LED lights have greatly changed since they were first introduced and are becoming much more common by the day. There is a wide array of LED lights on the market now, ranging from compact lights that resemble the light bulbs they replace and novel shaped bulbs, to advanced technological wonders. And they’re moving from the overhead lamps to reading lamps, night lights, and even more niche applications. Here are three simple tips for choosing the right LED bulb.
Understand Your Lighting Needs
Some of the concerns with early with LED lights was when people put the first LED bulb in the light fixture that fit and found the bulb was not as bright as the incandescent bulb it replaced. This confusion was reasonable when you realize that LEDs often rate their brightness in lumens while incandescent bulbs are rated in watts … and not all LED lights rated for the same watts put out the same amount of light. In general, if you’re replacing a 100-watt incandescent bulb, you are looking for an LED bulb with 1600 lumens. A 75-watt incandescent bulb is equal to an 1,100 lumens LED. A 60-watt incandescent bulb is equal to an 800 lumens LED. A 40-watt incandescent bulb equals a 450 lumens LED bulb.
A nine-watt lightbulb is equivalent to a 35-watt halogen light; this type of bulb is used for spotlights and downlights. This could be replaced with a 300 to 600 lumens LED. A six-watt bulb is sometimes used for accent lights in the home, and it would be replaced with a 300 to 500 lumens LED bulb. A five-watt bulb like those used in many bedside lamps would be replaced with a 250 to 400 lumens bulb. A three-watt bulb, the type used for spotlights and candle bulbs, puts out 150 to 240 lumens.
A separate issue is the warmth or coolness of the bulb. This is rated in Kelvin, K for short. A “warm” bulb will have a rating of 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin. This gives you the warm, somewhat diffuse light of older incandescent bulbs. An LED bulb of 3,000 K is equivalent in color to a halogen bulb. The label will probably identify this as a “yellow” light.
The 4,000 Kelvin color used to be the only “color” of light you could get an LED bulb in; this is called “cool white” or just white. These are the classic too-white bulbs that many didn’t want to replace the warmer bulbs they had used for a lifetime in their bedrooms.
A “cold” or “natural white” light will have a rating of around 5,000 Kelvin. This gives you the bright and often harsh light needed for workspaces or medical facilities. They’re also called “blue” lights. The 6,000K lights are called daylight; they put out a pure white suitable for strong spotlights.
Consider the Application
Choosing the right led bulb requires understanding where and how the bulb will be used. For example, if you want to put an LED bulb in an enclosed fixture, you’ll need to buy an LED bulb designed for that application. Bulbs for enclosed fixtures are able to withstand higher temperatures and have a more efficient thermal design.
If you’re replacing a spotlight, you need to pick an LED light bulb with the right beam angle. LED bulbs usually have a 120-degree beam angle. The ideal beam angle can also vary based on how high the ceiling is. For example, for a ceiling that is eight to 10 feet high, you may want an LED bulb with a 60-degree beam angle. If the ceiling is 12 to 15 feet high, you could benefit from an LED bulb with a 40-degree beam angle. For ceilings more than 16 feet high, a 25 to 30-degree beam angle is ideal. In general, the farther away from the light source, the narrower the beam should be. Conversely, if you want to light up a large vertical area like a stairwell, get an LED light bulb with a 60-degree or 90-degree angle.
Another issue is whether or not the light fixture has a dimmer. Not all LED light bulbs are dimmable. This is made even more complicated by the fact that older dimmer switches may not work with an LED that could work with a modern dimmer switch. You can check the LED packaging to see if it is dimmer compatible, but you may need to check the manufacturer website to see if it is compatible with your specific model of dimmer switch. Or you could install a new dimmer switch along with a matching LED bulb.
LED bulbs are popular for nightlights since they can last for years. However, nightlights in a bathroom or hallway are more likely to be bumped and hit. This makes flat LED lights built into a plugged-in panel a better choice over an LED bulb that looks like a glass bulb.
You can put an LED light bulb in many recessed lights. However, it may be easier to replace the entire recessed light fixture than try to find compatible LED bulbs. And you’ll always need to be careful of the type of light fixture since most LED bulbs won’t fit in the narrow fixtures in chandeliers and other hanging lights. Spiral bulbs simply may not fit under your lamp shade. If you like the globe-shaped light in that ceiling fixture, you’ll have to hunt to find an LED in the same shape. Or you need to replace the fixture; if not, put a cover over it to diffuse the light of a modern LED.
LED bulbs should never be used in an oven. LED appliance bulbs are an option for your refrigerator or freezer, though they’re often hard to find. You may not want to use them in your garage since LED bulbs may interfere with garage door remote controls. Check the garage door opener manufacturer website to see which LED bulbs are compatible.
Replace What You’ll Use the Most
Let’s be honest – the energy-saving benefits of an LED depends on how often you use the light. Replacing the light in your freezer is a waste of time and money because it is only on a few seconds at a time a few times a week. Compare this to reading lights that may be used for hours at a time, several times a week, or work lights in your office that may be on all day. So, if you’re considering replacing light bulbs to save money or save energy, first look for the light bulbs that are on all the time. These are typically the light bulbs continually used in the high traffic areas of your home. You can also set aside a cache of LED light bulbs that fit other fixtures in your home, so you can replace the light bulbs as they burn out.
Shop for LED bulbs based on their “lumens” not their watts, or you’ll end up with a bulb that fits in the fixture but not the expected brightness level. Select a bulb bright enough for your visual needs and the coloring that makes the light comfortable. Consider the application and don’t put LED lights where they don’t work well. Aim to replace the bulbs that are continually used in your home, though there are times you may need to replace an entire fixture in order to put in an LED bulb.