by Jane K Santorius, April 14, 2015

Replacing a light bulb used to be simple. But now that old models of incandescent bulbs have been phased out, we’re swamped with choices. How do we know whether to buy an LED, CFL, or halogen incandescent? And what’s the difference? Does a more expensive bulb mean better light? And do we really have to give up on the warm, familiar, incandescent glow?

Let’s review the basic options:

Incandescent : Incandescent bulbs that don’t meet the federal efficiency standards introduced in 2012 have been largely taken off the market. But incandescent bulbs are still available for specialty applications, including three-way bulbs.

Halogen and Halogen-Incandescent: Halogen bulbs use a technology similar to incandescent bulbs, with a heated interior filament. You might know them as the small, intense bulbs in reading lamps. New types of halogen bulbs have been developed that give off light more similar to incandescent bulbs, and are several times more efficient.

CFL: This stands for compact fluorescent lamp. CFLs are basically miniaturized versions of conventional fluorescent lights, with tubes looping around to approximate a bulb shape. They’re far more efficient than both incandescent and halogen bulbs. Since many people have complained that the curlicue-shaped bulbs are unattractive, some new models look more like pear-shaped incandescents. Early CFL bulbs had problems with flickering, and could take a long time to brighten. While newer models are better, CFLs still seem set to be phased out by the latest developments in LEDs. [And more importantly, the mercury content that makes them hazardous waste when you replace them.]

LED: This stands for light-emitting diode. Once upon a time, they were found mainly in small items like Christmas lights, but new technology is making them a lot more versatile. Only a few years ago, LEDs were absurdly expensive (think $50 for a light bulb)—but prices have been falling for a while, and you can now get a decent LED for a fifth of that. LEDs have the longest lifespan of all, with up to 50,000 hours of light in some cases—at 8 hours a day, that’s 17 years.

OK!  Now that we’re familiar with the categories, how do we actually choose the right bulb?

We gathered advice from Terry K. McGowan, Director of Engineering and Technology at the American Lighting Association, and Sean O’Connor, principal of Sean O’Connor Lighting, a Los Angeles-based studio that works on high-end residential projects and has designed lighting for retail stores including Rachel Comey, Coach and The Row, to help us navigate the process.

A round-up of their expert tips:

  1. Go for warmth.

While the switch to more efficient bulbs makes economical and environmental sense, it’s not always good news for the look and feel of your space.

“I still love incandescent—it is magic,” says O’Connor. His recommendation: “Warm light—especially using incandescent or halogen—and dimmers. From there you can do most anything. If you want to be more energy efficient, there are new consumer-ready “warm dim” LED lamps—use these in combination with a dimmer so the color of the light gets warmer when you dim it like incandescent does. Nobody wants to be in a cool-colored dark room.”

To approximate incandescent light with efficient bulbs, look at the label for information on chromaticity and color renderingAccording to McGowan, chromaticity should be in the 2700 to 3000 Kelvin range. For color rendering, you want “no less than 80, preferably up in the 90s.” (Incandescent bulbs have a color rendering score of 100.)

O’Connor agrees: “When selecting LED or CFL [bulbs], most consumers do not understand color temperature (measured in degrees Kelvin (K)). Consumers may choose a “daylight” color [bulb] thinking it will feel more natural, however daylight is actually very cool-colored light. Select [bulbs] that are warm white or 2700 K.”

Visit the Lumennow website to see images of a room with different lighting temperatures.

  1. Choose LED over CFL.

“The only reason to choose CFL bulbs today is price, but that’s a barrier that’s rapidly deteriorating,” says McGowan. “Longest-lasting, best-quality light is achieved by LED.”

Pretty simple. You might spend a bit more, but the small price difference probably won’t make up for the difference in quality and longevity. [Or the lack of mercury in LED bulbs.] If you just need a standard bulb, McGowan recommends focusing on LEDs in the $5 to $15 range, for now. The very cheapest models can be unreliable, and the more expensive ones tend to have premium features that you might not need.

  1. Look for an Energy Star rating.

Energy-Star-rated bulbs are your best bet for price and quality protection. “All Energy-Star bulbs have been life-tested and must have a warranty,” McGowan says.

When shopping for LEDs, Energy-Star ratings are doubly important: they ensure that the bulb will shine in all directions, like incandescent bulbs, instead of in a narrow range, as some LEDs may do.

  1. Know your lumens.

Light output for new bulbs is measured in lumens, not watts. Wattage refers to the amount of power the bulb uses. Since energy-efficient bulbs only use a small fraction of the watts that incandescents use, wattage has become pretty useless as a measure of light.

[Check out the FTC’s chart for converting watts to lumens. Source: ]

  1. Final thoughts:
  • Make sure the new bulb will fit into the socket of your light fixture. While table lamps are a no-brainer, McGowan points out that the average home today contains 25 to 30 downlights in the ceiling, and with these reflector lights, mismatched sockets can be a problem.
  • If you’re buying an LED bulb for an enclosed fixture, like a ceiling light, look for high-temperature rated bulbs. LEDs don’t get hot, but if the air in the space around them is consistently heated, their lifespan can shorten.

And one last piece of advice: “Think of an LED bulb as an appliance, not a throwaway item,” McGowan says. “If you move, take your LED bulbs with you.”

Which makes sense, considering that the same bulb can now light your way for many years.

Originally published on Yahoo! Makers