How to choose the right LED light bulb for your space

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BC Hydro Community Outreach representative Madeline Rigg holds up LED lighting packaging that, with a little knowledge, can help you get the right bulb for your home.

Lighting explained: what to look for when shopping for efficient bulbs

Posted by Madeline Rigg

Traditional incandescent bulbs are going to become increasingly difficult to find.

As of December of 2014, new lighting regulations instituted by the federal government mean that the traditional 40 and 60 watt incandescent bulbs will now no longer be imported or produced in Canada. This follows earlier regulations on 75 and 100 watt incandescent bulbs that began in January 2014.

While not an outright ban on incandescent light bulbs, the regulations encourage the use of energy efficient products.

Common light bulbs now sold in Canada typically use about 25 per cent to 80 per cent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. And the price of efficient lighting options has reduced significantly from 2011, when a LED bulb cost over $30. Today, LED bulbs to replace traditional incandescents cost under $10.

What better time to make a switch to energy-efficient LEDs?

While most of us are at least a little familiar with the energy-saving aspects of LED lights, choosing the right one can still feel a bit daunting, in part due to the sheer amount of information finding the right LED seems to require.

The technology for LED lighting has come a long way very quickly, and offers a much wider range in light and colour than old incandescent lightbulbs ever did. Thankfully, all the information you need is right on the LED package itself.

Start by finding a bulb that looks the way you want

The first thing that most people should consider when buying LEDs is ensuring that you get the right look for your space.

To do this, both colour and bulb type need to be considered. LEDs come in a range of warm to cool light, and this is reflected by the colour temperature scale, or Kelvin scale. This scale can be found on many LED packages. Simply put, the lower the Kelvins, the warmer the light.

An LED marketed as having a "warm light" or a "soft light" is lower on the Kelvin scale, around 2700 Kelvin, and would match the warm, yellow colour of a traditional incandescent bulb.

On the higher end of the scale, sitting near 6500 Kelvin, would be "daylight" bulbs, which have the cool blue light that we tend to associate with energy-efficient lighting. These are good bulbs for task lighting, but are not typically the colour that many people want in their bedrooms or living rooms.

LED bulbs that land in the middle of the Kelvin scale, around 3500 Kelvin, are sold as "bright white" bulbs, and do not have the yellow glow of a "warm light" bulb, but also won't give off the blue colour of the "daylight" bulbs.

LED bulbs come in a wide range of bulb types, from the traditional bulbs, to potlights, chandeliers and globes. For example, what we tend to think of as "regular" light bulbs are called A-line bulbs. There are a variety of LED A-lines available that look just like the traditional incandescent bulb and provide the same light quality and colour and that you are used to.

LEDs offer a range of brightness levels, all with lower wattage

Once the colour temperature and bulb type have been selected, customers tend to search for the brightness of the bulb. These numbers and measurements are different on LEDs than on incandescent bulbs.

Luckily, LED packages break this information down for us. The energy use or wattage of a bulb is displayed prominently on the front of the package, and is often the biggest, most noticeable piece of information.

It's important to remember when looking for LEDs that the watts used will be much lower than with a traditional incandescent bulb. This doesn't mean that the LED will be a weaker light, but rather that it's more energy efficient.

The brightness of the bulb depends on the lumens — the higher the lumens, the brighter the bulb.

Many manufacturers actually include the incandescent equivalency and the lumen output of the bulb close to the wattage information to help those who are unsure of what they're looking for. For instance, a 9 watt LED replaces a 40 watt incandescent and delivers about 400 lumens of light, an 11 watt LED replaces a 60 watt incandescent and delivers about 800 lumens of light, while a 22 watt LED would replace a 100 watt incandescent bulb which delivers about 1600 lumens of light output.

Read the package to find the perfect light bulb for your needs

LED packages can offer more information than just these basics. Packages generally offer information on whether the bulb has a defined beam angle, which shines light in one direction (such as a PAR30 potlight or a GU10 track light), or if it is omnidirectional, which means it shines in all directions, similar to traditional A-line bulbs.

Many packages also provide information on the bulb's CRI, or Colour Rendering Index, which measures the colour accuracy of the light, or how true colours will appear under this light. This will be a number between 1 and 100. If you're trying to highlight or accentuate furniture, art or accessories of particular colours, a bulb with a higher CRI will help you show more true colours.

Madeline Rigg is a Community Outreach representative who educates customers in the Lower Mainland about ways to save energy and money.