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Light up your house for less with our illuminating guide to LED bulbs

Spend some time in the lightbulb aisle of your local hardware store, and you’ll become familiar with the Federal Trade Commission’s lighting facts label. It sort of resembles a nutrition label and is meant to help you compare bulbs. All lightbulbs should have information on their brightness (measured in lumens), cost per year, life span (in years), color temperature (measured in Kelvins), and energy use (measured in watts).

As LEDs (light-emitting diodes) replace incandescents on store shelves, these labels and other information on bulb packaging are supposed to help you find the right light to replace the familiar glow from your favorite lamp. But because LEDs are so different from their earlier counterparts, some things may get lost in translation. This guide will help walk you through some of the big questions.

Watt the heck?

Dim-some

If this was five years ago, and you were buying an incandescent light bulb in the grocery store, you would probably know that a 60-watt bulb wouldn’t be as bright as a 100-watt bulb. A lot of LED makers put phrases like “60-watt equivalent” on the packaging to help consumers, but what watts actually tell you is that when a 60-watt bulb is on for an hour, it’s using 60 watts of energy. But LED packages also give you another unit, lumens, to tell you the amount of visible light produced. More lumens means brighter bulbs, but because saying one bulb is 850 lumens and another is 1,100 might not tell you much, Energy Star made a handy chart for replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs.

Old incandescent bulbs

(Watts)

Energy Star bulb brightness

(Minimum lumens)

40 450
60 800
75 1,100
100 1,600
150 2,600

You’ll notice some manufacturers say their 850-lumen bulb is a 75-watt equivalent, but you may be disappointed in the brightness when you get home, so mind the lumens instead.

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