Once upon a time, when incandescent bulbs dominated the market, choosing the right light bulb based on brightness was simple. It was all done in watts.
For a long time, everyone knew that 60 watts was best for standard room lighting, 40 watts was a bit softer for relaxing spaces, 100 watts was brighter for kitchens and bathrooms – and that was that.
Watts don’t play a big part in the brightness between light bulbs anymore, yet we still look out for them on the box. While we may be accustomed to shopping for bulbs according to wattage, lumens are actually a more accurate measurement of how bright your light will be, so it’s a good idea to learn a bit more about them.
We think it’s time to say goodbye to watts and hello to lumens, so we’ve put together some guidelines to help you get to grips with the new way to shop for light bulbs.
What are watts?
A watt is simply a measure of energy transfer (named after James Watt, the Scottish pioneer of steam engines). All light bulbs have a wattage rating. The higher the wattage, the more power used, and the more it will cost to run the light bulb.
When we all used incandescent light bulbs, it was easy to tell how ‘bright’ a bulb would be. It was understood that the greater the wattage, the brighter the light, but this isn’t the case anymore.
With the decline of incandescent bulbs and the rise of energy-saving LED bulbs, all of a sudden, the wattage has changed drastically while the brightness has stayed the same. This all came as a bit of a shock to those of us who relied on the wattage to tell us how bright our bulb would be.
When energy-saving bulbs were first introduced, manufacturers tried to deal with this confusion by printing the equivalent wattage on the packaging, for example ‘11w – 60w equivalent’.
While it was easy enough to make a rough comparison between incandescent and energy-saving bulbs, lighting doesn’t just revolve around those two types of bulb anymore. We now have various different types of LED bulbs, halogen bulbs, and all kinds of assorted tubes on offer – so it’s virtually impossible to find a measure of energy that can be applied to all bulbs and still mean anything to everyday light bulb users.
This is where lumens come in.
What are lumens?
In simple terms, lumens are a measure of the total amount of visible light to the human eye from a light source. Lumens remove any measurement of how much energy it takes to produce a given amount of light, and just measures the light given off instead.
It’s a bit like your car’s speedometer measuring how fast you’re going, rather than the amount of energy it takes to get you to that speed. Obviously this is a far more sensible and efficient way of defining the speed you’re driving, and it’s the same concept with lumens.
Why are lumens important?
In the past, we bought light bulbs based on how much energy, or watts, they use – but we actually think it makes a lot more sense to buy bulbs based on how much light they provide instead.
It’s a good idea to start paying attention to lumens because the lumen value of bulbs is becoming more and more prominent on packaging, while watts and watt equivalences are becoming extinct.
It’s also a very good idea to buy spares with the same lumen rating when fitting multiple light sources in the same space, as wattage is now no longer a guarantee that a bulb will be the same level of brightness. Bulbs last a lot longer than they used to, so if one of your bulbs looks wrong, you won’t just be stuck with it for a few months, but more likely a few years.
Converting lumens to watts
How many lumens are in a watt? Well, like we mentioned earlier – lumens measure brightness while watts measure energy output, so there is no simple method for converting lumens to watts.
Measuring and labelling light output instead of energy use does actually make it easier for you to find the right energy-efficient bulb for your space.
If you’re really confused, and you just want a rough idea of how many lumens to look out for compared to your old faithful incandescent bulbs, then you can use this handy chart to determine how many lumens you’ll need from your next light bulb.
For example, if you typically used to purchase the standard 60-watt incandescent bulbs, which produce about 700-800 lumens, you could now think about purchasing a lower energy alternative such as a 10-watt LED bulb to achieve the same level of brightness.
How many lumens do you need in each room?
Now you’ve got a better idea about what lumens are, and how they compare to watts, you can start thinking about how to use them to illuminate your home.
Lighting in a room isn’t just part of the décor, it can have an impact on everything from your sleeping pattern to your concentration levels.
Choosing your new ceiling light, table lamp or exterior fixture is just the first step towards perfectly lighting your home. The next, and arguably most important, part is choosing the right light bulb.
When it comes to lighting your house, the options can seem vast. Do you need bright lights so you can see what you’re doing, or softer lights for better ambiance?
The number of lumens you’ll need will entirely depend on the type of bulb you’re buying, the fixture it’s being used for, and the size and shape of the room where it will live. There is no right answer for this, as only you can decide how bright you want your bulbs.
Although it can seem a little confusing on the surface, it’s quite simple really. Let’s take a closer look at how many lumens you might need for each space in your home.
A lot happens in the kitchen. Chopping, stirring, cooking, eating, catching up over a coffee. You want to be able to see what you’re doing and stay alert whilst doing it. While previously, you might have considered a 100-watt bulb for the kitchen – we suggest a light bulb with anything from 1000-1600 lumens to make sure your space is bright and airy.
Directional ceiling spotlights are always a popular choice for kitchens, and this circuit track kit has three bulbs with 500 lumens each. This should be plenty bright enough to ensure you can see what you’re doing properly, and with a cooler temperature as well, they should help you to stay focused on the activity at hand.
You might like a bright light in the dining room so you can properly see what you’re eating, or perhaps you’d prefer a more atmospheric light for romantic dinners and casual coffee dates.
While a standard 60-watt bulb might have done the job previously, we recommend a mid-range of 440-800 lumens to illuminate your dining areas so you can enjoy eating and drinking in a relaxing space, while still being able to see if you accidentally drop anything on the carpet.
A dimmer switch is also a good idea for the dining room, so you can turn the light up or down depending on the situation. Remember that warmer temperature bulbs can make your lighting appear softer as well, even if it’s a bright bulb.
A place for relaxing, unwinding and enjoying some down time with your loved ones – the living room requires a softer light bulb in order to enjoy the space to its fullest. You might have considered a 40-watt bulb for the living room before, but anything from 230-440 lumens should help to provide that calm and cosy setting you need for nights in on the sofa watching Strictly.
This ambient ceramic wall light has 304 lumens, making it ideal for adding some calm background lighting to your lounge space. With a warm bulb temperature, you can create a soft and comforting atmosphere akin to candlelight, perfect for snuggling up under a blanket with a warm cup of tea.
You don’t really want anything too bright and disruptive in the bedroom, as it should be a space where you can properly unwind. Bright lights help to stimulate our brains and keep us alert, which is the opposite effect you want in this room.
Designed to be the ultimate space for relaxation, bedrooms are best suited to the lower end of the lumen spectrum. 230-270 lumens with a warm temperature bulb will work beautifully to create an inviting and calming atmosphere where you can really switch off.
With more of us working from home than ever before, now is a good time to spruce up your home office space. You’ll need bright and light spaces around the room, but not too much that it creates glare on your computer screen.
A handful of 400 lumen spotlights could work well, or one 800-1000 lumen bulb. Much like the kitchen, you might want to consider cooler temperature bulbs to help you stay awake and keep you motivated when that 3pm slump hits.
Often a tricky place to light effectively, the bathroom needs to be bright in places so you can concentrate on brushing your teeth or trimming your beard, but more calm and serene in others so you can enjoy a long, well-earned, bubble bath.
We suggest a couple of 330-400 lumen light bulbs to start you off, choosing either warm or cold temperatures depending on your preferences.
Outdoor spaces can vary significantly between cosy courtyards and spacious gardens. The way we use them also differs greatly. Some people like to enjoy a glass of wine with friends amongst fairy lights in the summer, while others only need lighting for security purposes.
If you have an average sized garden, then you might consider an outdoor twin floodlight with 1360 lumen output to light up your outdoor space. This will be nice and bright to illuminate the garden even on the darkest of nights.
If you have a particularly long driveway, or a large space that needs a little added security, then a higher lumen output floodlight might serve you better. Anything with more than 1200 lumens should suffice, but you can also get very bright lights with up to 4000 lumens and beyond.
There are a few additional factors that can affect the brightness of a bulb alongside the lumens. It’s important to remember that if you are buying a light bulb separately, then pay attention to the lumens on the box, as this will define the light output. However, also remember to bear in mind that lights with shades or filters could affect the light output as well, and therefore could potentially dim your light.
Overall, it’s safe to say that lumens play a big part in getting the lighting right for your home. The brightness of a bulb can have a big impact on the usability and optimisation of each room, so it’s important to get to grips with it.
While wattage has played its part in helping us identify the right light bulbs over the years, it’s time to say goodbye to them now and embrace the simplicity and effectiveness of lumens instead.
We hope you’ve found this article helpful, and have learned a little more about lumens and what to look out for when shopping for light bulbs. For more information, view our full range of lightbulbs on our website, and don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter for 10% off your first order.
Andrew Evangelidis Head of Buying
Andrew is an experienced buying professional who takes an entrepreneurial approach to identify new lighting solutions and ensure Lyco have first-to-market ranges for our customers. Having previously worked for well known brands such as Wickes, Carphone Warehouse and Toys R Us, Andrew has now turned his hand to sourcing commercial lighting and ensure our customers receive top brand quality products at marketing leading prices. He manages a team of commercial and decorative buyers who travel the world finding new products that our customers don’t even know they need yet.