Color temperature can change the "feel" of a room.

Choosing the Right LED Bulbs 54


One of the reasons I enjoy doing DIY projects is because I love saving money. But not all DIY projects are created equal — and the least equal is replacing light bulbs. I hate replacing light bulbs. I feel very little satisfaction after doing it, and I often put if off until enough bulbs in a room have burned out that it makes my wife pester me nicely remind me to get it done. I’d seriously rather replace a toilet than replace a light bulb.

But what if there was a way to save money, while at the same time massively reduce the frequency of light bulb changes? That’s exactly what LED light bulbs and fixtures can do for the DIY handyman (or handywoman).

But be warned: not all LED lights are created equal. There are some specifics to watch out for, and tips for picking the right ones for your application. I’ve purchased plenty of the wrong LED bulbs in my search for the ones I like the best. I’ve also had bad luck with a few manufacturers, and great luck with others. The purpose of this blog post is to help you learn from my mistakes, and pick the right LED bulbs the first time.

LED vs. CFL

Maybe you’re reading this blog post thinking “Bah. I don’t have to worry. I’ve already got CFL bulbs at my house. Those are just as good as LED, right? RIGHT? Please say I’m right, Steve!”

Sorry… I can’t say you’re right. But I’ll try to let you down easy. Yes, CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps) were first on the residential scene, and so they got a lot of attention initially, and they’re still around on store shelves. And because they’ve been available longer, they’re slightly less expensive than LED options. But the LEDs really are superior in practically every way. LED’s are even more efficient, they last longer, they turn on to full brightness instantly (CFLs are notorious for needing a “warm up” period every time they’re switched on), they’re available in “warmer” color temps, they’re more likely to be dimmable, and best of all, you don’t have to look at that weird curvy tubing trying to pass itself off as a bulb! So when your CFLs burn out, replace them with LEDs. Trust me, you’ll be happier.

Choose the Right Color Temperature

Probably the most important, yet most overlooked, factor in choosing an LED bulb is the color… or more precisely, the color temperature.

Let’s geek out for a bit. Light that is visible to the human eye ranges from red on the “low” end of the visible spectrum to purple (or violet) on the “high” end. Our eyes can’t see light that’s “below” red (called infra-red) or light that’s “above” violet (or ultra-violet). We can see everything in between, but how we perceive and interpret light differs based on where it falls within the visible light spectrum. Visible light that’s closer to red is interpreted by our brains as “warm,” while visible light that’s bluish or closer to violet is perceived as “cool.” So keep that in mind when choosing a color temperature for your LED bulbs, based on the “feel” you’re trying to achieve in the space you’re lighting.

Most LED bulbs and fixtures will have labels that say “soft white” or “bright white” or even “daylight.” My advice is to completely ignore those labels. Instead, flip the packaging over and look for a section on the packaging that shows the color temperature in degrees Kelvin. That’s the only true indicator of how “warm” or “cool” the light output will be. Check out this chart:

Color temperature in Kelvin

Color temperature in Kelvin

Notice that the lower the number, the “warmer” the light. The higher the number, the “cooler” the light. Standard incandescent light bulbs output light that’s around 2500K in color, which is soft and just slightly yellow. The warmest LED lights I’ve been able to find are 2700K, and that’s a perfect color temp for nearly all interior spaces in a residence (bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, living areas, etc.). Even if the package says “soft white,” don’t be fooled. I’ve seen plenty of 3000K bulbs that are labelled as “soft white,” and there’s nothing soft about them. As you can see from the above chart, that’s the same light color as a standard fluorescent bulb… which is not at all what you want for your living spaces. This picture shows (approximately) 3000K on the left, 2700K in the middle, and 2500K on the right:

Color temperature can change the "feel" of a room.

Color temperature can change the “feel” of a room.

For garages, utility rooms, and maybe even pantries, 3000K is fine. You can still get away with 2700K, but I personally prefer something a bit more “industrial” and cooler for those types of spaces. Again, ignore the words on the package and look for the number.

For exteriors, either 2700K or 3000K will work… depending on the look you’re going for. The 2700K bulbs are a softer more traditional look, while the 3000K bulbs are slightly harsher, but not too harsh that it looks bad.

You can find 3500K LED bulbs for residential use, but I’d stay away from them. That color is so cool that it has a blue tinge to it, kind of like modern Xenon headlights. It’s not at all pleasant to look at, or live with. And please… for the sake of your neighbors, don’t use them on the outside lights of your house or around your driveway. They’re way too harsh and visually abrasive. You don’t want your house looking like a gas station:

3500K lights are what you'll usually see at gas stations

3500K lights are what you’ll usually see at gas stations

Be Consistent with Your Color

Regardless of which color temperature(s) you go with, you need to be consistent. Don’t mix 2700K and 3000K fixtures outside your house — it sticks out like a sore thumb. I won’t say which neighborhood it’s in, and since we’ve got houses in three different places, I won’t be “outing” any of my neighbors by saying this, but I have a neighbor near one of our houses that has one 3500K light in one soffet and a 2700K bulb in the one next to it…  and every time I drive by it at night, it drives me crazy! That 3500K color is overly harsh, but it’s made worse by being near a much softer light. You’re better off buying the proper color to replace all your exterior lights at once, and then spend an afternoon putting them all in.

Get the Same Lumens for Fewer Watts

Apart from your light’s color, you also need to decide how bright you want your light to be. Color is measured in Kelvin, while brightness (or light output) is measured in lumens. Most homeowners can’t conceptually visualize the difference between 900 lumens and 450 lumens. But because we’ve all been raised with traditional incandescent bulbs, we can generally visualize the difference between a 40 watt compared to a 60 watt compared to a 100 watt bulb… even though wattage is a measurement how much power the bulb burns while lit, and not light output.

The “problem” (if you can call it that) is that LED bulbs are insanely more efficient than incandescent bulbs. They can put out the same amount of light output (lumens) as a traditional 40 watt bulb… while only burning 8 watts! That’s why you’ll often see LED bulbs with a “wattage equivalent” shown on the package. So pick the equivalent wattage for the light output you want, but make a note of the lumens (which will also be on the package). As we move away from traditional bulbs, start trying to think in lumens you want for a fixture, not watts. Here’s a comparison chart to help you choose the lumens you want:

Standard vs. LED Light Output

Standard vs. LED Light Output

Also, if you’ve got a light fixture with a warning label on it that says something like “60 watts max” — keep in mind that’s a limit on the energy usage of the bulb, not the light output. So if you found a 100 watt “equivalent” LED bulb that actually only uses 14 watts, that’s fine to run in that fixture.

LEDs aren’t just Cool, they’re Cooler

Another major benefit of LED bulbs is that they operate at a much cooler temperature (actual temperature, not color temperature) than traditional bulbs. That means you don’t have to worry as much about them melting or burning lamp shades, you can touch them sooner after turning them off, and they won’t raise the temperature of the room while they’re lit.

LEDs Last Way Longer

For me, one of the biggest benefits of LED bulbs is that they last longer than traditional incandescent or halogen bulbs. Much longer… like decades longer. Normally, you’ll find a rating on the packaging for number of hours the LED is designed to last. The EcoSmart 6″ LED fixtures I use throughout our Seattle house are rated for 32 years, based on 3 hours of daily use. But even if I double that average daily use to 6 hours a day… that’s still at least 16 years before I’ll have to change it! Not only will that save you money in the long term, but quality of your marriage will increase as a result of not needing to be nagged lovingly reminded that you need to replace light bulbs. 🙂

Not All Brands Are Equal

As I said during the intro, I’ve had some bad luck with a few LED brands. The worst was “Lights of America” — which are sometimes sold at Costco. They didn’t last anywhere near as long as they promised on the package… so I removed them all and took them back to Costco for a full refund.

That doesn’t mean that all the LED light brands at Costco are bad, however. Costco also sell a number of bulbs from Feit Electric (also available on Amazon), and I’ve had very good luck with those — especially for my exterior soffit lights and motion detector security lights. I can recommend you try these out, but note that their color temperature tends to be a bit on the “cooler” side, even though it says 2700K on the package. I use these small Feit BR30 flood lights in multiple places both inside and outside our houses. I prefer them outside the house, however, because there’s a very slight delay when you hit the switch before they come on. That’s not a big deal for exterior lights on a timer switch (like this one), but it’s a tad annoying to me for interior lights.

My favorite LED manufacturer, however, is CREE. They started out providing the “guts” of other manufacturers’ LED devices such as light fixtures and flashlights, but recently got into manufacturing complete bulbs. They make the internals for my favorite LED fixture, which is the EcoSmart 6 inch LED downlight, sold at Home Depot and Amazon. I wait for them to go on sale for around $25, then I buy a dozen of them. If you have 5″ or 6″ can lights at your house, replace them with these EcoSmarts. They are dimmable, the color is perfect, and they update the look of any room without being obnoxious.

My favorite stand-alone LED bulb is also made by CREE, and I’ve also been able to find them at Home Depot and Amazon. My favorite is this 60W equivalent 2700K “warm white” bulb. It puts out 800 lumens of light, while only using 9.5 watts of energy, and is warranted to last for 10 years. I always keep a few of these on hand for interior lamps, fixtures, and wall sconces. CREE’s standalone replacement bulb is also available in a 2700K 40W equivalent (that only uses 6 watts of power), which is great for accent lighting. You can also pick them up in “cooler” color temps, all the way up to their “daylight” 60W 5000K bulb. But that’s way too harsh and blue-ish for anything other than a utility room, or maybe a garage. If you need more light output, they also make 75W and 100W equivalents (that actually use a fraction of that wattage). These are perfect for garages or exterior post lights.

I also love these Feit Electric candelabra base LEDs, which are perfect in our entry chandelier. That fixture takes 18 bulbs, and these all burn 4.8 watts each, instead of 40 watts each like a standard bulb. And I won’t have to change them for almost 23 years! I normally prefer 2700K for all lights inside the house, but I like the 3000K color in a chandelier because it creates a more “dramatic” look.

Changing chandelier bulbs is a pain. Using LEDs, you only have to do it every 20 years.

Changing chandelier bulbs is a pain. Using LEDs, you only have to do it every 20 years.

I also have to give a shout-out to Phillips, who have been making great LEDs for a while now. I like their color and light output, but they tend to be far more expensive than other LED options.

I recently swapped out my halogen bulbs in my driveway pedestals for some 40W Equivalent 2700K Clear Blunt Tip Decorative LED bulbs (candelabra base for the entry pillars, and standard base for the rest of the driveway and garage sconces). I love them. They burn 5 watts of energy each, and look fantastic at night.

Whichever brand you choose, I recommend keeping an empty box (or snapping a photo of the package) so you can remember which bulbs you liked for a specific application. That will help you eliminate visual differences between bulbs in the the same room or application.

Check for Dimming Capability

If you plan on using LED bulbs with a dimmer switch, make sure the bulb says “dimmable” on the package. The dimmable ones are sometimes slightly more expensive, but worth it if you need that function.

Look for "dimmable" on the packaging if that's something you need.

Look for “dimmable” on the packaging if that’s something you need.

Buy and Compare

If you’re new to LED bulbs, my advice is to buy a few different versions or brands for your application, then install them and see how you like them. Keep your receipt, then return the ones you don’t like to the store and buy a full batch of the ones you’ve decided to go with.

Lots of Pros, But Also Some Cons

As you can probably tell, I’m a huge fan of LED bulbs and fixtures. But there are some drawbacks to using them.

First, their purchase cost is much higher than standard bulbs. Over the life of the bulb, you’ll save money — from energy usage as well as not having to replace them as often. But the higher up-front cost can be prohibitive. My advice is to think long term and just bite the bullet. Their costs have come down since they first hit the market, and will probably continue to do so as technology improves.

The other possible drawback is that some older timer and motion sensing switches are sometimes not compatible with LED (or CFL) bulbs. I had timers at the Utah house that turned on the exterior lights at dusk. During the day, however, I noticed that the LED bulbs were flickering a bit, albeit very dimly. When I replaced the older timer switches with these newer Honeywell EconoSwitches, the problem was solved.  Most current dimmers and motion switches will support newer technology bulbs, and will say so on the package.

And speaking of the packaging, this is more of a vent than an actual drawback of the product, but it seems the packaging for LED bulbs is overkill. Most of the LED bulbs I buy come in huge plastic blister packs, or bulky boxes with excessive cardboard and 2-3 times the packaging material they really need. I realize it’s probably to help reduce theft (because the LED bulbs are more expensive), and maybe it’s to attract your attention on the shelf to convince you to try LED over traditional bulbs. But for a product that’s advertising itself as a way to save money and energy, it seems like there’s an awful lot of waste in their packaging. I’d prefer the simple paper boxes, like you get with traditional bulbs. Perhaps as LEDs become more mainstream, we’ll get there.

Final Thoughts

Again, as is probably obvious from this post, I’m an LED light fanboy. Because they use much less energy, I’m slightly less annoyed when the kids don’t turn off their lights (although that still doesn’t stop me from installing occupancy sensors in their bedrooms). I really love the fact that once I install one, I don’t have to go grab a ladder for 10, 20, or maybe even 30+ years. I like the fact that they run much cooler, and present less of a fire hazard. And as long as you keep in mind the color temperature when you purchase them, the light can be warm, welcoming, and soothing. So if you want to save time, money, and maybe some of your sanity, give LED bulbs and fixtures a try. This might be the perfect time to wrap up this post by saying something like “LEDs are helping to create a brighter future,” but ending a blog post with something so cheesy is lame. 🙂

So instead, I’ll simply remind you that I always welcome your questions, comments, and feedback below!

  • Interesting. And helpful. I didn’t notice any comparative price information for LEDs vs. CFLs (and am too lazy a the moment to search online. I have been buying CFLs, which is a no-brainer compared to incandescent bulbs, but the am less certain about the cost-benefit analysis vis-a-vis LEDs. Though besides the other advantages of LEDs (over CFLS) you cite, you seem to imply that they’re also more economical in the long run than CFLs.

    Your triptych illustration of the effect of different color temperatures was quite illuminating. Seriously. But for some work areas (e.g., working with small parts), the somewhat harsher higher temperatures do seem to help more.

    Thanks for the write-up.

    • Thanks, Larry. You can actually check the lumens chart in the article, which shows that CFLs are “up to 75%” more efficient than incandescents, while LEDs are “up to 77%” more efficient. That’s a very small difference, but it still adds up over time.

      I’ve found that the up front cost of the CFLs are slightly cheaper, but the LEDs are catching them quickly. Soon I imagine there won’t be any price difference at all.

      I agree – the “colder” color temps are good in some areas, which is why I suggest them for workshops, utility rooms, garages, etc. I usually use high lumen 3000K bulbs for those areas, but have a few 3500K bulbs for some of those places too.

  • Matt

    Great Steve. What about these Feit LED’s as an alternative to your Feit BR-30? These BR-40’s will fit some cans (like mine) better than a BR-30, plus they’re described as a 100 watt equivalent at the same color temperature as the BR-30 model. Since I use dimmers everywhere, I don’t need to run the full wattage except when the extra light output would be helpful. Curious your thoughts on fit and function. Great blog! One option: http://www.amazon.com/Feit-Electric-Conserv-Energy-Dimmable-BR40/dp/B009B0TETS/ref=pd_bxgy_hi_text_y And a “newer model” option: http://www.amazon.com/Feit-17BR40-DM-LED-Reflector/dp/B008A7RISM/ref=dp_ob_title_light

    • Hey, Matt. I haven’t personally tried either of those, but I’ve had good luck with the Feits, so report back if you try them!

  • Kent

    Great article Steve – I was just about to embark on my own LED research project to convert the office over to LEDs, and this is a great help.

    Hey I think there might be an incorrect link there, two paragraphs above the image of the candelabra bulbs, where it says :
    “My favorite stand-alone bulb is made by CREE, and I’ve also been able to find them at Home Depot and Amazon. My favorite is this 60W equivalent 2700K “warm white” bulb.”

    I think you want to be linking to :
    http://www.amazon.com/Cree-9-5-Watt-White-2700K-Light/dp/B00BYG7O8A/ref=pd_cp_hi_0

    not the Feit . . . right ?

  • Kent

    Hey Steve,

    I’m having a little issue with the Cree bulbs . . .

    I bought 12 Cree 9.5watt 2700K bulbs for a nice Italian restaurant I take care of here in San Francisco, to replace the 60w incandescents they were using (inside of big white globes).
    They’re the ones you linked to actually.

    The problem is, although they look fairly close to the ~2700K of the incandescents, when you dim them down, they don’t get warmer as do the incan’s, but almost seem to get whiter. I don’t know if the warmer look of dimmed down incandescents is real or an illusion, but anyway, they like to dim them down for the evening dining mood, and the LEDs are too much on the coolish side, when dimmed down.

    Do you have any idea how to get this effect with LED bulbs ?
    I’m thinking I may have to use a film gel or something similar.

    Thanks if you have an idea !

    -Kent

  • willson12

    Wonderful post highlighting the key features of the LED Bulbs in comparison to other lighting fixtures.

  • beta

    I tried 2700k, 3000k, 3500k and 5000k led recessed cans in my house. The big box stores sell mainly 2700ok (warm) or 5000k (daylight). One is completely orange while the other one is blue. 3000k are slightly more neutral/yellow than the orange 2700k, but to me it was still too yellow. It’s the light that makes you relaxed. It’s great for the evenings, when it is time to relax and go to sleep. But what about the weekend days or for those working from home? For me the 3500k is actually a nice compromise: not so orange that you want to go to sleep during the day, but it is also not blue like the gas station in your photo. BTW – I have a hard time believing that the gas station has high quelity leds in 3500 kelvin temperature. It looks like 5000k aka daylight.

    • Alan

      You are right on — 2700K is normal incandescent, and to me (and to most people) is too yellow. Steve’s color chart is off — I have never seen a 2500K incandescent, unless it is on a dimmer. 4200K was always (I am using past tense because it has been 20 years since I was a lighting salesman) the standard (horizontal position oriented socket) metal halide lamp for service station lighting and only around 60 to 65 CRI. 3500K is a nice neutral white and makes the interior of your house look clean and nice — instead of yellow and dingy. But a HUGE part of lighting is CRI and Steve seems to have completely left this out of his discussion. CRI stands for Color Rendering Index and really the lowest that should be acceptable for indoor lighting is 80. Fluorescent lighting has always had a bad rap because of the old cool white days of very low CRI (around 60) which made everyone look washed out and dead. (Google CRI and spend some time reading, if you are interested in understanding this) I am not a CFL fan, but actually some CFL’s are just as energy efficient as some LED’s. The big thing to keep in mind (and to calculate) is Lumens Per Watt (LPW). Lamp manufacturers love to play the game of saying that a particular (CFL or LED) lamp gives out the “equivalent light” as a ‘x’ watt incandescent, when many times it doesn’t put out anywhere close to that amount light. Check the lumen output and divide by the rated watts to get an approximation of LPW. In reality it is more complicated than this — since lumens can be initial, mean, EOL (or anywhere in between) and there are depreciation factors, ballast factors, fixture factors, etc., used to calculate maintained lumen output to arrive at maintained footcandles on a given work surface. (Not to mention power factor and other considerations on the wattage side) But calculating LPW is at least a start in helping a person compare one light source to another. There is A LOT to understanding lighting, and there is so much more to it than is on this website.

  • Mark S.

    I’ve begun searching for LED bulbs, but have been reading about problems putting them in enclosed fixtures, due to some heat problems. Some bulbs specifically say not fir use in enclosed fixtures, others don’t say anything about it. I was wondering if you have any input on this part of LED usage?

  • I just did most of my house in 2700k, with the bathrooms at 3500k and the basement garage at 5000k.

    Honestly, I’d replace all of the 2700k with 3500k if I could, at least outside the bedrooms. I think it looks WAY better.

    • Kbarb

      Last year I did a whole restaurant with 2700K because they wanted the warm lighting.
      The vendor said they were getting a lot of requests for them for the same purpose.
      At the time they were hard to find, but now not so much,

      For the person asking about enclosed fixtures, I’m not an expert, but I can’t imagine a lot of problems with that. They do have big heat sinks, but generally from what I’ve seen, the bulbs as a whole don’t seem to put out nearly as much heat as even a compact fluorescent.

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  • Mark Forder

    Hello Steve:

    I just wanted to take the time to thank you for explaining he differences and for showing us example of the LED colors. We are adding them to our living room and our new kitchen and this article has been a great help.

    —Mark

  • Mary S

    Can I mix LEDs with different Kelvin ratings in a single candalabra-type light fixture? The bulbs are different brands, same lumens (800), all A-19, but different Kelvin #’s. The 5000K use 9 watts; the 2700K bulbs use 7 watts. The fixture holds 5 lites. The 3 5000k bulbs I’ve put in are pretty bright (which I wanted), but I wonder whether putting in 2 of the 2700K bulbs would soften the overall light in this dining/kitchen area. Is it safe to experiment with the different wattages & Kelvins?

    • Hi, Mary. There’s no safety risk to doing so, but I think it might look a bit strange.. unless the light is diffused and “mixed” in the fixture. But yes, it’s safe to experiment all you want! 🙂

  • jethrObama

    Awesome points you’ve made about LED bulbs and I’m all for them. I’m an Electrical Engineer with a home automation hobby and have a long history with LEDs in general since I was doing characterization of LED semiconductor materials in graduate school in the late 80’s and early 90’s. At that time the holy grail was to make a cheap “blue” LED; these came out several years later.

    What I wanted to add was a pitch for Philips LED lights. Yes, they did cost a little more, but recently I’m starting to find the price come down. Since almost every light in my Utah home is on a dimmer, I had a very tough time switching to LED bulbs initially… until Philips came out with a few of their products. They sell a “WarmGlow” LED bulb that starts out about 2800-K and dims down to a very low level ending up with a 2500K black body like color distribution (80% spectrum correlation). These started selling at $10.95 but this weekend I picked them up in a 3-pack for $19.95 at home depot: about $6.65 each.

    I also bought a set of 3 Philips hue bulbs for fun but don’t recommend these for general lighting. I use them on my front porch and over the tub in the master bedroom… on the porch they add some halloween and Christmas light textures and over the tub, it’s whatever color I’m in the mood for soaking.

    Because of the dimmers I use in my home (Insteon) I rarely have any of these bulbs on full anyway, further increasing the savings over time, and since they’re dimmed so often, I want them to change colors to suit the night-time dimmed effect I came to love in the past with dimmed halogens. By the way, the dimmer you buy makes a vast amount of difference. I’ve found that most of the insteon dimmers and products will work with LED bulbs very well… one exception, their “DIN-rail” dimmer does not do well and I believe that is due to it’s having no built in ground connection. If you have Lutron dimmers, expect to pay double what you would for insteon in order to get a dimmer compatible with LED products.

  • Abby

    Just started switching over to LED in our home and have hit a couple issues…

    First install was the bulbs in the dining room chandelier. Bought Phillips 40w dimmable with candelabra base, but they will not turn completely off, even when you push the dimmer switch in (its an old spin type)… Does this mean we just can’t use LED or is there some way to fix this?

    Other problem it that virtually every ceiling fixture is fully enclosed (metal back with either globe or flat frosted glass on the bottom). Do they make LED bulbs you can use in these???

    • Hi, Abby. To fix the dimming issue, you need an updated dimmer switch. Those older rotary style don’t actually kill all the power to the load. Look for a newer dimmer switch that says it works with CFL and/or LED.

      If the LED bulb fits in the fixture, then it should run fine. most LED bulbs produce less heat than their incandescent equivalent.

      • Abby

        Thanks!! I wondered if maybe the cruddy old dimmer was the issue. Good item for the next “Honey Do” list!

        Is it OK even when the package says not to use in fully enclosed fixtures? I saw some today at home depot that looked small enough to fit, but wasn’t sure if it was a safety or bulb life issue.

        • Oh, if the package says NOT to include in enclosed fixtures, then there must be a reason (perhaps it gets hotter than other LEDs?). I’d look for an LED alternative that IS rated for enclosures (I know they exist). 🙂

  • It’s all a matter of personal preference. For me, the 3500K is still too harsh, and gives a “cold and commercial” look. But others see that as a “crisp and clean” look, so for them, that color works great. 🙂

  • Josh

    Steve Jenkins, I dont fully agree with your article suggesting 2700k being suitable for kitchens and bathrooms! It depends on the size of your kitchen as well as the colouring layout of walls, units and floors. The temperature of lights are vital for kitchens especially when preparing food and complying to personal health and safety measures concerning the handling of utensils, crockery, ovens, hobs and other appliances, so to suggest 2700k is ludacris.
    This useful british link will give you the correct suggestions and guidelines.
    http://www.downlights.co.uk/faq-which-colour-temperature-.html

    – In my small kitchen I have 6 LED downlights @ 4000k and they do not come across as abrasive or harsh at all. I have white walls and white units. I wanted enough light so I am able to fully prepare & cook, and also wash and operate appliances. 4000k LED’s do NOT produce any blue tinge unless you decide to install lights above 5000k of course.

    – Bathroom – 2700k personally is not enough. Before I begin my bathroom renovation next month, I have 2700k standard lights in the centre of my bathroom and they are awful. They look like living room lights! Depending on bathroom design, colour & layout, I would suggest anywhere between 3000k up to 4000k (3500k standard recommendation). Its evident brighter lights in your bathroom allows you enough to self groom without having to focus too hard due to the lack of lighting.

    • I’m going to assume you mean “ludicrous” and not referencing the rapper. 🙂

      It’s all a matter of taste. If you like 4000K, go 4000K. That’s way too harsh for me, but if it works for you… work it. 🙂

  • Finn

    Hi, I have normal 50W halogen bulbs (gu10) in my livingroom. I’ve tried many ledbulbs with 2700k but my opinion is that none of the led’s are the same as halogen. Halogen light is very eyefriendly and leds make still too industrial or cold light even with 2700k. I think 2700k is not the same in led versus halogen, something is different. Is there something with ledlight that our eyes can not handle or what could it be??

    • Hi, Finn. Halogen was always my bulb of choice, too. Like you, I really like the quality of that light output. But the halogens run really hot, really love to suck electricity, and burned out way too quickly for me.

      • kbarb

        Also, besides the color temp, some bulbs have different lens (coverage) over the LEDs, which might affect the look a bit.
        And check the bulb/light angle – a wider angle is probably going to look more diffuse I would think

  • Jennifer

    I see here that you say not to mix. I bought track lighting with 12 LED 4000k bulbs – just going off of the temp scale, and you are right. They are WAY too blue for me. However, I am being cheap – I don’t want to replace all 12. I want to replace 6 with 3000k to dim the effect of the blue lights. Should I? Will that look stupid? Wondering if I should just bite the bullet. I hate sitting around with 12 new bulbs. BTW, this is an indoor track lighting system in the living room. Thanks for your article and any input.

    • Hi, Jennifer. You can try replacing the 6 to see if you like it. I don’t think I would, as the mis-match would drive me nuts. But try it and see if it works for you. If it doesn’t, then just bite the bullet and buy six more, then sell the original ones on Craigslist. Or if you bought them at big box home improvement store, will they let you return those bulbs?

    • AceStar

      Mixed color temperatures in the same setting is likely to look like a mistake, as in “damn I bought the wrong kind” mistake.

  • Mark Lang

    Steve,
    Probable a stupid question but why do you suggest replacing existing can light fixtures to use with the LED br30s. Can’t you use the LED b430s in any existing can fixture? If so why buy a new fixture:

    • Hi, Mark. Yes you totally CAN (pun intended). I just like the updated look of the all-in-one fixtures, which nowdays cost about the same as an LED bulb. But swapping in just the bulb is fine, too.

  • Bill

    Steve, I’m curious of your take on going very ‘cool’ with a light and dimming to the desired need in a room. In a home with beige walls, mostly, the 2700K lights are just too yellow. I picked up a pack of 5000K lights for a hallway and they are VERY bright. I’m still not sure if I like it or not, but am thinking that going with all 5000K lights and dimming where needed might make the most sense. Thoughts?

    I plan to do some experimenting with a couple rooms, one with windows and one without, both with dimmers and see what I think. But given your ‘intense’ (pun intended) dislike of the very cool lights, I thought I’d get your take on this topic and see if you have experimented with this at all.

    • Hi, Bill. I’d start with 3000K or 3300K first before jumping to 5000K. The 3000K ones are much whiter in color than the 2700K ones, and I’d bet they’re more what you’re looking for.

  • Hi, John. Wow… 5000K is a VERY harsh color for indoors. Check to see the lumens of those bulbs, then look for something in 3000K or 2700K that has near that many lumens. You’ll get the same brightness (which is measured in lumens) but a much “warmer” color temp, and it will feel less harsh.

    • John

      Thanks for the reply. I purchased 2700 and 3000 from Lowe’s and definitely liked the 2700 the best. Like was said here the 5000 would be better for a garage or some where you needed light to see what you are doing.

      • Hi, John. Keep in mind that “brightness” and “color temperature” are two different things. Brightness is measured in lumens, while color temp is measured in Kelvin (3000K, 5000K, etc.) and referred to on a spectrum from “warm” (more yellow) to “cool” (more blue). It’s possible to have extremely bright light to see what you’re doing, while still having it warm. But whatever combination of lumens and temp works for you, go with it! 🙂

        • M.A. Marina

          If I look for a less harsh light that is also not too yellow, say 3700K, what number for lumens would be the equivalent of 100 watt? Also, some lamps say not to go over 60 watts. With lumens, is there the same kind of restriction? Thank you for this article – it’s helping me a lot.

          • Great questions. First, no, the restrictions on lamps is based on wattage only. Nearly any LED bulb will be a fraction of the max wattage rating for your lamp. So you can go as many lumens as you want. As for how lumens in LED bulbs relate to wattage in incandescent bulbs, this is a GENERAL guide: 100W incandescent bulb is around 1600 lumens. 75W bulb is around 1100 lumens. 60W is around 800 lumens. 40W bulb is about 450 lumens. You can also get a good idea for these comparisons by looking at the lumens ratings on light bulb packages at a hardware store. Find a 60W equivalent bulb and see what lumens it states. Good luck!

  • AceStar

    Unless I’m misunderstanding the comment, I think you are confusing color of light with brightness.

    A 2700K and a 5000K light with the same lumens will look equally bright, just a different color shade. Lumens already take into account that some colors look brighter to us humans than others.

  • AceStar

    Warmer (lower K) colors are more flattering to human skin. Anything over 3500K makes skin blemishes/redness/discoloration more prominent and makes us look more “gray”. That’s one of the reasons higher color temperatures are described as “harsh”.

  • I think you’re right. That’s some harsh light. 🙂

    • AceStar

      It turns out that the ambient light sensor in my phone (Galaxy S6) can sense colour temperature too. And there is an app called Light Meter which can read it.

      I’ve been wqlking around various places seeing what the colour temperature is. Supermarkets and shopping centres are almost always exactly 4000K. Some supermarkets are switching to 3000K in some areas especially after renovations. Office buildings are mostly 4000K.

      Incandescent seem to range from 2400K up to 2700K, though the lower colour temperatures are when dimming or using those small candle style ones.

      LED bulbs can be a bit off their spec, eg 2850 for a 2700, though another brand was spot on, exactly 2700 (+/- 20 or 30 which seems to be the accuracy of the meter).

      My preference so far is 3000K.

      A lot of people love 6500K. They sell big here (Australia).

      • Kent

        I manage a number of buildings, and as a general rule I use 3500K because it seems clean and not too yellowish, but not the glaring clean that you can get with 4000K and above. Sometimes I do use 4000K though.
        For restaurants mostly 2700K because of it’s warmth – something they’re usually looking for. Same thing at home.
        It’s funny, way back when it was hard to find 2700K a large national vendor told me that a number of restaurants had contacted him looking for 2700K because they wanted a more romantic mood lighting.

  • carol wright

    Following on my post yesterday….. The existing g9 60w are halogen. Reading more of the posts below, if I move to 20w halogens, will I still feel the heat? Will the the light be as bright? Or are LEDs a better choice?

  • Hi, Carol. Forget about wattages, and focus on with lumens (brightness) and color temp (in Kelvin). They are always on the back of the label. They will guide you out of light bulb hell. 😉

  • carol wright

    Hi – me again… I did change my halogens to g9 20w led’s (3000k). Quite nice but would still like bit brighter. I’ve found 40w led’s which also say 3000k. Since you said to go by the K’s not watts, will these 40w be any brighter?
    Thanks,
    Carol

  • hell_storm2004

    I was wondering, why aren’t LED light bulbs available in 6500k? Finding it very hard to find them, hence moving on from CFL to LED seems hard at the moment.

  • Ray Prescott

    Hi Steve, not sure if you are still monitoring this but it was a very informative article. We are remodeling a retail environment where clothes, gifts and jewelry is being sold. We have 3000K CFLs right now and our designer is recommending 4000K LEDs. We put a 4000K LED out and it does seem very white but not blue and it makes our 3000K look too yellow. Wonder if we should go with a 3500?

  • Brett N.

    I’m finishing my basement and I’m mostly using 6″ recessed lights with EcoSmart LED lights (similar to your favorite). I am also putting 3″ recessed lights along a wall in my basement (that’s the largest I can fit in the space). The only problem is the 6″ lights are 2,700 K (which I prefer) and the 3″ lights are 3,000 K (that’s all there is for the lights I need). There are only 4 total 3″ lights but they will be somewhat close the other lights. Do you think it will make a noticeable difference to the point that it won’t look good?

  • Absolutely. You’re describing exactly what happens with 3000K lights inside. I only use 3000K lights outside, and the 2700K lights in your kitchen should “warm up” the look of the cabinets again.