Choosing the Right Light Bulb: Watts Aren’t Everything

how to choose the right light bulbs for home staging

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 the store.

Choose between a 40-watt or a 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 mistakes I encounter with home sellers is using the wrong light bulb for the job. Fortunately, it’s an easy mistake to fix once you understand what you need. 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!

This light bulb buying guide breaks down the four critical factors you must evaluate when choosing the right light bulbs for home staging:

1. The Type of Light Bulb

For homes, LEDs are typically superior to 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

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.

2. The Shape of the Light Bulb

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.

Once you’re in the store (or online), you’ll see a lot of confusing letter/number combinations indicating a bulb’s size. You’ll need to determine two factors: the shape of the bulb and the size of the base. The light bulb shape code consists of a letter that indicates the physical shape, followed by a number that indicates the size (measured in eighths of a diameter). For instance, an A19 bulb is the standard household shape and is 19/8 inches in size. A19 bulbs are the most common light bulb shape on the market.

The light bulb base code indicates the shape of the base, while the number indicates the size. For example, a standard-medium screw-in base is usually denoted with an E26 or E27. The Candelabra E12 base is the second most common bulb base.

Image credit: Ikea

3. The Color of the Light

Light appearance, or 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 describes how red, yellow, white, or blue the light will appear.

Let’s break it down like this:

  • 1800 K to 1900 K: Think of candlelight—nice and orangey. This color is also typical for many Edison bulbs (modern reproductions of Edison’s original filament bulb, sometimes referred to as antique light bulbs or vintage light bulbs).
  • 2700 K: This is the most commonly available light bulb color. While this is the color temperature of the typical incandescent light most of us are used to, it tends to be quite yellow. Many (but not all) manufacturers describe this color as “soft white.” Bulbs this color are an acceptable second choice for home staging, but not ideal.
  • 3000 K to 3500 KBulbs in this range are ideal for home staging in nearly every interior room. LEDs in this color range cast a 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. *Pro tip: These are also the best color bulbs for evaluating interior paint colors!
  • 4000 K to 6000 K: Bulbs in this range look rather blue and are described by many manufacturers as “daylight” or “cool white.” This cool-colored light typically doesn’t work well for home staging or residential use. It’s rather unflattering to skin tones and casts a sterile, colder light. Cool color bulbs are more appropriate for retail displays, security lighting, workspaces, or garages. Avoid using these bulbs when staging your home or photographing listing photos.

The name of the color (e.g., “warm white” or “daylight” or “soft white,” etc.) 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.”

4. The Brightness of the Light Bulb

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.

Brightness is measured in lumens, not watts. The higher the lumens, the brighter the light. A standard 60-watt incandescent bulb, for example, produces about 700 to 800 lumens of light. By comparison, a CFL bulb produces that same 700 to 800 lumens using only about 12 watts of electricity. An LED bulb uses even less energy — only about 10 watts — to produce the same amount of light. You can use lumens to compare the brightness of any bulb, regardless of whether it’s a halogen, incandescent, CFL, or LED.

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 be a relevant factor to evaluate. For safety reasons, make sure you don’t use a bulb that exceeds the light fixture’s recommended wattage.

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Light Bulbs We Like

• Standard-size A19 bulbs

The most commonly used light bulb is the standard A19 bulb (with E26 base). Depending on your color preference, we recommend either these 3000K bulbs

…or these 3500K bulbs.

• Candelabra bubs

The right color candelabra bulbs can be trickier to find — but we found some we love! These candelabra bulbs have an E12 base. Choose either 3000 K bulbs

…or these 3500 K bulbs.

• Indoor recessed lighting

When it comes to indoor recessed lighting, you’re typically looking for either a BR30 or a BR40 bulb. BR40s spread light a little more widely than BR30s, but the difference is subtle. We recommend selecting bulbs for recessed lighting based on lumens output, color temperature, and the size of the cans.

Most cans are 4″ or 5″ or 6″. Typically, a 4″ can only accommodate BR30s. A 5″ can should comfortably fit a BR30 bulb with a little space on all sides, while a BR40 will fit more snuggly. A 6″ can will accommodate a BR30 bulb but it will also leave a lot more space between the bulb and trim, a look you might not care for.

Try these BR 30 bulbs

…or these BR 40 bulbs, depending on the size of your cans.

Need More Help?

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

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Published by Vannessa Rhoades, Three Bears Home Staging

Vannessa Rhoades is the author of "Just Right! Easy DIY Home Staging" and the founder of the award-winning firm, Three Bears Home Staging®. She specializes in providing positive and empowering consultations to help homeowners sell more quickly and for more money. Vannessa has staged and consulted on hundreds of properties, both in person throughout the Houston metro area and virtually across the country.

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