Explaining Light Bulb Wattage

In recent years, light bulbs have become more efficient, sustainable, and affordable. LED lights, once almost prohibitively expensive, have become more affordable. They’re still more expensive upfront than other lighting technologies, but they last much longer than fluorescent or incandescent bulbs, while using less energy, which lowers utility costs as well as the cost of frequent replacement.


What are Watts?

As with all changes in technology, the move towards energy-efficient lighting has confused many consumers. One source of confusion is the change from measuring brightness in watts to measuring it in lumens. Wattage refers to the energy the light bulb consumes, lumens to the brightness it puts out, which is what you care about when you’re lighting your house. When incandescent light bulbs were the only option, “100 watts” was sufficient to indicate a pretty bright bulb. But with the advent of CFLs and LEDs, wattage has become irrelevant from a light standpoint; all that matters are the lumens.


Watts vs. Lumens

A high lumen rating is generally around 1600. A standard incandescent bulb would need about 100 watts to achieve this. With a halogen bulb, about 70 watts, and with an LED, 20 watts or less. A 100-watt LED bulb would be overwhelmingly bright, if not blinding. Again, LED bulbs have a high upfront cost, but the low wattage means you’re getting a longer-lasting and more efficient light source.


Knowledge is Power

Put simply, wattage just isn’t a good way to measure brightness. You don’t have to use a lot of energy to light your house anymore, so energy use isn’t a good indicator that you’ve found the right light bulb. With older types of light bulb, you’re spending a lot of energy, but you’re getting heat and not a lot of light in return.