Choosing a light bulb can quickly become a complicated process. Modern bulbs have technologies and features that can make deciding on the right one a challenging process. We've put together this guide to make that process as simple as possible for you.

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What Will You Use Your Bulbs For?

The fundamental question you should be asking yourself when choosing a bulb is - What is your purpose? What effect are you hoping to achieve with your new bulb?

Having an overarching purpose in mind can keep you from going down a rabbit hole of wattages and lumens (terms we'll cover in more detail later on). If, for instance, you simply need to replace a bulb in your fridge, then a simple Amazon or Google search with your fridge's model number will suffice.

Choosing a new light bulb for your pantry or dining area can be more complex than that though since you'll now need to ensure adequate lighting for eating and reading. Let's take a basic look at light bulb brightness and how you can choose the best lighting for your situation.

Warm White Light Bulb
Decorative Modern Light Bulb
Rectangular Glass Light Bulb
Standard LED Light Bulb
Round Warm White Light Bulb
Modern Shaped Light Bulb

Is a Lumen More Important than Wattage?

We've probably all heard of light bulbs described in terms of wattage. Roughly, the more watts a lightbulb consumes, the brighter the bulb, right? While this once may have been an adequate rule of thumb, it's no longer technically accurate.

In modern times, a lumen is a far better measure of your bulb's performance than wattage. So, what is a lumen?

Put simply, a lumen is a unit of measure for "brightness" or how much light your bulb produces. 1 lumen is roughly equivalent to the light produced by a single burning candle. A watt describes how much energy your bulb consumes to output lumens of brightness. Your bulb's efficiency will be determined by how much energy is required to produce the desired lumens.

So How Many Lumens Do I Need in a Room?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question isn't 100% straight forward. How many lumens you'll need depends on the answer to your first question. If for, example, you need adequate lighting for tasks like cooking, reading or working, then you'll need more lighting than a porch or living room. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure optimal lighting in every room:

  1. Measure your room sq. footage

Determining how many lumens you'll need in a room starts with figuring out how much surface area there is in your room. To do this, measure the length along the base of each wall in your room and multiply them to find the surface area in sq. feet. If you have a complicated room structure, you may need to break the floor plan into easy to measure squares or triangles or refer to your floor plan details.

  1. Multiply the surface area by recommended foot-candles to find your lumen requirement

A foot-candle is a number that describes how bright a light source appears from one foot away. Depending on the purpose of your room a higher or lower number of foot candles is recommended. Select a recommendation based on your room of choice from the list below and multiply that number by the surface area of your room to find the approximate number of lumens required to light that room.

Example: 110 sq. ft. living room lighting requirement= 110x20=2200 lumens.

What types of bulbs do I need?

Now that you have a solid estimate of how much light your room in question requires, the next logical step is determining what type of bulb you should pick for the impact you are searching for. Let's take a quick look at the most common bulbs you'll find right now.

LED Bulbs

LED stands for light-emitting diode and is a type of light bulb that has grown tremendously in popularity in recent years. The standard LED bulb is around 75% more energy-efficient than a standard incandescent light bulb.

LED bulbs primarily produce directional lighting, so the standard LED bulb is best suited for task lighting as opposed to ambient lighting. Recently, LED bulbs have begun compensating for their deficiencies in diffuse lighting by clustering a few LEDs into one bulb, mimicking a diffuse light display, but these bulbs can be 6 times more expensive than normal LED bulbs.

LED bulb pros:

LED bulb cons:

Classic LED Non Dimmable Light Bulb
Slim LED Dimmable Light Bulb
Regular Round Led Light Bulb
LED Dimmable Edison Light Bulb
LED Dimmable Light Bulb Set
Medium LED Dimmable Light Bulb

Halogen Bulbs

Halogen lights are similar in function to incandescent light bulbs, in that, they produce light from a filament that is heated until it glows. Unlike incandescent bulbs though, halogen light bulbs generally consume very minimal amounts of electricity. In fact, they can consume anywhere from 25-80% less electricity than comparable incandescent bulbs.

Halogen bulbs give off a light that is very similar in nature to natural white light, so they are very effective for task lighting. The light produced by halogen bulbs is also naturally diffuse - unlike LEDs, which are directional - so halogen bulbs can be used for ambient lighting.

Halogen pros:

Halogen cons:

Halogen Edison Capsule Light Bulb
Dimmable Halogen Light Bulb Set
Classic Halogen Silver Light Bulb
White Halogen Non-Dimmable Light Bulb
White Glass Halogen Light Bulb
Round Glass Halogen Dimmable Light Bulb

Compact Fluorescent bulbs

Fluorescent bulbs have evolved from their original tubular, flickering, buzzing progenitors into a form that is like more traditional light bulbs. While still tubular, modern compact fluorescent bulbs are shaped to mimic the light display of other bulbs.

Compact fluorescent bulbs can go toe to toe with LEDs and halogen lights regarding energy efficiency, being up to 75% more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs. Compact fluorescent bulbs do come with one major caveat - they contain trace amounts of mercury, so you'll need to be extra careful handling broken bulbs.

Compact Fluorescent bulb pros:

Compact Fluorescent bulb cons:

White Glass Fluorescent Spiral Light Bulb
Compact Fluorescent Non-Dimmable Light Bulb
Compact Fluorescent Daylight Non-Dimmable Light Bulb Set
Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb
Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb Standard Base
Small Compact Fluorescent Non-Dimmable Light Bulb

Incandescent bulbs

Contrary to popular belief, incandescent bulbs are not extinct or completely unavailable. By and large, these bulbs are no longer produced anywhere in the first world, however, you can still purchase what remains online or in certain stores. Incandescent light bulbs are best used for ambient lighting and produce light that compliments skin tones really well.

Incandescent bulb pros:

Incandescent bulb cons:

Straight Incandescent Dimmable Light Bulb
Long Slim Incandescent Light Bulb
Small Round Incandescent Light Bulb
Grey Incandescent Dimmable Light Bulb
Decorative Glass Incandescent Light Bulb
Incandescent Light Bulb Set

What is Light Temperature and Why Does It Matter?

We've spoken about a couple of types of bulbs that are hot to the touch, but in this case, temperature actually referrers to color. Color temperatures are defined using a unit called "Kelvins". In a nutshell, the higher the Kelvin rating, the whiter the temperature of the color (yes, it's a little counter-intuitive).

There are three primary color ranges that we'll encounter in our search for optimal lighting. Let's take a quick look at them.

Soft White

The first of these color ranges is soft white, which starts at 2700K and ends at 3000K. Soft whites are most similar to incandescent bulbs and are excellent at highlighting colors in a room. Soft whites are very "gentle" making them extremely good for ambient lighting in places like the dining room or a bedroom. They also do very well in generating a "cozy" feeling on porches or in A/V rooms.

Cool White/Bright White

Cool or bright whites start off at 3500K and end at 4100K. These whites are slightly whiter than soft whites - which tend to have a hint of yellow - and make for excellent lighting in workspaces. Consider using cool whites in areas where you'll be performing tasks like cooking, reading or handy work. Cool whites are also well suited for security and outdoor lighting.

Daylight

Our final color temperature category is known as daylight. Light bulbs in this category tend to have a blue/white appearance and resemble sunlight at noon on a day free of cloud cover. This temperature is indisputably the most effective light for task lighting and accent lighting.

Warm White Long Light Bulb
Warm White Light Bulb for Chandeliers
Cool White Fluorescent Light Bulb
Cool White Light Bulb in Brown
Regular Daylight Light Bulb
White Glass LED Daylight Light Bulb

A Quick Recap

We've covered a lot about lightbulbs in this guide, so here's a quick recap to keep everything fresh: