Saying Goodbye To Watts and Hello to Lumens

Any interior designer worth her fee will tell you that lighting is as important an element in a room as fabric, furniture or color.  We place emphasis on the need for ceiling lighting, lamp lighting, accent lighting and in particular the type and amount of light given off by those fixtures.  In the past when our incandescent bulbs burnt out all we needed to know to replace them was the wattage and the type of light (soft or bright) they gave off. Well things have certainly changed! 

By now you are probably aware that the federal government is phasing out energy-wasting incandescent light bulbs in favor of more energy efficient bulbs.   With these new bulbs comes a new way to measure their brightness and new labeling which lists the bulb's lumens, or brightness; its estimated yearly energy cost; how long the bulb is expected to last; its appearance, from warm to cool; how much energy, or watts, it uses; and whether the bulb contains mercury.  Wow!  

As I have mentioned, lighting is a very important part of my business so it shouldn’t surprise you that my reaction to these changes has been to pick up several packages of incandescent bulbs every time I go to Target.   And while I wouldn’t necessarily call that hoarding...upon reflection I decided that perhaps it was time for me navigate the world of lumens.  

I learned several things while saying goodbye to watts and hello to lumens. While it is hard to let go of the notion that higher wattage equals brighter light, that doesn’t always hold true anymore, as fluorescent and LED bulbs use less energy (watts) but provide the same amount of light (lumens).  Here is  a little cheat sheet to help you convert watts to lumens.

100 watts = 1490-2600 lumens

75 watts  = 1050-1489 lumens

60 watts =  750-1049 lumens

40 watts = 310-749 lumens

25 watts =  150-309 lumens

Regardless of the lumens, different types of bulbs produce different colors of light.  This is very important to consider when choosing a bulb so I have gathered a little information about some of the more readily available bulbs on the market.


While CFL’s are incredibly energy-efficient for the amount of light they output they do have some downfalls.  Most require a warm up time so when you first turn them on there is a delay before they are at their brightest.  Additionally they cannot be dimmed and they contain mercury so there are disposal issues.  But the most disappointing fact, in my opinion, is that they don’t really replicate the color temperature of an incandescent light bulb very well.  CFL’s are a good choice for places like closets and hallways where light temperature is not particularly important.


More and more LED light bulbs are becoming available but they are the most expensive replacement option and the lumen output is not comparable to the incandesents.  Additionally, an incandescent light bulb’s light is omnidirectional meaning light is outputted all around the bulb. The LED light bulbs that I have tried have not been able to replicate this, however, they are the most energy efficient lighting available.


While Halogen light bulbs are not nearly as energy efficient as CFLs and LED’s and they don’t last as long, they are dimmable, they have a nice color temperature and they are at full light output immediately after they are turned on.  Additionally, they contain no mercury.  In my book halogen bulbs are a good replacement for the old incandescents, especially in rooms where you have dimmers and light temperature is important.

As the demand for energy efficient lighting increases manufacturers are improving their bulbs and introducing new ones. There are several light bulb options available now and a combination of those options is probably the best solution in most homes.  As consumers we need to evaluate lighting needs in each room and buy bulbs accordingly. can just race to Target...