Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

Understanding Watts vs. Lumens for Home Lighting

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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?

Watts:

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:

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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8 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!

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