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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 out 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   Energy Star bulb brightness
 (Watts)  (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.

Brightness is one thing; color is another. Using the temperature scale between 2,700 and 6,500 Kelvin (K), LED manufacturers attempt to convey whether the lights will be warm and yellowish (on the lower end of the scale) or bright and whiter (the higher numbers). The higher the Kelvin (K) number, the more a daylight- or natural-light bulb might be better for reading, while some may prefer a warmer light throughout parts of their home, like dens. 

Understanding LED Lumens and Colours

Many Led downlights will slip right into the slot where your old lights were placed. They also come in spotlight and floodlight shapes. If you’re dipping your toe in the LED pond, you might want to consider starting with a hard-to-reach but out-of-the-way spot. You can get a feel for the brightness and temperature, but you’ll also be glad you won’t have to change the bulb for the next couple of decades.