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The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown Down: lumens versus watts

And, what does this mean to you (WDTMTY)? Or, more accurately, WDTMTM (what does this mean to me)?

This article is an abbreviated version of the article called, "LED, Incandescents, CFL's, Oh No!! (Or, Watt's Up?).

But first, I have to share with you what started that article to begin with. In a phone conversation with my dad's wife (they live on Molokai), she was wondering why the CFL's in her ceiling fan didn't last very long. I went through the trouble shooting list with her-is the total wattage too much for the fixture? Are the lights turned on and off continually throughout the day? And, being on a small island, the likelihood of inconsistent delivery of energy  or variable voltage probably fluctuates enough to affect the longevity of the bulb. During the course of that conversation, it became clear to me that she was thinking of wattage in terms of the brightness of the bulb. Which then made me realize that this is what most people think when they look at the wattage of a bulb.

Wattage is a description of energy consumption. Lumens is a description of light output (or to be even clearer, the higher the lumen number, the brighter the light). A lot of light bulb packages even go so far as to give you the 'equivalent' or a translation of sorts:

light bulb label

So, how do you know what lumen range is good for you? As you might guess, it is a matter of preference. As we age, though (you know, when you can no longer read without those drug store reading glasses), we really need a brighter light to see with.  I would suggest just buying one bulb each of the lower range of lumens and the highest range that you can get your hands on and try them out at home. This will at least give you an idea of what YOU prefer and what works for you.

light bulb with lumens

As for me, I like it bright-because it is better for ME to see with. And, as a studio artist, I will look for bulbs that are around 1200 lumens. I would recommend this as a good range for task lighting. Not so good for ambiance, though. Remember, it is a matter of personal preference.

Color temperature DOES affect how you perceive the light too. Kelvin is the description of color temperature. Light in the warmer range is about 2700K. Very yellow. If you took two bulbs with the same lumen output, but on either end of the color temperature range, then you could really see the difference.

how color temperature affects percieved brightness of a bulb

(image from Wikipedia)

These three bulbs are pretty much the same light output (lumens), but you can see how the color temperature affects how YOU perceive the brightness of the bulb.

The point I want you to walk away with from this article is that if you want bright, go for the lumens, not the wattage.

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Posted in: Knowledge Base

Tags: watts and lumens, comparison

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