How to Understand Lumens


Bad lighting can affect a room's overall livability by changing its appearance and mood. The wrong light can turn a normally beautiful room into an uncomfortable living space that is too dim or too bright, too washed out or too bleak. Most people have been living with incandescent light bulbs measured in watts and understand the different light produced by 60 and 100 watt bulbs. A more important measurement to understand light is "lumens", which measures a light source's brightness.

  • Decide how bright you want your light source to be for the particular space you are contemplating illuminating. Ideal levels of light are subject to personal preference to some extent, but there are general standards for different tasks that can satisfy most.

  • Determine the amount of lumens a light source produces rather than its wattage. The measurement "lumens" represents the amount of light emitted by a light source. Screw-shaped compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are measured in lumens but packaging will usually list equivalent wattage.

  • Don't assume that purchasing a higher watt bulb means it will produce more light. A watt is actually a measure of energy consumption, not brightness, and a higher watt bulb actually means it uses a higher amount of electricity.

  • Purchase a 60-watt incandescent bulb (890 lumens) or 75-watt incandescent bulb (1,180 lumens) for general room lighting. Alternatively, a 15-watt CFL produces 900 lumens.

  • Purchase a 100-watt incandescent bulb (1,750 lumens) or a 29 watt CFL (1,750 lumens) for reading purposes.

  • Purchase a 40-watt incandescent bulb (460 lumens) or a 10-watt CFL (500 lumens) for ambient lighting or to highlight a piece of artwork.

Tips & Warnings

  • Going green with CFL lighting is a simple way to reduce your carbon footprint. Incandescent light bulbs heat a wire filament until it glows to produce illumination. About 90 percent of the energy it uses goes into outputting heat and only 10 percent produces light. Touch an incandescent lightbulb after it's been on for a while and the resulting burn will bring this fact home. CFLs produce light by another mechanism and use about 1/3 to 1/4 of the energy that an incandescent bulb uses in order to produce the same amount of light. CFLs don't have to endure the stress of heat like incandescent bulbs and can last 13 times longer (about 10,000 to 15,000 hours). If you leave a CFL bulb on for eight hours a day, it will last three or four years, compared to three or four months for the incandescent.

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  • Photo Credit living room image by AGITA LEIMANE from lumière spot image by jahmaik from blue hue of cfl lightbulb on black image by Silverpics from bright idea image by Wolfgang Kraus from meeting room image by terex from female reading paper image by jimcox40 from art image by cico from
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