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Technical Lighting Help

Three Steps to Buying LED Light Bulbs

I’ve been around lighting since I was nineteen years old. As the lighting world morphed from incandescent to fluorescent, then to LED, it was easy for me to understand the differences. For everyone else, light bulbs are just another thing to buy when you’re shopping for home essentials. Laundry detergent, glass cleaner and light bulbs. Easy, right? Well, it used to be.

Soap still comes in a bar and household cleaners still come in a spray bottle. While light bulbs look the same, today, there are far more decisions to make than selecting a 4-pack of 60 watt bulbs. Don’t worry. It just breaks down to three simple steps, color temperature, color quality and lumens.

Color Temperature

For the typical home, I recommend one of only two options, 2700K or 3000K. Nothing else. Color should be matched to the room in which it will be used. This will make every room look its best.

Use 2700K if you have warm color rooms with lots of beige, wood, gold and earth tones. The warmth of the 2700K light will reveal their tonal richness.

Use 3000K if cooler color dominate a space. Black & white, grey neutrals, blues and purples will appear more vibrant, more intense under 3000K light.

Color Quality

Color quality is measured in Color Rendering Index (CRI). This is a scale from zero to 100. A black & white movie has a color rendering of zero. The blood that runs down the drain in “Psycho” is of course red, but with no color rendering, we see it as black. With incandescent light bulbs, there was no choice in CRI. With LED, options abound.

I recommend seeking out a CRI in the mid to high 80’s. If you live in California, 90 CRI is the minimum available for sale. Keep in mind, there is a cost to achieve higher CRI, so if you do not see it advertised, be warry. Manufacturers will not want to hide a good CRI number.

Lumens

Wattage is a measurement of energy consumed to power electrical equipment. It has nothing to do with the amount of light produced. Because we have been using incandescent light bulbs for over 130 years, we simply got accustomed to using wattage. Lumens tell us how much light is produced by the light bulb. As we move into the future, wattage consumption is going to constantly change, so we need to become comfortable with lumens.

If you were buying an incandescent light bulb that consumed this quantity of electric power:It was providing this amount of light*    
25W150 lumens
40W450 lumens
60W800 lumens
75W110 lumens
100W1600 lumens
150W2600 lumens
*Incandescent candelabra lamping is lower.
Be careful. There are few to no LED candelabra based light bulbs delivering over 500 lumens at this time. That could change as technology advances.

The process of light bulb selection is not that complicated.

  1. What color does your room tell you to buy? 2700K or 3000K?
  2. Find a color quality CRI above the mid-80s
  3. Buy based on lumen needs, not the advertisement on the package

With those three simple steps, light bulb purchases can be as easy as buying paper towels.

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