Buyer’s Guide: LED Light Bulbs
Looking to save money and conserve energy by switching to LED light bulbs? Use these tips to make an informed purchase, and don't miss our top picks among the best options available 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, helping save 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.
Are you thinking about switching to LED? Continue below for our guide to everything you need to know about this energy-saving light solution, as well as to see our top picks among the best LED bulb options available.
- BEST ALL AROUND: Philips Ambient Dimmable A19 LED Bulb
- BEST FOR SOFT LIGHT: Cree Lighting A19 40W Equivalent LED Light Bulb
- BEST FOR BRIGHT LIGHT: Cree Lighting A21 100W Equivalent LED Light Bulb
- TECH PICK: Philips Hue White A19 60W Equivalent Dimmable LED Smart Bulbs
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:
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.
Lifespan and Operation Costs
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
BEST ALL AROUND: Philips Ambient Dimmable A19 LED Bulb
The Philips Philips Ambient Dimmable A19 LED Bulb emits 60-watt light in a wide arc to illuminate a broad area—and it operates without buzzing or flickering, a common problem with inferior bulbs. We also appreciate the quality of its white light, not to mention the anticipated length of its useful life. This Philips LED can last not for months, but for years. Consider this bulb for kitchens and for other areas of the home that require bright yet soft lighting.
BEST FOR SOFT LIGHT: Cree Lighting A19 40W Equivalent LED Light Bulb
For reading lamps, bedside lamps, and even bathroom vanities, opt for the Cree Lighting A19 40W Equivalent LED Light Bulb, which emits 460 lumens and a dynamic color range, successfully mimicking soft incandescent light. We love the warmth of the light, the fact that the bulb is dimmable, and not least 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 Lighting A21 100W Equivalent LED Light Bulb
For LED lighting that approximates natural daylight, consider this option from Cree Lighting. 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 can last years without burning out.
Hue LED Smart Bulbs from Philips stand out for their digital-enabled, “smart” capabilities. Hue bulbs integrate with a wide assortment of smart home technologies, including Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa, IFTTT, and Nest in order to provide enhanced functionality. Our favorite feature? Thanks to geofencing, the bulb can detect when you approach and automatically turn on. Note that to enable geofencing and otherwise make the most of the Hue, you must separately purchase the Hue Hub and download the free Philips Hue app to your mobile device.