Last week we kicked off a month all about interior lighting with an article about Lighting Types. This week's topic? How to buy a light bulb! Trust us, we were as confused as you were when we first realized all of the options available - LED, Compact Fluorescent, the sudden disappearance of 100W Incandescent bulbs. Huh?!? We put together a few tips to help you find your way at your local hardware store:
You've most likely been using incandescent bulbs in your house for years. It is the light bulb most used for residential design fixtures because it casts a warm, soft, even light that most resembles sunlight. Recently, you may have noticed some changes when you've gone out to buy an incandescent light bulb. 100 watt bulbs are being phased out in favor of bulbs that are more energy efficient. You can still find them, but new federal law guidelines require that they use 30% less energy. If you are interested in keeping a green home, incandescent bulbs are not for you. We try to use them sparingly in areas where a warm, soft glow is really appreciated so that we can balance out our total energy consumption. Table lamps in a living room, a dining room chandelier, or other lights that are not used on a regular basis, are typical examples of where we use incandescent bulbs. Also, if you have a fixture where the bulbs are visible, such as an armed chandelier shown above, you may want to consider incandescent bulbs to maintain visual continuity.
Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFL's)
CFL's are all the rage now and with good reason. They are better for the environment as they use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs. And don't be fooled by the more expensive price tag because your wallet will thank you in the long run given they last 7-10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. If the word fluorescent makes you think of your office lights that are slow to turn on and are accompanied by a buzzing sound, be assured that residential CFL's do not have these issues. All sounds great, right? Well, not exactly. There are a few downsides to CFL's. A major one is that you can't put them on dimmers. They also contain mercury, which is released if the glass of the light bulb is broken. CFL's are available in a variety of options that give off cool, neutral, or warm light. For residential fixtures, we prefer the warmer options. Kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, and other areas of your home that get frequent use are typical examples of where we use compact fluorescent bulbs.
Halogen light bulbs are essentially incandescent bulbs, but they use less energy. So they still give off a warm, natural light. They are more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but use 20% less energy and will last longer (although not as long as CFL's). Halogen bulbs are filled with a gas that isn't harmful if the bulb is broken. However, be very careful when installing a halogen bulb because if you touch it the oils deposited from your hand will cause the bulb to immediately blow out. We install ours using a thin, soft cloth. Temperature -wise, halogen bulbs are significantly hotter than other light bulbs, so we don't recommend putting them in fixtures that are heavily used. Otherwise, you may find that your air conditioning bill has increased in order to keep your room cool. Art lights, reading lights, or any fixture where we want a direct bright light are typical examples of where we use halogen bulbs.
Light-Emitting Diode Bulbs (LED's)
You've probably heard a lot recently about LED's. We'll be hearing about them for generations to come as well, given that LED's can last for well over 40 years (depending on use). LED's come in a wide range of colors, which is why you see them in everything from outdoor lights to TV's. They also work on dimmers, making them a good option for residential design. The draw back of LED bulbs is that they cast light in one direction. They can also be a bit colder than the other bulb options. For these reasons, LED's have not yet become a mainstream option in the residential light fixture community. But we predict that will change! Outdoor sidewalk lighting, kitchen under-counter fixtures, and other areas where you want focused light are typical examples of where we use LED bulbs.
Here's where lighting can get confusing. A common mistake is to think a bulb's wattage is an indication of how bright a light will be. This is not the case. Wattage actually tells you how much energy the bulb uses. So, if you're considering replacing your 60 watt incandescent bulbs with CFL's, you'll want to look at a CFL that has is somewhere between 13-18 watts. That's because a low wattage CFL produces more light, with less energy, than an incandescent.
Lumens are another tricky number when considering light bulbs. Lumens are the total amount of visible light emitted by a source, meaning they are a the amount of light a bulb gives off. A typical 100 watt incandescent bulb will produce 1690 lumens, which is a very bright light. You can find nearly the same brightness with a 23 watt CFL bulb as it will produce up to 1500 lumens. The difference is that the CFL uses far less energy to produce nearly the same amount of light.
Now we're really getting into some deep lighting conversation! Kelvin is the measurement used to rate the color temperature a light emits. Essentially, the Kelvin measurement of a bulb indicates whether it is white (such as an LED), blue (such as some CFL's), or yellow (such as halogen or incandescent). The lower the Kelvin rating (2700-3000), the more yellow the light. The higher the Kelvin rating (5500-6500), the more blue the light. White lights fall somewhere in the middle at around 3500-4100K. Recently, light bulb manufacturers were required to include Kelvin on their packaging. So now we can all understand whether we're buying a cold, blue light or a warm, yellow one! Whether you are using incandescent, halogen, CFL, or halogen bulbs, we typically prefer warmer, yellow lights so that we can get as close as possible to natural sunlight.
Light fixtures come in various shapes and sizes, each with their own sized base (or the part that screws into the fixture). For example, many sconces and chandeliers use a light bulb with a candelabra base while a table lamp will often require a light bulb with an Edison base. The first thing to consider is what bulb base your fixture requires. Next, think about the shape and size of the light fixture shade. How often have you seen glass bathroom sconces with light bulbs sticking out the top? Bulbs.com offers a fantastic chart to help you find the perfect bulb to fit your fixture: Reference Chart.
- Light fixtures typically have stickers indicating the wattage they allow for as it's important that you don't try to use a light bulb with a higher wattage than your fixture allows. This can get tricky when you're trying to decide between incandescent or CFL, so if you have any questions ask the vendor.
- If you have purchased an outdoor light fixture, make sure your bulbs are also rated for outdoor use before it rains or snows!
- Different states have rules and regulations on the type of lighting you are allowed to use in your home. Before making your lighting choices, please research your local energy consumption guidelines!
- We LOVE the "Shop by light bulb Technology" feature on Home Depot's website. They will help you find the best fit for every fixture in your home!
Up Next Week: Find the Right Lighting for every Room!
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We’re also looking for some reader feedback. Send us your lighting dilemmas and we’ll randomly pick one lucky reader to receive free lighting design! Email us at Regan@RBHomeDesign.com. Friday, November 16th is the deadline.