How to find an LED lightbulb that fits your fixture

5 tips to demystify the process of buying energy-saving lightbulbs

Published: January 14, 2015 12:00 PM
Photo: Grant Cornett/Hello Artists

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The LED lightbulb display at the home center wasn’t helpful and the clerk who worked in that section was down on LEDs—too much money, he said—and didn’t seem to know a lot about them. Can’t blame him. LEDs, with their semi-conductor chips and electronic circuitry, are a lot more complicated than the lightbulbs we grew up with. But LEDs are really impressive if you buy the right ones, as Consumer Reports discovered in its lightbulb tests.

LEDs are better than CFLs (compact fluorescent lightbulbs) and use about 80 to 85 percent less energy than the incandescents they replace. They cost a lot more up front, but can trim your electric bill by up to $240 per bulb over their lifetime. You’ll save even more if you live where electricity is expensive, such as California, Hawaii, New York, and New England. Here are five ways that make it a whole lot easier to buy LEDs.

1. Bring your old bulb with you. Sounds goofy, but it’s a sure way to know that the LED fits your fixture since some LEDs are bigger or heavier than incandescents and CFLs. Replace bulbs that are on the most and use the most energy. Typically they’re the main lighting in the kitchen, dining area, and living room.

2. Bring our Ratings. We’ve tested dozens of LEDs and the lightbulb Ratings will come in handy as you stare at shelves lined with hundreds of LEDs and can’t find sales help that’s helpful.  

3. Focus on lumens. They’re stated on the Lighting Facts Label on the back of the LED box and tell you how bright the bulb is. You’ll want at least 800 lumens when replacing a 60-watt incandescent; 1,100 and up for a 75-watt replacement, and  1,600 or more for a 100-watt replacement. And if you’re wondering about watts, they tell you how much energy a bulb uses.

4. Check light color. Here’s where it starts to feel like work, but it’s not hard once you get used to it. If you like light that’s a warm yellow, similar to an incandescent, then you want an LED that has a color temperature around 2700K. You’ll see “Light Appearance” noted on the Lighting Facts Label. For white light pick a bulb that’s 3000K or so. Bright white light is 3500K to 4100K and bluer white light is 5000K to 6500K. But don’t worry, you’ll see this spelled out on the Lighting Facts Label.

5. Read the box. You’ll need a dimmable LED if you’re using it with a dimmer. It’s smart to buy one LED and see if it’s compatible with the dimmer you have. Note whether the bulb can be used in an enclosed fixture if that’s what you’re planning on. It matters because when heat builds up inside the fixture it can change the LED’s light color and shorten its life. Our lightbulb Ratings also provide this information.

Kimberly Janeway

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