The Energy Chronicles

Why is Buying a Light Bulb so Difficult?

For many of us, buying the right lighting product to fit our needs can be a daunting task.  With the phase-out of the old-style incandescent lamps, compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and even newer light emitting diode (LED) lamps are taking their place.  That’s where it gets challenging.  Gone are the days when we needed a common 60-watt incandescent light bulb.  Things to consider when buying lighting is as follows:


Where will the lighting be installed?  Indoors or outdoors? In a table lamp or in a recessed ceiling can fixture? Does the lighting need to be directional or general room lighting?  Will it physically fit into the table lamp?  Does the lighting go into a hard to reach fixture (loft or high ceiling, etc.)?

Wattage vs. Lumens

The lighting industry has converted to lumens as the measurement of lighting intensity.  A lumen is a measure of the total quantity of visible light emitted by a source.  Some lighting manufacturers still print on the packaging the incandescent equivalent wattage.  For instance, an 800-lumen lamp is equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent bulb.  Choose a high enough rated lumen lamp for the task at hand.

CFLs or LEDs

LEDs are gradually taking over CFLs where CFLs took over incandescent lighting.  CFLs are still a good choice in many applications, however LED pricing continues to drop while quality and longevity are increasing.  Some of the early CFLs got a bad rap with flickering issues and slow warm up periods.  Many LEDs are offered in dimmable designs providing the dimming device is suited for the LED. Older style dimmers may not work with LEDs.

Color Temperature

Have you ever noticed a fluorescent light fixture with different colored lamps? Some have a pinkish color and some are bright white or even blueish.  Those lamps have different color temperatures. Generally lower color temperatures (3,000 Kelvin) are softer and more pinkish in color whereas higher color temperatures (6,000 Kelvin) are closer to natural sunlight and more whiteish or blueish.  Choose a color temperature according to need.  A living room or bedroom generally is best suited for warmer colors (lower Kelvin).  Detailed task lighting is best served by cooler (higher Kelvin) temperatures.

Product Labeling

Manufacturers are required to show a Lighting Facts Label on their packaging.  It will give color temperature via a color scale, lumen output, wattage and approximate longevity.  It’s a good idea to see if the lamp labeling matches your intended application. Example:

Product Quality

There are many new players in the LED marketplace, most are good and some others, well, not so much.  Many of the LED products are listed to last 10+ years. It’s always a good idea to look for the Department of Energy, ENERGY STAR symbol.  Not to say the ENERGY STAR labeled lamp is better than brand X, but it at least has met the minimum criteria of ENERGY STAR.

Where do I go if I still need help?

Often times sales associates at big box retail centers can be very helpful.  They may ask questions as was just noted.  There may be point-of-sale “cheat sheets” on the shelving to help with selecting the right lighting product as well.  Lighting distributors are also a good source for helping you find the right lamp for your application.  Bottom line it’s more difficult to find the correct lighting source, but once you do, count on many years of trouble-free service.

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