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Switching to LED Light Bulbs? Here’s How to Select the Best Options

Energy-efficient LED bulbs provide substantial energy-saving benefits and dominate today’s light bulb sales. Plus, the prices of LED bulbs are low enough that many options quickly pay for themselves.

If you’re still using incandescent bulbs or compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), this could be a perfect time to make the switch. But how do you decide which bulbs to buy?

Gone are the days when replacing a light bulb was as simple as selecting the correct wattage. Now, there’s new terminology to learn and other factors to consider before finding the best fit.

Here’s what you should know before you shop.

Lumens (Brightness)

For your garage, you may want the brightest bulb possible. But in a small accent lamp, a dimmer bulb usually works better. So how do you select a bulb with the right amount of light? Before, you’d check a bulb’s wattage. Now, LEDs use lumens to describe brightness.

Some LED labels provide wattage equivalents. But if they don’t, here are some general guidelines from the U.S. Department of Energy:

100-watt bulbs ~ 1,600 lumens

75-watt bulbs ~ 1,100 lumens

60-watt bulbs ~ 800 lumens

40-watt bulbs ~ 450 lumens

One advantage of most LED bulbs is that you can safely ignore the maximum wattage limits indicated on some fixtures since LEDs consume much less energy and don’t heat up like incandescents.

Color Temperature (Warm or Cool)

The appearance of the light cast by traditional incandescent bulbs was consistently similar. However, in recent times, all types of bulbs, including incandescents, have been manufactured with color temperatures across a broad, warm-to-cool color spectrum.

While some manufacturers use “soft” and “daylight” to describe their bulbs’ color, those terms aren’t standardized and can vary between product lines. To get a precise color match, rely on a bulb’s Kelvin (K) measurement.

The Kelvin scale is named for William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, who made numerous contributions to mathematics, physics, and engineering. Most light bulbs sold today fall somewhere between 2,200 degrees (warmer) and 5,500 degrees (cooler) on the Kelvin scale:

2,200 - 2,600K bulbs cast an amber hue, often used with Edison-style lights

2,700 - 3,000K bulbs are warm white and considered cozy and inviting

3,100 - 3,400K bulbs generate slightly yellow light

3,500 - 4,500K bulbs provide a neutral, bright white light

4,500 - 5,500K bulbs offer cool, bright white light best for reading and workshops

Energy Considerations

Even though LEDs are the most energy-efficient bulbs you can buy today, it’s still helpful to know how much energy a bulb uses (the wattage to operate it) and how long you can expect it to last.

When comparing the price of two bulbs, also consider these performance estimates to see if one offers a better overall value.

Additionally, some bulbs have earned an ENERGY STAR certification, which means they meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s strict energy efficiency guidelines.

Other Factors

LED bulbs are superior to incandescents in almost every aspect, but there are some instances where you may encounter problems:

Dimmable - If a “dimmable” LED bulb doesn’t work as expected, you might need to replace your dimmer switch since some older dimmers were designed to operate with incandescents only.

Length - In general, incandescent bulbs are shorter than their LED equivalents. This could limit your ability to install LED replacements in some lamps and light fixtures.

Light direction - Many standard LED light bulbs have a solid plastic “collar” above the screw-in base, meaning the bulb’s light projects upward and outward, not downward. That’s fine if you’re lighting up a room. But it could be a problem in a table lamp intended for reading.

Ovens - LED bulbs aren’t designed to withstand an oven’s extreme heat, so stick with old-fashioned “appliance bulbs.”

Garage doors - Some LED bulbs can interfere with a garage door’s remote controls. Check your manufacturer’s site to ensure your bulb is compatible with your garage door opener.