give off a wide and bright light. Like incandescents, they’ll cost less now but use more energy over time.
Finally, no matter what type of bulb you choose, remember to take a look at the color listed on the packaging. Bulbs emit light on a spectrum from yellow to blue tones, measured in Kelvins.
Warm white falls at the lower end of the spectrum (2700K), and offers a soothing, amber tone that feels welcoming and calm. Soft white (3500K) lights give off a neutral color, best for situations when you want the focus to be on what’s in the room rather than the light illuminating it. The bright white and daylight ranges are full of energy (5000K+), so use them in situations that require a real wake-up call.