Helpful Hints

Light Bulb Moment: Five Lighting FAQs

Lighting is one of the most important aspects of an interior, and as such, people tend to have a lot of questions about it.  Finding the right lighting fixture can be tricky.  You have to find lighting that will provide enough illumination while still fitting the style of the room.  Today we’re answering some common questions people have while shopping for lighting.

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What Are Lumens?

The first idea we need to tackle is that of watts vs lumens.  Everyone is used to looking at wattage when selecting a light bulb.  The wattage is the power used when the bulb is on and in the past it also reflected how bright the light was.  But as incandescent bulbs are phased out of use and CFL and LED bulbs become the norm you’ll see smaller wattages listed since these bulbs use less power.  So how are you supposed to know how bright these bulbs are?  Most packages list the wattage equivalent but checking the lumens is also an effective way of determining brightness.  Lumens measure the light output of a bulb.  A standard 60 watt incandescent bulb emits 800 lumens of brightness.  An 8 watt LED bulb emits the same 800 lumens but uses 52 less watts of power to do so.  Similar to watts, the higher the lumens number, the brighter the light.  Here’s a quick guide to wattage and lumen equivalents.

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Is this lamp bright enough?

This question is tricky to answer because unless a lamp comes with a bulb included it depends largely on the bulb you use.  If you’re worried about a lamp not being bright enough, check the maximum wattage bulb the fixture has been made to use.  It also depends on the area you need to light.  For this question we’ll focus on lamps bright enough to read by.  If you’re looking for a reading lamp you’re generally going to look for table lamps and task lighting.  In general even a 40 watt (or watt equivalent) bulb will emit enough lumens to read by since the rule of thumb is 50 to 75 lumens per square foot for task lighting.  If you’re worried it won’t be bright enough though, make sure the lamp you purchase can handle at least a 60 watt bulb.  Also important to keep in mind when asking if a lamp is bright enough is the opacity of the shade.  Will the shade let all the light from the bulb through?  Will it soften the light some but still emit light from all angles?  Does it not let light through all around and just focus the light from one spot?  Different types of shades have different impacts on the brightness of a lamp.

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Is this light dimmable?

This is another somewhat tricky question.  Some lamps do come with built in dimmer switches, and it will usually be noted in the product description if the one you’re looking at does.  But most lamps can be made dimmable if wired to a dimmer switch.  The important thing in this case is to purchase bulbs that are dimmable.  All incandescent bulbs can be dimmed, but since LEDs work differently you need to purchase bulbs specifically labelled as dimmable to use with a dimmer switch.  If you’re still unsure the safest bet is to consult a professional electrician.  Electricity can be confusing and dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.  If you don’t want to mess with dimmers but still want brightness options look for a lamp with a three-way switch that uses three-way bulbs.  This will offer you 50/100/150 watts all in one lamp.

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What difference does the color of the bulb make?

The color of the bulb can make a huge difference to the overall appearance of your space.  The wrong colored bulb can make a room go from looking warm and inviting to like a hospital waiting room.  I know you may still be absorbing all the information about lumens and watts, but I have to throw another term and set of numbers at you – Kelvin.  Light colors are measured on the Kelvin scale.  Numbers lower on the scale indicate a more yellow light while higher numbers mean a whiter or even blue light.  The general ranges and their colors are: 2700K – 3000K for warm, soft white; 3500K – 4100K for cool, natural white; 5000K – 6500K for natural or daylight.  The 2700 – 3000K range is the color range you’re used to from standard incandescent bulbs.  Different color ranges are better for different purposes and will have different impacts on the rest of your decor.  Many home repair stores that sell light bulbs have a display of the different colored bulbs set up so you can test how the color of the bulb will look against things like paint chips before purchasing.

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Is uplighting or downlighting better for a room?

While some fixtures will emit light in all directions, others focus the light in only one direction.  But which is the best direction to have the fixture aiming when you want to light a room?  Downward focused light is excellent for task lighting, but if you’re looking to illuminate a room, uplighting is the way to go.  Most uplight fixtures have wide beam spreads which will better light the area and create more ambient lighting.  It can also help bounce the light off the ceiling which will spread the illumination as well.  There are also some fixtures that provide up and downlighting which may cause a shadowing effect but if used well can create a nice layering effect of task and ambient lighting.

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Hopefully these have helped answer some questions you may have had while looking for a new lamp.  Comment with any other questions you may have and we’ll put together another selection of questions to answer!

1 thought on “Light Bulb Moment: Five Lighting FAQs

  1. […] Choosing a fixture is only half the battle when it comes to lighting.  No one likes being plunged into darkness in the middle of their bathroom routine, so for longevity alone LEDs are one of the best choices.  Standard incandescent bulbs and CFLs are also suitable for use in the bathroom.  Whichever type of bulb you choose you need to pay attention to the wattage (or wattage equivalent) and color of the bulb.  For the ambient lighting you’ll have to figure out the size of the space to decide how much wattage is required.  For task lighting in full bathrooms look for fixtures that can provide 75 – 100 watts’ worth of illumination.  For smaller powder rooms 45 watts is usually sufficient task lighting.  Color is also important, especially for those who will be putting on makeup in the bathroom, since it can affect how colors will appear.  Look for bulbs with a Color Rendering Index of 90 or above and color temperature of 2700K to 3000K.  For more information about watts, lumens, and Kelvins check out our Lighting FAQ post. […]

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