Buyer’s Guide: LED Light Bulbs
Looking to save money and conserve energy by switching existing light bulbs to LEDs? Use these tips to make an informed purchase, and check out our top picks for the best LED bulbs on the market today.
Nowadays, many renters and homeowners choose light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs) over the classic incandescent, fluorescent, or halogen options. That’s because LED light bulbs are more energy efficient and longer lasting, thus saving money on utility bills and bulb replacement.
While LEDs still cost a bit more than other types of bulbs, prices have dropped precipitously since their first market appearance in the 1960s. The other big thing that’s changed over the years? There are now a dizzying number of LED bulbs available, making it quite difficult to decide which to buy.
Key Considerations for Choosing an LED Light Bulb
Are you thinking about switching to LED? Continue below fro our guide on everything you need to know about this energy-saving light solution, as well as to see our top picks among the many LED options on the market today.
Understanding LED Brightness
The brightness of incandescent bulbs is determined by wattage, a measurement of how much energy the bulb uses. A 100-watt incandescent bulb can effectively illuminate a large kitchen, while a 40-watt bulb is a go-to option for softer, dimmer light. While LED bulbs still list wattage numbers, their actual brightness is measured in lumens.
The following list illustrates how much wattage an LED bulb uses in order to emit the same brightness as an incandescent bulb.
- A 7- to 9-watt LED bulb is equivalent to a 40-watt incandescent bulb (450 lumens emitted)
- A 9- to 12-watt LED bulb is equivalent to 60-watt incandescent bulb (800 lumens emitted)
- A 12- to 15-watt LED bulb is equivalent to 75-watt incandescent bulb (1,100 lumens emitted)
- A 16- to 20-watt LED bulb is equivalent to 100-watt incandescent bulb (1,600 lumens emitted)
Fortunately, many LED bulb manufacturers now include an equivalent incandescent wattage value on their packages. For example, a “60-watt equivalent” LED bulb will emit as much light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb, yet the actual LED bulb may only use 10 watts. As you might image, most consumers are more confident choosing an LED light bulb when the incandescent equivalent wattage is listed.
In addition to lumens, an LED bulb’s color temperature is listed on the package’s “Lighting Facts” label. This information is shown through a color-coded bar; the orange-colored end represents “warm” temperatures, and the blue-colored end represents “cool” temperatures. An arrow indicator falls somewhere between the two points, displaying on the color temperature of the specific bulb.
For the best results, choose bulbs with a color temperature that corresponds with the specific lighting needs in your home:
- Warm white light is calm, inviting, and flattering to skin tones, making it suitable for bathrooms, bedrooms, living rooms, reading corners, and outdoor spaces. Warm white light falls on the “warm” end of the color temperature scale.
- Soft white light is vibrant and energetic. It’s well suited to kitchen work areas, basements, garages, and task-oriented spaces, where you want bright (but not harsh) illumination. Soft white falls mid-range on the color temperature scale.
- Bright white light, sometimes called “daylight” lighting, is located at the cool end of the color temperature bar. It’s very bright and crisp, but it tends to be a bit hard on the eyes in relaxed living situations. Bright white lighting is best used for outdoor security systems and bright workshops.
To Dim or Not to Dim
Dimmable bulbs allow the user to adjust the amount of electricity to the bulb and control its brightness. Thanks to their ability to conserve energy, dimmable bulbs are a great option for those looking to save on utility bills—but not all LEDs are dimmable, so be sure to read the package before buying. Also, keep in mind dimmable bulbs only work when you have installed dimmable light switches.
Technologically savvy bulb manufacturers offer a variety of LED light bulbs that connect to home Wi-Fi, making it possible to turn them on and off remotely from a smart phone or tablet. Many bulbs can be programmed to turn on and off at preset times, or to turn on as you approach (using a technology known as “geofencing”). What’s more, some smart LEDs allow the user to switch between color temperatures, while others sync with home voice-activated assistants like Amazon Alexa. If you want to control your home lighting remotely, a smart LED light bulb is just the ticket.
An LED Bulb’s Useful Life and Yearly Cost to Operate
When shopping for an LED light bulb, you’ll find an estimated lifespan on its package; most bulbs last anywhere from 10 to 25 years. You’ll also find an estimate of how much the bulb will cost to operate per year. These estimations are based on an average bulb use of three hours per day. If you leave a light on all day long, the lifespan will be significant shorter, and the bulb will cost more per year to operate.
Our Top Picks
If you’re ready to covert to LED light bulbs but you’re not thrilled about analyzing labels, don’t worry. We’ve researched consumer sites and studied customer ratings to pinpoint the best LEDs on the market today. Here are our top picks for the best LED light bulbs.
BEST FOR GENERAL PURPOSES: Philips 60-Watt Equivalent LED
A favorite among consuming testing laboratories, the Philips 60-watt equivalent LED emits light in a wide arc to illuminate a broad area—and it operates without buzzing or flickering, a common problem with inferior bulbs. Reviewers appreciate the quality of its white light, not mention the anticipated length of its useful life—theoretically, the Philips can last not for months, but for many, many years. Consider this bulb for kitchens and for other areas of the home that require bright yet soft lighting.
BEST FOR SOFT LIGHT: Cree 40-Watt Equivalent LED
The winner of top honors for reading lamps, bedside lamps, and even bathroom vanities, the Cree 40-Watt Equivalent LED, with 460 lumens and a dynamic color range, successfully mimics soft incandescent light. Reviewers love the “coziness” of the light, the fact that the bulb is dimmable, and the idea that if the bulb lasts as long as estimated, it’ll be 22 years before it needs replacement.
BEST FOR BRIGHT LIGHT: Cree 100-Watt Equivalent Daylight LED
For LED lighting that approximates natural daylight, choose the Cree 100W Equivalent Daylight LED. In overhead lights and sconces, in floor lamps and table lamps, the quiet, fully dimmable, no-hum Cree provides beautiful, clear light that’s easy to see by. And like the others that made out our list, it’s expected to last decades of use without burning out.
BEST SMART LED:Philips Hue White Smart LED
One of the original smart LED light bulbs and still the very best, Philips Hue White LED stands out for its relative affordability, “smart” capabilities, and impressive versatility. That is, the Hue integrates with a wide assortment of smart home technologies, including Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa, IFTTT, and Nest. Its best feature? Thanks to geofencing, the bulb can detect when you approach and automatically turn on. That said, note that to enable geofencing and otherwise make the most of the Hue, you must download the free Philips Hue app to your smartphone and follow the directions to sync it up with the Hue bulb.