5 Ways To Choose An LED Light Bulb

LEDs are at the forefront of light industry discussion because they are such a gamechanger when it comes to energy efficiency and lifespan. But how do recent developments to LED technology affect the everyday consumer? What’s the simplest way to navigate this uncharted territory when shopping for LED light bulbs? The very recent availability of an LED replacement for the common household incandescent lamp has created a world of new potential, and along with it a whole new set of standards. In this post, we will be discussing the various ways to distinguish between the different LED options.

Watts vs. Lumens
image via lumennow.org

1. Light Output

Incandescent lamps have always been measured in watts, because for a really long time people equated the electricity it took to light a bulb with the luminosity it created. So “60 watts” came to mean “the brightness of a 60-watt incandescent lamp,” even though luminosity is measured in lumens, not watts.

With the introduction of more energy efficient lighting, however, this standard doesn’t work. It takes significantly less wattage to produce the same amount of light in an LED or fluorescent lamp, so it’s important for consumers to understand the luminosity of a bulb rather than simply its wattage.

Luminosity, or lamp brightness, is measured in lumens. The chart to the right demonstrates the amount of lumens a standard incandescent light bulb produces, so if you’re used to watts you can easily figure out what lumen count you want in your new LED bulb.

An LED lamp’s packaging or product description might mention how comparable its lumens are to the light output of a 60-, 75- or 100-watt incandescent bulb, but it’s wise to know ahead of time what luminosity you want just in case the incandescent watt-equivalent is not included.

Takeaway: Lumens are how the brightness of an LED light bulb is measured. You’ll choose your bulb based on how bright you want the light to shine, not by how much energy it will be using.

2. Color Temperature

This is one of the biggest concerns people have when making the switch to LED from any other kind of household light bulb, especially incandescent. When LEDs were first introduced, they tended to have a bluish glow. But LED technology has progressed exponentially in the last decade, and modern LED light bulbs come in any shade you want.

So how do you pick? Typically, for household light bulbs, you’re going to want a white light. But whether that light is more of a warm, yellowish white (like an incandescent) or a cool, bright white is determined by a measurement known as color temperature. The cooler light is, the higher its color temperature will be (and vice versa). So what most manufacturers call “cool white” is usually around 3,500-4,500 Kelvin, while warmer, more yellowish light usually measures between 2,500-3,500 Kelvin.

Takeaway: If you want your light to have a homey, warm glow like a traditional incandescent lamp, opt for a color temperature below 3,500 Kelvin. If you want a more vivid, bright white, choose an LED bulb with a color temperature of 3,500 Kelvin or higher.

3. Color Rendering Index (CRI)

One aspect of light quality that is commonly overlooked is the color rendering index, or CRI of a light source. Incandescent lamps have the highest CRI: 100. That means an incandescent lamp will render colors as accurately as the sun!

LED lights do not have as high CRI ratings as incandescents, but nor are they all alike in quality. Depending on the brand, you can find LED bulbs all over the CRI spectrum. A CRI over 85 is considered really good, so as long as you find LEDs higher than 85, you shouldn’t notice much difference in color rendering.

Takeaway: Choose an LED light with a CRI of 85 or higher to ensure high quality color rendering.

4. Dimmability

Did you know that dimming your lights can save you even more on your energy bill? Dimming your lights can also be really helpful for different activities throughout the day – for example, when preparing food you may want your lights really bright, but you might want them a little more subdued at dinner. A dimmable light can offer you that kind of flexibility, along with the added bonus of lower energy costs! Fluorescent lamps, for the most part, are not dimmable, so dimmable LEDs have the advantage here.

Keep in mind that not all LED lamps are dimmable, so you’ll need to check the product description or packaging if this is important to you. It’s also important to note that LEDs have their own specially designed dimmers, so you may have to switch out the bulbs and dimmer for LED versions if you had a dimmer switch already.

Another thing to keep in mind is what you expect from a dimmable light bulb. As an incandescent dims, the color of the light grows warmer as the temperature drops. But LEDs dim by reducing brightness, not changing the color. There are new LED light bulbs on the market that are able to change color temperature as they dim, but you’ll have to look for specifically for that capability if you want your LED to behave exactly like an incandescent lamp.

Takeaway: You can have LEDs and still dim the lights, but make sure the bulb you buy specifies that it is dimmable. Most dimmable LEDs will not change color as they dim. 

5. Price

This is the hardest pill for LED converts to swallow. Since it’s a fairly new industry, LED lighting can still be the priciest option when it comes to up-front cost. However, be sure to take into consideration the amount of money you save on energy bills by eliminating less efficient lights, as well as the cost of replacing burnt out bulbs over the years. LEDs use about a third of the energy that an incandescent lamp uses for the same lumen output, and one bulb can last up to 50,000 hours!

CFL bulbs gradually wear out from being repeatedly turned on and off, while LEDs do not. A CFL lamp could need to be replaced up to 5 times before the LED would need replacing, which means that over time you’d end up spending about the same amount of money as the LED bulb cost up front, in addition to the added trouble of replacing the bulb every few years. 

Incandescents are a whole different story. Though they are obviously the cheapest up front, over time incandescents are much, much pricier. Each incandescent costs about $1, and lasts about 1,200 hours. So to get 50,000 hours of light, you’d be paying $42 just for the replacement bulbs. Add in the additional expenses from the inefficient energy use, and your incandescents could end up costing you hundreds of dollars more than LEDs!

For more detailed info on how much you can save by switching to LEDs, check out this helpful light source comparison.

Takeaway: LEDs are still pricey, but if you consider it an investment you can save a lot more money over time by making the switch, both in bulb replacement and energy bill expenses.

What hesitations do you have about switching to LED with your household lighting? Let us know in the comments.

Deanna Alrutz

Deanna was our E-Commerce Marketing Specialist in 2013.

2 thoughts to “5 Ways To Choose An LED Light Bulb”

  1. A commonly-overlooked essential to keep in mind while shopping for LED bulbs is LIGHT DISTRIBUTION. Because of the way different LED bulbs are made, light can come out of the bulb in various ways: mostly from the top, mostly around the sides, or a little of both.

    It’s important to keep in mind the PURPOSE for the bulb you are buying. A table or floor lamp will probably want both side and top light, a torchiere will want mostly top but a little side light, and recessed cans will want only top light.

  2. Hey Nathanael! Thanks for mentioning that – you’re absolutely right! Many LED light bulbs are omni-directional nowadays, but you should definitely always check just in case. And there are sure to be times when omni-directional isn’t what you need!

Comments are closed.