How to Pick the Right Light Bulbs for Your Home + Our favorites!

November 15, 2017

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This is a post about light bulbs, but I hope the topic won’t turn you off because I’ve learned that lighting has as much impact on a room as paint color or flooring or finishes! Light bulbs have completely changed over the past decade and I’m a firm believer that they can (and will) absolutely change the way a room looks, too. And while I’ve mentioned it several times in our podcast, my stories and as a footnote in posts, I’m a stickler when it comes to bulb color and brightness and I figured it was time to dedicate a post explaining why; It’s all about Kelvin and Lumens.

These lamps both hold our favorite 3000K, 750 lumens bulbs. 

First of all, gone are the days where you go to the store and pick a bulb based on watts. Fortunately, almost every bulb has become more energy efficient so while a box will give you a watt equivalent conversion, what you should really be looking at is Lumens!

What are Lumens? Watts measure the amount of energy required to light products, whereas lumens measure the amount of light you are getting from a bulb–aha! The more lumens in a light bulb, the brighter the light. We typically buy things based on how much of it we get, right? When buying milk, we buy it by volume (gallons). So, why should light be any different? For decades, we have been buying light bulbs based on how much energy they consume (Watts) — no matter how much light they give us (Lumens). But not anymore. Every box will tell you how many lumens the bulb will put out.

The chart above shows the number of lumens produced by common incandescent bulbs. If you’re looking to buy a bulb that will give you the amount of light you used to get from a 60-watt bulb, you’re now looking for 800 lumens, etc.

Since the energy bulbs use are now all significantly lower (yay!), it is very important to become familiar with how much brightness you want. Personally, I like around 750-800 lumens for a good shade covered lamp or recessed light, but less lumens for an exposed bulb, like the glass globes in our kitchen–which give off light of 210 lumens and 2700 Kelvin.

Which brings us to the next big component when choosing a bulb–Kelvin color!

You’ve probably noticed some light bulbs look a lot warmer, or orange even (think: typical edison bulb) while some look so blue! That’s Kelvin color in a nutshell and you have power over that. Color temperature is a way to describe the light appearance provided by a light bulb, it is measured in degrees of Kelvin (K) on a scale from 1,000 to 10,000–although typically you’ll find 2000-5000K available in stores for you to buy for your home. The color of a bulb can affect everything from mood of an entire space to the way a paint color looks–it’s really important. 

You can use Kelvin temperature to help guide you in determining which fixture is right for each room. Whether you need an ambient source of light or one for highly-focused task lighting, keep in mind the  Kelvin ranges from the chart above.

By using 2 2700K, 650 lumens bulbs in the ceiling in our daughters’ bathroom, we were able to provide a lot more clean light, even in a windowless room! We accented with 2700K, 450 lumens bulbs.

While more than just the lighting changed (obviously), we made the lighting a big part of the design plan, as we do in every room, so the after is a stark contrast from the much more dim and yellowed before:

And since this is our blog, I’ll add my personal opinion. To me, “neat, clean, efficient, bright, alert” on the Kelvin scale can translate to “sterile” really fast in your home. I play with lumens, but am pretty strict on Kelvin color. 2700 or 3000K. Period. It’s clean and inviting without being too warm or sterile.

We love these 2700K, 655 lumens bulbs for our recessed lighting. They’re dimmable and the perfect color with a great amount of brightness. With recessed lighting, you’re generally going to have multiple in a space, so you don’t necessarily need the brightest lumens.

For almost every other lamp or accent light in our home, we love Energetic’s 3000K bulb. It comes in 750 lumens or 450 lumens, depending on our needs.

Here’s a really good 2700K (600 lumens) dimmable edison-looking bulb. (If your bulb is going to be exposed, a good looking bulb is nice to have.)

And here’s a 2700K edison bulb with 210 lumens (similar to what we use in our kitchen glass globes).

I really hope this helps in your own lighting design within your homes. Not only does lighting add so much to the mood (I love our home at night, just as much as in the day because of lighting!), but as I said it also will play a big role in how paint colors look in your space–so make sure you have your lighting right before choosing those other elements.

To see all the lights on in our home, and see how they work together, check out our most recent video tour right here!

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What do you think?

  1. I am in the process of replacing the existing lights in my open floor kitchen and I was wondering which color temperature to use. Thank you for sharing your ideas!

  2. Mel says:

    Great post. Lighting makes such a difference to a space and your thorough explanation of Kelvin and lumens is super. Thanks so much.

  3. Maria says:

    Light fixtures typically list max wattage. Do you take this into consideration? I always this was important for fire hazard concerns. Also, any Edison style or pretty bulbs that you know of that give off enough Lumens?

  4. Emily says:

    Love this .. so previously when choosing lighting I would go with the recommended Watts that the lamp or whatever suggested. With the new energy efficient bulbs does that matter or can you choose whatever bulb that fits the specific lighting you want

  5. Kate says:

    Many of your recommended bulbs are no longer available. This is such a great and helpful post, and I hope you’ll consider writing an updated version!!

  6. HI C&J Team! We have been using the Utilitech’s 3000K bulb that we have purchased from Amazon as well as Lowe’s. however they are NO LONGER found anywhere! (yikes!). We have a couple of bulbs out in the house and are having a very, very hard time matching these bulbs. Any thoughts on a potential replacement? We are stumped and having a hardtime finding 3000K bulbs. Your help is much appreciated!

    Tim & Jenn

  7. Lorna says:

    Hi, thanks for this post! I am remodeling my small (9×9) kitchen and I was having a hard time deciding on the Kelvin. I am thinking of going with undercabinet LED tape in 3000K but they only have 365 lumens/foot. This seems like not a lot, but maybe with the close cabinet lighting it is sufficient? There will be a frosted diffuser lens over it. I also plan to use 3 800 lumens 3000K edison LED bulbs in the light fixture on the ceiling…I really want the room to look bright but as per your recs not go above 3000K….let me know if you have any thoughts! Thanks!

  8. Maura Cobb says:

    This article is so helpful! I would love to see it updated with Amazon links of bulbs that are currently available. I know this post was written a couple years ago and many of the links say “currently unavailable” on Amazon. Lighting is so important and I’m super sensitive to good lighting. All the new light bulbs used to be confusing to me but not anymore thanks to you.

  9. Kellen says:

    You mention you used the 2700K, 655 lumens bulbs for our recessed lighting. Do you use the same for your recessed lighting in your kitchen? Our contractor is recommending 3500K but curious what you guys have done? Thanks!

  10. Bryanna says:

    I come back to this post anytime my old bulbs die. It’s been fun to slowly replace them with these fundamentals in mind.

  11. Thanks for sharing such an useful article. After reading the article i feet it this is best article for Best White LED Christmas Lights.

  12. Tarane says:

    Hey! The Cree Recess Light bulb suggestion is no longer available. Any other suggestions for Recessed Lights? Thank you~

  13. Rebekah says:

    Hey!! What would you recommend for lighting in a fan in a living room or bedroom ? Thanks!

  14. Emily says:

    Hi Julia- thanks for this post, super helpful! I understand from your chart the equivilant of a 45 watt bulb would be about 400 lumens, but is that also the max I can use?

    I have a lamp that works with a max 45 watt bulb so is 400 lumber the brightest I could get? For reference this is a small lamp that will sit on a bookshelf and need to light 4-6 ft radius around it.


    • Chris says:

      LED bulbs use much fewer watts and get you brighter lumens. So as long as the actual wattage the bulb uses (not the equivalent) is below 45 you’ll be fine.

  15. Candace says:

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time! We picked out a light fixture for over our kitchen table and had it installed and I’m beginning to wonder if I made a bad choice. Previous owner did a cut out so there are no cans in that one area. With our fixture we chose it seems to cast a shadow above the light fixture. The pendants throw the light down and outward. Hubs brought back 60w 5000k it’s it was horrific! My 4 year old even asked why he bought blue lightbulbs.. long story short I’m hoping you have some kind of miracle solution for this problem.

  16. Miranda McCue says:

    Ahh! You may have thought this post wouldn’t be a hit, but as someone who has spent sooo long staring at lightbulbs only to come home with a horribly blue blinding light, I SO appreciate this!

  17. Melissa says:

    Hi Julia, Thank you so much for this! Do you have a preferred dimmer switch you have used in your projects? Thank you!

  18. Lindsay says:

    What a great topic! What would you recommend for a large 6 bulb entry way chandelier?

  19. Leah says:

    I always was drawn to a clean soft daylight for our home because it didn’t add a yellow tinge to our home that is very neutral with greys whites and warm wood. So I was completely surprised that you swear by a warm light!
    My husband and I are building a brand new home to sell so I referred to this article to figure out what type of bulbs to fill this new home with! Do I switch up what I’m use to and go for more of a warm white to make this large new home more inviting??

  20. Kari says:

    Wondering if there’s a good candelabra (E12) light that you would recommend?

  21. Shawna says:

    Where is the best place to buy lightbulbs? Do you shop locally or online? Love this post on lighting so much! I’ve referred many friends to it as well!

    • Julia says:

      So I linked to where you can get them online, but I have found great luck at Lowe’s. For special sizes, we have a local lighting shop that I get bulbs at, too.

  22. Cathy says:

    I return so many light bulbs because of the color that they give off. Is it weird that I am excited about this post? I have a question, does the 2700 give off a yellow tone? I’m looking for a bulb that reads more white then yellow but not blue for my lamps. I have the Edison bulbs in my clear pendants and they are yellow. Are all Edison bulbs that color? Thanks for this post. I agree that lighting makes a room. ????

    • Julia says:

      You might prefer closer to 3000 if you don’t like any sort of warmth. There are some Edison bulbs that aren’t as yellow, but you really just have to look at the Kelvin color–that’s where it’s at!

  23. beth says:

    What do you suggest for super bright closet light? We only have 2 sources from the ceiling and I can’t seem to make it bright enough in there. Recommendations, I beg!

    • Chris says:

      That’s so hard to tell without being able to be in your space. But something with a high lumen count that sits around 2700 on the Kelvin scale.

  24. K Skinner says:

    This post is so helpful! I was wondering how far out from the wall you put your kitchen recessed lights? I have a similar kitchen design with no upper cabinets, so I have no under cabinet lighting. A designer told me to light the walkways, but I’m worried that will cast a shadow on my workspace. Newer advice seems to place them closer to the edge of the counter or even directly above, what’s your advice? Thanks!

  25. Jessica says:

    This post is really great. I notice lighting so much more now after reading this. We have this fluorescent light box in our kitchen that drives me crazy, but I don’t know how to update it without having to redo the ceiling. Do you know if you can use better light bulbs for these?

  26. Amy says:

    This was very awesome!! Thank you so much for these tips.

  27. Julia says:

    This is incredibly helpful! Lighting makes a world of difference. Thank you!

  28. Lindsey H. says:

    Hi Chris and Julia!

    Love your style and your blog, you guys are so helpful to your readers! My husband and I are currently living in and fixing up our home and are about to put in recessed lighting. I don’t know much at it but I know its a big deal so, wondering if you could possibly share what recessed cans you guys put in and what size? I’m having a hard time figuring out what size would look right :/ thank you thank you thank you!!

  29. susan says:

    Just remember, yellow colored lights make yourself and your guests look sallow. White light is best for entertaining.

  30. Julia Rossi says:

    Great post-soooo useful. What about the skinny lamp light bulbs? Most importantly…picture lights–I need to either install hardwired ones or battery operated and it appears that they only come in LED. Is there a preference or a good battery operated one you’d suggest? Thank you!

  31. Laurel says:

    This is Such a helpful post!!! I always seem to miss the first couple of times with lightbulbs

  32. Amber says:

    Great post!! Do you have advice on a bulb for outside that will last? Ours keep blowing! Thanks!

  33. Julie Dawson says:

    I really needed this information. Thank you.

  34. Mary says:

    Amazing timing as I was reading this while my husband was at Home Depot looking for bathroom lightbulbs for our newly remodeled bathroom. I called him and talked him through the right bulbs to buy. Thank you so much, super informative post!

  35. Kimberli Jutte says:

    Hi there, I love this article. My husband doesn’t quite get why I’m so picky about light bulbs. I am going to go back to this article many times I can already tell. I do have a question, what do you like for outdoor lighting? We have can lights all around our home and a couple of flood lights. We have several acres in the country and sometimes need that additional lighting. But he has an awful bulb in the flood lights right now. Help???

  36. Danielle says:

    I cannot thank you enough for this post. We have been on the hunt for the best Edison lighting and as you clearly know that’s not an easy task. We will for sure be adding these to our amazon cart.

    much love


  37. Sarah says:

    This is so great! Thank you so much!

  38. Debbie C says:

    Thank you for this post! Such a great resource to refer back to whenever lighting changes are needed! I took a lighting course in design school, which was geared toward commercial lighting and got really technical (and confusing). This is such a great way to sum up the info for home.

  39. Jenny Young says:

    This has been so very helpful!

    I’ve been so frustrated spending money on bulbs that I hate & I’m too frugal not to use them once I pay for them. My dilemma is my track light. As the bulbs burn out & I replace them….the lighting is different in each bulb. Hopefully the information you’ve given will help me try to at least find a light that looks good in them.

  40. Janet Ng says:

    Wow, thank you so much for the tips. I’ve always wanted to change out our light bulbs since we’ve moved in to our home 2 years ago. It was a flip and sold to us. The contractor put these new LEDs that are too cold & sterile for my taste. I was originally too cheap to splurge on new bulbs since the existing ones were new. One day, I finally got the courage to just do it but then caught myself staring at a bunch of bulbs at Home Depot, not knowing where to start. Love your blog; love your podcast! Keep up the amazing work.

  41. Alison says:

    Wow, talk about an informative post. I knew nothing of Lumens or Kelvin before! Thanks so much!

  42. Kara D says:

    I would love to hear John Petersik from YHL weigh in here! He’s another person who is *pretty specific* about what lightbulbs he loves to use!

    I am also pretty picky about the light bulbs I use in my home – I tend to go for something slightly higher in lumens (1100-ish) and Kelvin (3000-3500K-ish). The shades on my lamps tends to make the lighting more yellow and dim (even though they’re white shades!), so I go brighter and whiter/bluer to balance that out.

  43. Sarah says:

    This post is perfectly timed since we just hung two new fixtures yesterday… BUT maybe you can help me troubleshoot: I have a 3000k 750 lumens 40 watt equivalent bulb. It’s in a pendent that is globe like and mostly frosted( actually it’s the one you had shown in a anthro sale IG story)
    It’s reading really cold and florescent… could the issue be too many lumens?

  44. Amanda W says:

    Yes! Love this post – it’s been so helpful! I have a bathroom light fixture with 8 bulbs (why!?) but we are hoping to replace it with 2 sconces instead. My husband and I disagree about if that will be “enough” light, since we are used to the 8 bulbs at this point. We have no overhead lighting and 1 single window….so would something like what you put in your girls bathroom (2700K; 450L or 650L) be enough you think!?

  45. Lori says:

    Man, I took a shot of the screen with my phone, this post was so helpful. I am also super picky about light temp & brightness, and so far it’s really been trial and error. Thank you so much for making it simple!

  46. Lauren B. says:

    THANK YOU for this post! My husband and I just bought our first home and one of the first things I commented on was the blue/cool light in the pendants above our island. He thought I was crazy but I’m so glad to have read this post and discovered I’m not! I cannot tell you how many trial and error runs I’ve gone through choosing a lightbulb and hoping it produces the kind of light I want. Just what I needed!

  47. Melissa says:

    This is great! We renovated an entire house and I had to pick ALL the lighting – I was clueless! Thankfully the husband is an electrician and he knew a thing or 2 about it :) We went with 3000k pretty much across the board. Outside we started with 4500k… but it was like a landing strip! We toned it down to 3,500 – but the whiter the light the more moths you attract! But… I couldn’t do the gllw outside our 1963 brick home :) thanks for all this info! Wish I had it a year ago. I’d have stressed less! ;)

  48. Katherine says:

    So helpful, thank you! After reading this post today I swapped out all of the bulbs in our main living area and kitchen – much better! Question – do you have a problem with your dimmable recessed lights buzzing? Is there a way or a brand to fix that?

    • Julia says:

      Our recessed don’t buzz, but the fixture in Polly’s room does! I’ll have to check what bulb we put in there.

      • Katherine says:

        I did a little Googling and it sounds like it has to do with the dimmer switch. Some dimmers are compatible with only incandescent bulbs while some are compatible with CFLs and LEDs. If they’re mismatched, it will buzz. I’m going to try a new dimmer switch for our recessed kitchen lights to see if that solves it!

  49. Lisa says:

    Thank you so much! This was very helpful!! I too believe lighting is huge to a decorating project!

  50. Tosha says:

    I am all about light in my home and can’t stand it to be dark. I used to use the 5000k bulbs in my old home with high vaulted ceilings, but they are too harsh in my new home. So I switched to the 2700k bulbs. My issue is I cannot find good bulbs with these lumens in the chandelier bulbs. They all are too yellow. Any suggestions?

  51. Lu says:

    Thank you ! I got a better understanding of the lumens and Kelvin… It makes a huge difference…

  52. Erica says:

    Hi Julia! Thank you. We have glass pendants in our kitchen. The lights we used are Edison bulb style but the light they give off is very orange. While warm it feels too warm. We don’t have any recessed lighting in that space and I need to find. Light balance. I struggle with finding an attractive light that is both warm but clean looking. I will try your suggestion. Thanks

  53. Julie S says:

    Glory hallelujah. As someone who is frustratingly picky about lightbulbs, this is a HUGE help. I had learned about the Kelvin/color/warmth part of this but never grasped the lumens. I need to print out and laminate those infographics and carry it with me when shopping ;-P

  54. Jillian says:

    Man this is so so helpful!! We have been on the HUNT for the longest time for the perfect bulbs and have tried everything!!! Love all the tips and will definitely be trying some of these out!!

  55. Laurie says:

    This is exactly what I needed. Selecting light bulbs is so confusing now, this makes a huge difference!

  56. Veronica says:

    Thanks so much for this post! Very clear and helpful. I’ll refer back to it every time I choose lighting!

  57. Liz says:

    Wow! Super useful post. Thank you!

  58. Allison says:

    And here I am…. still buying incandescent bulbs at the dollar store…

  59. Monica says:

    Oh my gosh…thank you for this! Your visuals and explanation make this SO easy to understand! Previously, I was standing in the aisle with my head hurting and my eyes rolling back in my head. Bulbs are so expensive now that it’s really important to make good choices you aren’t stuck with for the next decade.

  60. Dana says:

    Hi! I have horrible granite counters that in certain conditions look like a pink and grey granite tiger????. (I think its called Capricorn) I am painting cabinets and tiling walls, but I can’t replace the counters. I thought maybe changing light bulbs could downplay the pink. have any thoughts on which bulbs I might try?

    • Julia says:

      Painting cabinets and light bulbs will absolutely help! Definitely steer clear of paint colors with green undertones (that will make it look more pink!) and a 2700-3000K bulb will show the truest color.

  61. Norah says:

    Wow, this is so helpful! thank you!

  62. Brooke says:

    This is so so helpful! Thank you.

  63. Sarah says:

    What about bathroom vanity sconces? I was told once that those lights matter a ton especially if that is where women apply their makeup! Thanks :)

    • Ryan says:

      I’m guessing you’d want your makeup to look “normal” in daylight. It might look harsh, but if you select lights with larger Kelvin numbers will be closer to daylight / outside natural light. Daylight = 4500K+

  64. Jen says:

    HI! Thanks so much for this post. I️ I’m wo wondering what you would recommend for overhead lighting that isn’t recessed or dimmable. My home has light fixtures in the bedroom and I’m looking for the right kind of bulb for the space! Thanks so much!

    • Julia says:

      Is recommend the same Kelvin color, but adjust lumens based on light covering. If it’s an enclosed flush mount, you may want a higher lumens, etc.

  65. Shauna says:

    Thank you, thank you! The lighting in our house is awful and as we slowly tackle remodeling, it’s getting better but I’ve had so many questions along the way. Thanks!

  66. Shannon says:

    I’ve been waiting for a post like this! I agree that lighting is a huge part in how a home looks and feels and my husband thinks I’m too particular and a bit crazy for thinking that way. ???? So thank you for putting this all out there in a post! I really appreciate it!

  67. Abbey says:

    This was really helpful! Thank you!

  68. Ginger says:

    Great info. What do you recommend for outdoor lighting? Does the same rules apply?

    • Julia says:

      Yup! There’s a funny story about this one time that Chris spent hours hanging Christmas lights and we turned them on and they were SOOOOO white they were almost blue. Not my thing. ????

      • Veronica says:

        I’m such a Christmas light snob! I can’t stand the ones that look cold and blue. Nor the “Easter colour” ones!

  69. Erin says:

    what light bulb do you use for the bathroom?

  70. Emily says:

    So funny that this is the post today! I am just now binging all of your podcasts and was listening to episode 13 on my way into work this morning!

  71. Karen F says:

    This is such a great and informative post – thank you!

  72. Kimberly says:

    I’ve listened to the podcasts on lighting but having the info spelled out here is helpful! Great post!!!

  73. Geraldine says:

    Very interesting!

  74. Kristen says:

    thank you for this post! I took a screen shot of your bulb recommendations from insta stories a while back and sent my husband to home depot to search for the right bulbs! It was so helpful and made such a difference in our living room. We just got a quote for recessed lights in the living room, but just switching out the bulbs in all of our floor and table lamps made the room bright enough we don’t even need to have the recessed lights installed. So technically you saved us $$$$

  75. I love this post! It is so helpful! How funny that such a simple-seeming thing can make such a big impact!

  76. Mary says:

    Oh my goodness, thank you for doing this post! I’ve had the hardest time finding the right lightbulbs for our home that don’t make everything glow orange or feel like a church basement! We have great natural light during the day so I don’t mind our orangey wood floors but at night I actually get depressed with the orange reflecting everywhere!

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We believe we should all love where we live.

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