A Guide to LED Bulbs and Lighting

By Jennifer Tuohy

A variety of LED bulbs

You’ve been convinced by the energy pitch, and enough time has passed since their inception that LED bulbs are now only a few dollars more than your old bulbs (and will last up to 25 times longer). Now what? How do you buy the right LED for your needs? They’re all packaged differently, have so many different numbers and confusing jargon associated with them, and vary so wildly in price that sometimes it seems easier to give up, grab a 60-watt “eco incandescent” and get on with life.

We’re here to help with a straightforward guide to buying your LED light bulbs. Read on for tips on how to choose the right LED light for you.

Look for Lumens

Traditional bulbs use energy in the form of watts (W) to provide light—the more watts they use the brighter they are, hence your standard 60W light bulbs. This is not the case with LEDs. While you’ll still see the watts on the packaging, it will be a much smaller number than you’re used to, because LEDs use less energy. Instead, look for the lumens number, which measure how much light a bulb will give you. More lumens means brighter light; fewer means dimmer light.

Brightness LED bulbs infographic

Choose Your Color

The color of a light bulb isn’t a new designation—all bulbs can be measured by the color of light they give off. But with LED bulbs there is much more variation, giving you much more choice.

The color of light a bulb gives off is measured using the Kelvin Temperature scale, which runs from 1,000k to 10,000k. The idea comes from how heat affects metal: If you heat it up it seems to glow. Depending on how hot it gets you’ll see different colors, like orange, yellow and blue.

In lighting, Kelvins indicate the hue and temperature of color. Lower is warmer, higher is cooler. Choose a light with a lower Kelvin number for places where you want warm light, such as your bedroom or living room. Choose a light with a higher number for rooms where you want bright, invigorating light, like kitchens and offices.

Color LED lightbulbs infographic

If you’re really not sure what type of light you want or think you’ll want it to change based on what you’re doing in a room at different times of day, then you’ll want tunable white LED bulbs. See the Features section below for more on these.

Select a Shape

A beautiful LED hanging light fixture

This one is easy. LED bulbs come in almost all the shapes you’re used to: A19, BR30, PAR, candle and so on. Choose the shape that fits into your existing fixture.

But you don’t have to stop there. LED lighting comes in many more shapes and sizes than you’re used to. Have you thought about under-cabinet lighting, but hate that harsh fluorescent glow? Use LED lighting strips instead and choose the exact glow you want.

Not a fan of bulbs at all? Because LED lights can last for up to 25 years, many LED lighting fixtures do away with the antiquated removable “bulb” and let you light your room with straight sleek lines and a clear modern style.

Find Some Features

A man using an app to control LED lighting

Now you know what to look for in lumens, Kelvins and shapes for the LED lights you need, you probably want to know why one bulb is $3, another is $15 and yet another is $60? This is where LEDs get really fun: features! Here are a few features of LED bulbs you can choose from; more features generally means a higher price.

  • Dimmable bulbs: Not all LED bulbs are dimmable, and if you put non-dimmable LED bulbs on a dimmer switch, you won’t be happy with the results. Dimmable LEDs are generally a few dollars more than standard ones.
  • Three-way bulbs: A 3-way LED bulb gives you three distinct levels of light. For example, it might offer 320, 820 and 1,650 lumens. You’ll want to choose this feature if you’re putting the bulb in a light with a 3-way switch.
  • Energy Star bulbs: All LED bulbs use significantly less energy than any other lightbulb; however, Energy Star-rated bulbs offer slightly higher energy-efficiency and have been through rigorous testing.
  • Smart bulbs: These are connected bulbs that can be controlled by a smart phone app and, in some instances, with voice control. They are often dimmable and can be set on schedules, so they can come on automatically at the start of the day, or turn on for added security when you are away from home. Smart bulbs can also be paired with motion sensors to turn on and off, as well as link with other smart home devices to anticipate your needs, such as when you unlock the smart lock on your front door. Smart bulbs start around $15 per bulb, but you may need to buy a smart hub to control them.
  • Tunable smart bulbs: These LED bulbs offer all the above functionality, but can also be “tuned” to any color on the white range, so you can have warm light, cool light and daylight all in one bulb. Set the bulb’s white temperature to create lighting suited to your mood or the time of day, from bright daylight (6500K) to soft white (2700K). They generally cost about $10 more than regular white smart bulbs.
  • Smart color-changing bulbs: These are the most expensive LED light bulbs, clocking in around $40 to $60 each. These boast a spectrum of over 16 million colors, letting you bathe your home in a multitude of colors to suit your mood or the season. They can also work with your smart home to do things like turn red when the smoke alarms go off, flash purple when you get an email from your child’s school and turn blue when it’s raining outside.

Now that you’re armed with plenty of LED information, you can feel confident about choosing the right bulbs for your household needs.


Jennifer Tuohy writes about how technology can improve your life for The Home Depot. She provides great ideas on everything from programming LED lights to smoothly integrating smart home products into your home. To find out more about the LED lightbulb options that Jennifer talks about in her article, click here.  

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