Choosing the Right Light Bulb: Watts Aren’t Everything

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 (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 terms of 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 four crucial details:

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 (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.

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.

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.
  • 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.”

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, 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. You can get download it from our Library of Freebies:

Bulbs We Like

Take a look below at our recommendations or visit our Shop page for more.

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

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

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.

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

Sunperian BR40 LED Light Bulbs, 13W=85W, 3500K Natural White, 1400 Lumens, Dimmable Flood Light Bulbs for Recessed Cans, Enclosed Fixture Rated, Damp Rated, UL Listed, E26 Standard Base (4 Pack)

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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Read Our Book

In this second edition of her popular book, Just Right! Easy DIY Home Staging, HSR-certified professional home stager Vannessa Rhoades walks you through the step-by-step process of staging your home for a faster, more profitable sale. Available on Amazon in paperback and FREE for Kindle Unlimited customers!

The products on this blog have been independently selected because I like them. Some of the links on this blog are affiliate links, meaning, if you choose to click on a link and make a purchase, I earn a small commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you and is paid 100% by the merchant, which helps me continue to create free content for my readers — so it’s a win-win! Thank you for supporting my blog and my business!

About Vannessa Rhoades
About Vannessa Rhoades

Vannessa Rhoades is the author of Just Right! Easy DIY Home Staging: Second Edition and founder of Three Bears Home Staging®. She is an HSR Certified Professional Home Stager™ and Certified Expert E-Designer™ and has staged and consulted on hundreds of properties in person throughout the Houston metro area and virtually across the country.

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