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 five picks for the best LED bulbs on the market today.
Nowadays, many homeowners choose light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs) over the classic incandescent, fluorescent, or halogen options. That’s because LED light bulbs are comparably more energy efficient and longer lasting, thus saving money on utility bills and replacements. While LEDs still cost a bit more than other types of bulbs, prices have dropped significantly since their first market appearance in the 1960s. Early versions ran as much as $100 a piece and were limited in color to harsh white. Today’s versions usually cost between $3 to $70, depending on quality and special features like smart technology, and come available in dynamic color ranges.
Are you thinking about switching to LED bulbs in your home? Check out our guide on everything you need to know about this energy-saving light solution, including our top five picks for the best LED light bulbs.
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. Most consumers more confident choose an LED light bulb when the incandescent equivalent 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. Priced higher than ordinary LEDs, these smart LEDs start around $15 and price up to $70, depending on the bulb’s features. 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’s 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 Five 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 five of the best LEDs on the market today. Here are our top five picks for the best LED light bulbs.
Philips 60-Watt Equivalent LED ($19.98 for three)
In firsthand testing, CNET chose the Philips 60-watt equivalent LED as the “best dimmable LED” in their tests. It emits light in a wide arc to illuminate a broad area, and it operates without buzzing or flickering, which is a common problem with some LED bulbs. CNET notes that the Phillips LED bulb even works well with older light switches that may not be specifically designed to accommodate LED bulbs. Amazon buyers also like the Philips LED, giving the bulb 4.3 out of 5 stars for its soft white light and its long useful life (which is estimated at 25 years). The bulb costs about $1.28 per year to operate, and it emits 740 lumens. This bulb is great for kitchens and for other areas of the home that require bright yet soft lighting. Available on Amazon.
Cree 40-Watt Equivalent LED ($5.41 for one)
The Sweethome awards the Cree 40-watt equivalent LED top honors for “reading lamps and bedrooms,” listing its best features as “brightness, dimmability, color accuracy, and efficiency.” With 460 lumens and a dynamic color range, the Cree LED successfully mimics soft incandescent light, making it a flattering choice for bathroom vanities. It also works well as an all-purpose bulb in lamps and wall sconces. Amazon customers give the Cree LED 4.4 stars for dimmability and say that it’s “easy to read” near. The bulb is estimated to cost $.72 per year to operate and should last an average of 22 years. Available on Amazon.
Cree 60-Watt Equivalent Daylight LED ($19.97 for four)
For its ability to “more accurately reflect an object’s true colors,” Digital Trends lists the Cree 60-watt Equivalent Daylight LED as a top choice for consumers who want LED lighting that closely mimics natural daylight. Home Depot buyers give the Cree bulb an enthusiastic 4.5 stars. With 860 lumens, it costs an average of $1.02 per year to operate, and it is expected to last about 22 years before needing replacement. For clear beautiful light that’s easy to see by, the Cree LED is suitable for use in overhead lights, ceiling fans, floor and table lamps, and sconces. It’s also fully dimmable and quiet, no expect humming from this bulb. Available at Home Depot.
Philips Hue White LED ($14.95 for one)
In extensive reviews of today’s top selling smart LEDs, PCMag gives the Philips Hue White LED its coveted Editor’s Choice designation for affordability and its ability to integrate with Apple Homekit, Amazon’s Alexa, IFTTT, and Nest technology. This smart bulb emits 800 lumens of white light, which is equivalent to 60-watts of incandescent light, and it’s expected to last about 23 years. It’s also dimmable and features geofencing, so it can detect when you approach (if your smart phone is in your pocket or purse) and turn itself on. Tech-smart Amazon customers give the smart bulb 4 stars for its low cost and its fancy features. To operate the bulb, consumers will need to download a free Philips Hue app to their smart phone (both Android or Apple iOS devices will work), and follow the directions to sync the device to the bulb. Available on Amazon.
Philips 60-Watt Equivalent Soft White LED ($5.07 for two)
For both performance and affordability, The Spruce lists the Philips 60-Watt Equivalent Soft White LED as their pick for a “budget LED bulb.” With a slightly shorter estimated lifespan of 10 years, this bulb won’t last quite as long as some of the more expensive LEDs, but it’s still an excellent value at just $2.55 per bulb. It emits 800 lumens of soft white light and costs approximately $1.02 per year to operate. Home Depot buyers give the Philips LED a resounding 4.6 stars, citing its major selling point as its affordability. The bulb is not dimmable, so use it only with standard light switches. Available at Home Depot.