Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

Understanding Watts vs. Lumens for Home Lighting

Packages of light bulbs

New regulations will soon change the labeling of light bulbs.

There have been some major changes in lighting in recent years due to the introduction of energy efficient CFL and LED bulbs. Familiar old incandescent bulbs are becoming a thing of the past, as both their energy-hogging habits and their “wattage” rating become obsolete. In their places will be high efficiency bulbs with a much more accurate “lumens” rating. Here’s a handy guide to help you understand the difference and navigate the changes.

Watts vs. Lumens

To start with, what’s the difference between a watt and a lumen?


Watt label on light bulb package

Watts measure electricity.

Watts are a measurement of how much electricity something uses. It actually has nothing to do with how bright a bulb is, but incandescent bulbs are so similar that when we bought a 100-watt incandescent light bulb, we had a general idea of how bright it would be.

With newer types of bulbs, it takes far fewer watts to create just as much light, so wattage ratings are no longer very useful. Each type of bulb is different, and the whole idea is to develop bulbs that use fewer watts to make more light.


Lumens, on the other hand, actually measure the amount of light being put out by the bulb. Lumens are a much more accurate measurement, because it tells you how the light actually performs, regardless of the source that produced it.

One lumen is approximately equal to the amount of light put out by one birthday candle that’s one foot away from you. To help you get an idea of the lumen scale, a standard 60-watt bulb puts out around 750-850 lumens of light. If you’re choosing bulbs for task lighting, look for bulbs with 1000 lumens or more.

Light bulb packages showing lumens ratings

Lumens actually measure light output.

Lumens Per Watt Rating

Like miles-per-gallon in a car, the lumens-per-watt rating measures how much light that particular bulb produces per watt of power used, which tells you how energy efficient it is. Under the new system, when shopping for a light bulb, you should first look for the bulbs that produce the number of lumens you need.

Once you know the right brightness, you can then look at the lumens-per-watt rating to find the bulb that’s most energy efficient. The lumens-per-watt rating is an average, since light bulbs become less efficient as they age.

Goodbye Incandescents!

Incandescents light bulbs
Under the new energy standards, don’t expect to see incandescent bulbs on the shelves much longer. They don’t measure up to the new efficiency standards and will be phased out over time. Incandescent bulbs produce around 20 lumens per watt, while some of the newer LED bulbs pack a whopping 100 lumens per watt or more!

Energy Star Bulbs

If you’re not into fine print, one easy way to choose light bulbs is to look for the Energy Star rating. To qualify for Energy Star, light bulbs must meet certain lumens-per-watt standards. Here’s a handy chart to help you understand how watts and lumens relate to each other under the Energy Star system:

Watts (energy usage) Lumens (light output)
25 200
35 325
40 450
60 800
75 1100
100 1600
125 2000
150 2600

Further Information

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22 Comments on “Understanding Watts vs. Lumens for Home Lighting”

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  1. Wabing Stahl Says:
    March 17th, 2013 at 7:05 am

    Hi, I would like to understand how I can choose energy saving lights when I compare the wattage and Lumens

  2. Bill Says:
    April 26th, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Current LED and CFL bulbs are still very crude and poor in quality compared to incandescent bulbs. In addition, lumens listed for bulbs appear to worthless in comparing bulbs. I have a 65W BR30 incandescent indoor flood with a 485 lumen brightness listed which is just as bright as a 60W incandescent bulb (which I would expect) but has a listed brightness of 850 lumens. When I bought a LED flood of 800 lumens (supposedly a 65W replacement, it was considerably brighter than my other 65W incandescent bulbs. Not only that, this supposedly dimable LED flood light was still much brighter and the lowest dim setting than all of the incandescent flood lights. How can consumers make accurate decisions with such lousy markings?

  3. Mike Says:
    January 6th, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    need lights for my dogs (similar to a kennel set up) that spend a lot more time inside versus outside due to the weather. I need lights that will provide as close to sunshine as possible to prevent health problems.

  4. ODonohoe Electric Says:
    June 7th, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    I recently installed four low profile LED fixtures in a customers basement. The ceiling was low and they worked well, nice light and came on immediaitatly . The customer also bought a LED hi hat for over the stairs.The probllem is there is a delay. The manufacture says that a three second delay is exceptable. I don’t think a three second delay is except able over a staircase but thats just me. I believe we have a way to go before all the glitches are ironed out.

  5. Heinz Says:
    October 1st, 2014 at 8:49 am

    It sure would be helpful to have a chart available to compare watts to lumen. Untill the consumer gets familiar with the changing of everyday light bulbs. Right now I know that a 100 watt is what I need for a certain job. If the salesmen would tell me to just use a 1600 lumen new led bulb I would have absolute no idea if that would give me the equivalent amount of lighting. The charts I am thinking of could be hanging at the light-bulb department at stores were you can just take one with you home . This is my 5cents worth of suggestion. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to suggest this. Heinz

  6. Steve Says:
    October 10th, 2014 at 2:39 am

    Heinzz mate, read the article, watts don’t equal lumens

  7. Rick Says:
    October 11th, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    I want to replace a large ceiling fixture of four (4) 40 watt T-12 (48″) bright white flourescent lamps with an LED fixture which I have not yet selected. My question: how many lumens do I need from my new LED fixture to match the brightness of the existing fixture?

  8. Tomas Says:
    October 12th, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Great article! I wondered about lumen selection when I am on a paved trail for bicycles and am caught out in the dark by not preparing for quicker sunsets. Thanks!

  9. Kirk Says:
    November 9th, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Great article, thank you for the information. The only thing I don’t see mentioned, and it may be in another article, is the color temperature. An 800 Lumen LED with a color temp of 2,700k (warm white) will not APPEAR as bright as the same rated bulb with a 3,800k, or higher, Daylight bulb. The lumens are the same, but your eyes perceive it differently.

    Also of note is that the color of the light from an LED bulb is someone’s idea of what that color should look like. It is not an integral part of the bulb as it is in an incandescent bulb. The color will look a little funny until you get used to it. The warm white may look too orangy, and the daylight may look too blue-white.

  10. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    November 9th, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Hi Kirk,
    Thanks for the feedback. While it’s not in this post, we cover the various color temperatures in our article on CFL bulbs http://www.todayshomeowner.com/cfl-bulbs-a-bright-idea-for-going-green/

  11. Ken Dinsmore Says:
    November 14th, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    When a socket states use no more then a 75 watt bulb can a energy saving bulb with a higher lumens be used if it states 15w. I was told the watts on the socket was for fire safety for the current being used not for the light being produced. So a 60w bulb produces an average of 800 lumens can I use a 1180 lumens energy saving bulb if it states it uses 15w.

    Thank you.

    Ken Dinsmore

  12. Robert Stacy Says:
    January 31st, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    I have a 65w bulb in a 6 inch can fixture, that is rated at 1810 lumens. The box with the identical spare bulb (last one) gives the wattage and lumens. I was looking for replacements, and the only incandescent replacements I can find/only 60 watt say 530 lumens. The 10 year old bulb I have left has a $1.98 sticker on it. The fluorescent (CFL) PAR 30 bulbs costs $5.99 each and say 530 lumens/60W equivalent using and the CFL says 60w using only 15 watts, same lumens. I bought one each and tried it out. I have two light meters and both showed the old 65W bulb puts out nearly 1800 lumens, the new 60w incandescent rated at 530 puts out 410 and the CFL but after “warming up” for ten minutes reaches 280. I didn’t try an LED, the equivalent costs $49 each. Using cfls, I would have to install six more fixtures to get the same light level. Thus I go from one 65w (using 65 watts) to 7 fixtures with CFLs, each using 15 watts or 105 watts total to get the same light level. How is this saving electricity??? I know this is EPA mandated and I wrote them, and they answered that I don’t need that much light!

  13. b2curious Says:
    February 20th, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Robert Stacy, that is very interesting. I’ve got some old bulbs at home. I think I’m going to have to check the boxes to see if they list lumens. In the mean time, if they’ll fit the can, you probably want the CFL that is a 100 equivalent. That should give you the correct lumens…..

  14. Ken Tolliver Says:
    March 24th, 2015 at 3:39 am

    Here’s a fact that few would dispute: For quality of lighting, nothing beats an incandescent bulb. We got conned by cfls…the color they produce is not flattering to skin tone and the worst thing is that when they die (often much sooner then the *years* they are supposed to last) you end up with toxic waste because of the mercury in them. It’s illegal to throw them in the trash, and none of the retailers that are so happy to sell them will take the dead ones. Nice. Let’s hope led bulbs end up being better.

  15. ynette Says:
    May 24th, 2015 at 5:38 am

    Hi, can you help me on this?

    I use ceiling light for reading and doing work. What wattage light do I need? If the ceiling light has 3 connected in series down light, what should be the wattage for each down light? I refer to energy savings bulb.


  16. Willian Says:
    August 10th, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    I think what the article fails to make clear is that watts and lumens aren’t like miles and kilometers. It isn’t simply two units for the same thing.

    Watts were an easy way to classify incandescent lamps since there were no other and it required basic and cheap electrician equipment to measure. In fact Watts is NOT a measurement of light, its a measurement of power used.

    With the arrival of many different kinds of light sources using a variety of powers (watts) and with different light outputs, the industry was forced to make more clear how much LIGHT that lamp would produce. That is where lumens come in. So the best would be if since beginning lamps were measured in lumens, which would be also more accurate.

    Some people are asking about different colours produce different sensation of light. To put it simply:

    Lumens is how much light your lamp puts out, consequently the space that it will illuminate.

    The colour or to put more accurately the temperature is the intensity of your light. up to ~3500K is warm white, not so intense and comfortable for living. ~4000-4500K is cool white. Much more intense and looking brighter, good for situations where u need more light, such as reading but it’s not relaxing. As a comparison, your sunny midday is about ~6000K equivalent and on sunny days you can feel its really bright and need sunglasses (too intense and not comfortable).

  17. Mike Clark Says:
    August 22nd, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    About how much does it cost to run a 3 luminous bulb?
    Thanks Mike

  18. Nancy Peterson Says:
    September 27th, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    Suddenly Willian introduces Ks. What is a K? 3000Ks means what? And how is that translated to lumens and watts?

  19. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    September 28th, 2015 at 8:37 am

    The “K” Willian is referring to stands for “Kelvin”. It is a temperature scale used to measure the color of light. In light bulbs the higher the Kelvin temperature, the whiter the color of the light.

  20. Tom Says:
    October 23rd, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    In all the talk about lumens & watts we are kind of forgetting about HEAT. In the incandescent light world (watt world) incandescent lights produce lots of heat. With that being said,the answer to an earlier thread question why are standard light sockets rated in Max. Watts? If you install a 100 watt incandescent bulb in a socket rated for a 25 watt incandescent bulb you are literally “baking” the socket & the wiring and anything else near the bulb.

  21. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    October 24th, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Good point! In the days when incandescent bulbs were the only choice for socket type light fixtures, it was a given that a certain watt bulb would give off a certain amount of heat. It’s not the gauge of the wires that determines the rated wattage maximum in most light fixtures, but the amount of heat the fixture and surrounding materials will be exposed to. CFLs and LEDs produce much less heat per watt, which is why you can use a brighter bulb in the fixture.

  22. Mark Weber Says:
    November 7th, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Distance would also have an effect on lumens too. As a photographer I have a light meter but I would like to understand how to measure the proper illumination for viewing an image compared to my color balanced monitor. I understand the color temperature and even that 2000 lumens is about ideal from what I’ve read but I just don’t understand the disaptance to have the light source from the image in order to have the proper density or lumens. Anyone be able to tell me in photography terms for my light meter like ISO 100, 1 sec f.8.0. Thanks!

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