One important design detail that is often overlooked is selecting the right light bulbs. Your choice of bulb can make a big difference in how colors in your rooms appear, and it can even affect your mood! If you’ve shopped for light bulbs recently you may have been overwhelmed by the many options available. Allow me to shed some light (ha!) on how to select the best bulb for your needs.
Light Bulb Types
Incandescents are the original light bulb technology invented by Edison. They are the least expensive bulbs available and provide a warm, flattering light. On the downside, they are less energy efficient than the other available types and have a shorter life span.
Halogen bulbs are a variation of incandescents that are somewhat more energy efficient and longer-lasting. They cost a bit more and produce a cleaner, white light that mimics the midday sun. Because their filament burns at a higher temperature, some halogen bulbs require care in handling. Newer versions have a protective outer globe that looks the same as a typical incandescent and takes the fuss out of installing them.
Compact Fluorescents (CFLs) were developed by applying the energy-efficient technology of tube fluorescents into a small, corkscrew-shaped bulb that can fit into a table lamp. The earliest versions of CFLs produced a harsh, bluish light and required time to warm up to their full brightness. Newer styles address these issues with color-correction and using extra power during the warm-up phase. In areas where you turn a light on and off frequently, you may actually save more energy by leaving them on all the time. CFLs contain trace amounts of mercury so they shouldn’t be thrown out in the trash. Check your local recycling and retail centers for disposal drop-offs.
LEDs are by far the most efficient and longest-lasting lighting technology. Because they produce directional - not diffused - light, they were used in the past for areas like under-cabinet lighting. Newer bulbs have been developed that cluster multiple LEDs together within a diffusing cover for general use in the home. These are the most expensive bulb options but provide exciting new possibilities, like the ability to adjust their color from your mobile device.
Wattage vs. Lumens
Wattage refers to the amount of energy needed to power the bulb. When incandescents were the only available option, wattage also indicated how bright the bulb would be. Today, two bulbs using different technologies may use different wattage to produce the same amount of light. For example, a 12-watt LED bulb will be as bright as a 60-watt incandescent. Look for the term “lumens” on the box to indicate the brightness of the bulb and to compare styles. Also, never use a bulb that exceeds the maximum wattage indicated on your lamp.
Color temperature is an issue many people overlook, but it has a big impact on the appearance of your interiors as well as on your mood. Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (K), and the higher the number, the cooler/bluer the look of the bulb. While this seems counter-intuitive, the reason is because the hotter a flame burns, the more blue it becomes.
Bulbs at the lower end of the Kelvin scale have a warm cast of yellow or orange, and they are the most relaxing and inviting. They are flattering to people’s skin tones and the best option for spaces in your home where you want to wind down or entertain, such as living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms.
The yellow cast of these bulbs, while flattering, can impact how your home furnishings look. Have you ever painted a room blue and then found when you turn on your interior lights at night it looks green? This is because of the warm light in your room interacting with the wall color. To avoid unwelcome surprises like this, view potential paint and fabric colors at all times of day and in different lighting to get the most accurate picture of how they will look.
As you move to the middle and high end of the Kelvin scale, you find neutral and cool light colors with more blue tones. These are best for areas where you need to be alert and see things very clearly, such as offices and work areas in your basement or garage. This type of light is good for under-cabinet task lighting or a desk lamp, or to accurately see how your makeup will look in daylight. Be cautious about using this type of light in the evenings because it can cause sleep disturbances.
This chart summarizes the ranges of color temperature and the recommended applications for spaces in your home:
Keeping all of this information in mind when shopping for light bulbs can be a challenge. Luckily, packaging now includes a Lighting Facts label (similar to the Nutrition Facts label on food) that summarizes all of it. Here’s an example:
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