Choosing the Right Light Bulb: Watts Aren’t Everything

light bulb

Remember the old days of picking out a light bulb for your house? It went something like this:

“I need a light bulb.”

Go to store.

Choose between 40-watt or 60-watt bulb.

Go home.

If you were really trying to be fancy, you might get one of those three-way light bulbs for lamps that offered you a bright-brighter-brightest option. With advances in energy efficient bulbs, it’s no longer enough to simply know the wattage.

As a home stager, one of the most common (and most easily fixed) “boo-boos” I see among home sellers is using the wrong light bulb for the job. Replacing light bulbs can have a big return on investment, not only in terms of energy costs, but in the visual impact it makes on potential buyers. Even a subtle change in lighting can make a big difference in the vibe of the room! Next time you’re shopping for the best light bulbs to showcase your home, be sure to check these 4 crucial details:


For homes, LEDs are typically superior all other types of light bulbs because they:

  • have the longest lifespan (up to 10 years or more)
  • are more durable (solid structure, no glass or filaments)
  • emit great quality light (available in a range of color temperatures)
  • use the least amount of energy (replacing just one bulb saves about $52 annually in energy costs)

The cost of LED bulbs has also decreased so significantly in recent years that the bulbs pay for themselves in a matter of months.

Avoid CFLs and halogen bulbs. CFLs contain mercury and take too long to warm up. Halogens use a lot of energy and create heat.


Save yourself multiple trips to the hardware store by bringing the old bulbs with you when you go shopping. It’s also not a bad idea to use your phone to take a few pictures of the light fixture. LEDs are now available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but newer technology may mean a slightly different design than your old bulb. Make sure your bulb is a perfect fit by heading out with the right info on hand.

“Light Appearance” or Color Temperature

kelvin-scale light bulb
Image by Suriya Kankliang

Color temperature refers to a particular number on the Kelvin scale (degrees Kelvin, or K) used to measure the color of light. This is an objective number that will tell you how  red, yellow, white, or blue the light will appear. Let’s break it down like this:

  • Candle light is nice and orange-y, somewhere around 1800 K to 1900 K.
  • “Soft white” light bulbs are usually about 2700 K. While this is the color temperature of the typical incandescent light most of us are used to, it tends to be rather yellow. These are a good second choice for staging, but not ideal.
  • Bulbs in the 3000 K to 3500 K range are ideal for home staging in nearly every interior room of the home. They are sometimes (but not always) called “warm white” or “bright white” or even “cool white.” LEDs in this range cast a bright light that is still slightly warm, yet fairly neutral, allowing your home’s true colors to shine through and giving you the most consistent results on your listing photos.
  • Bulbs in the 4000 K to 6000 K range look rather blue. Often called “natural light” or “daylight” bulbs, the cooler temperature light usually doesn’t work well for home staging or residential use. These bulbs are rather unflattering to skin tones and cast a more sterile, cold light. Daylight bulbs are best used in retail displays, security lighting, work places, or garages. Avoid using these bulbs when staging your home or photographing listing photos.
  • The name of the color (e.g., “warm white” or “natural light”) varies by manufacturer so rely on the actual degrees Kelvin number instead of the name. You can find the bulb’s color temperature, or Kelvin scale number, on the Lighting Facts Label of the bulb package under “Light Appearance.”
light bulb color temperature kelvin

The name of the color varies by manufacturer so rely on the actual degrees Kelvin number instead. You can find the bulb’s color temperature, or Kelvin scale number, on the Lighting Facts label of the package under “Light Appearance.”

“Brightness” or Lumens

Wattage tells you only how much energy a bulb uses — not how bright it is. Since newer light bulbs like LEDs use far less energy, wattage is no longer a reliable way to gauge a light bulb’s brightness. Instead, we use lumens.
Lumens measure brightness. A standard 60-watt incandescent bulb, for example, produces about 800 lumens of light. By comparison, a CFL bulb produces that same 800 lumens using less than 15 watts. An LED bulb uses only 8 to 12 watts to produce 800 lumens of brightness. You can use lumens to compare the brightness of any bulb, regardless of whether it’s a halogen, incandescent, CFL, or LED.

lumens comparison light bulb

When staging your home for sale, we recommend the brightest bulbs safely* possible, usually around 750 lumens or more. You can find the bulb’s lumens on the Lighting Facts Label of the package under “Brightness.”
*If for some reason you’re not using energy efficient LEDs, wattage may still a relevant factor to evaluate. For safety reasons, make sure you don’t use a bulb that exceeds the light fixture’s recommended wattage, or energy use.

Download Our FREE Cheat Sheet!

If all this seems like too much to remember, fear not — we’ve created a FREE CHEAT SHEET you can download and take with you to the store or keep next to your computer for ordering online:

light bulb

Bulbs We Like

SYLVANIA Value LED Light Bulb, A19, 60W Equivalent, Bright White 3500K, 4 Pack

Sunperian 6 Pack BR30 LED Bulb, 8.5W=65W, 3500K Natural White, 800 Lumens, Dimmable Flood Light Bulbs for Recessed Cans, Enclosed Fixture Rated, Damp Rated, UL Listed, E26 Standard Base

LED Candelabra Bulb, Boncoo Dimmable LED Chandelier Light Bulbs 6W 3000K Soft White Filament LED Candle Bulbs 60W Incandescent Equivalent B11 530 Lumen E12 Base Clear Glass Decorative Bulb 6 Packs

Need More Help?

Great lighting can have a huge impact on the ambience of your home and the quality of your listing photos. Need some professional feed your home before you go on the market? The home staging specialists at Three Bears Home Staging can help!

online home staging consultation 60

Online Home Staging Consultations

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Easy DIY Home Staging for Home Sellers™ | Online Course

Prefer to DIY? Enroll in our course! It’s completely self-paced, 100% online and on-demand!

Read Our Book!

In her newest book, HSR certified home stager Vannessa Rhoades walks you through the process of staging your own home. Available in paperback on Amazon and free on Kindle Unlimited.

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