The Ideal lighting for your Ideal home

November 15, 2021

Twenty years ago, you would buy lightbulbs based on wattage and whether or not you needed a 3-way light. Today is a whole different ball game.

Now there are not only choices behind the type of bulb (LED? Incandescent? CFL?) but also the color and brightness of the light itself. Do you want warm lighting or cool tones? What will you be using the light for? Reading? General illumination? Ambiance? Will any old light bulb do or are you looking for a cool, vintage aesthetic? Here are a few tips from This Old House on how to choose the right light bulbs for your Ideal home. 

While there is no right or wrong bulb for your new home, we’ll recommend our favorite ideal bulbs for each occasion.

Watts vs. Lumens

A light bulb’s wattage measures how much energy it uses. Lumens measure a light bulb’s brightness – the higher the value, the brighter the light. 

Before 2012, nearly all bulbs were incandescent and all you had to consider was a light bulb’s wattage. As incandescent bulbs are phased out for more efficient options, today’s bulbs include both lumens and a “wattage equivalent” number. For reference, a standard 100-watt bulb produces about 1600 lumens of light.

The FTC now requires all light bulbs to carry a standard label that details the bulb’s brightness, energy use and cost, lifespan, light temperature, and wattage.

We recommend bulbs around 800 lumens for rooms with multiple lights (such as recessed lighting) and bulbs with up to 1500 lumens for rooms that have a single light. 

Light Bulb Types

There are four main types of light bulbs commonly used in homes:

  • Incandescent

These are the traditional, filament light bulbs that most of us grew up with. Incandescents are the least energy-efficient – 90 percent of their energy is turned into heat, not light – which drives up electric bills.

  • Compact Fluorescent (CFLs)

These bulbs can look like a spiral tube or corkscrew. They’re about 50-80 percent more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs and last seven to nine years. The downside? CFLs take a while to warm up to their full brightness, and they contain mercury, so you must be careful when disposing of them. 

  • Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

LEDs are the most energy-efficient and versatile light bulbs available. LED bulbs can last anywhere from nine to 22 years (sometimes longer), and are available in a variety of styles, from traditional light bulb shapes to vintage-inspired designs. These bulbs are more expensive than other varieties, but given their long lifespan and low energy consumption, they’re often the most budget-friendly choice in the long run. 

  • Halogens

Halogen bulbs are another type of filament-style bulb, similar to incandescent bulbs. They’re somewhat more energy efficient but are nowhere close to CFLs or LEDs. Halogen bulbs usually last only about one to three years.

Temperature: Warm or Cool

When people describe the appearance of light as “warm” (more yellow) or “cool” (more blue), they’re referring to the light’s temperature. Temperature is measured on the Kelvin (K) scale, and most indoor lighting has a temperature between 2700K and 6500K; the lower the temp, the warmer the light.

  • Soft white/warm white

Soft white lighting (or warm white) is at the lower end of the temperature spectrum. Their cozy yellowish tones make a room feel welcoming and relaxing. Soft white is a great choice for bedrooms, living rooms, and other areas you want to feel soft and inviting; it’s also perfect for a table, floor, and pendant lamps. Soft white bulbs are the most likely to replicate that old-school incandescent feel.

  • Cool white/bright white

Cool white lighting moves us out of the yellow tones but not quite into the blue range. It creates a bright white light that makes for a more neutral atmosphere. These lights might be used for kitchen, study, home office, or garage.

  • Daylight

Next, we move into the daylight territory. These lights have a bright, crisp, bluish appearance. Daylight bulbs are popular in workplaces because they are thought to increase productivity but can give a cool and unrelaxing feeling within a home.

We recommend bulbs that fall between the warm white and bright white category for your home’s interior to provide a feeling of comfort. If you prefer more light in your home, we recommend increasing the lumens (amount of light emitted), but not Kelvins (color temperature). The designers Chris and Julia Marcum ( recommend a 3000K bulb for all rooms and occasions.

Mixing lumens in your home isn’t as noticeable as mixing Kelvins. We recommend sticking with one standard color (Kelvin) of the bulb and increasing or decreasing the brightness (Lumens) as needed.


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