How To Choose LED Bulbs

Pick the right style of energy-saving LED light bulbs for longer lasting lights

LED light bulbs are an energy-saving alternative to traditional incandescent bulbs. They can be used in most common light fixtures, including accent lighting, track lighting, lamps and outdoor spotlights. This guide will walk you through the basics of LED light bulbs.  

Tip: Government legislation has mandated that by 2020, light bulbs must be at least 70 percent more efficient than conventional incandescent bulbs.

What are LED Bulbs?

A light-emitting diode (LED) is a solid-state semiconductor that emits light when a current passes through it.

A few LED bulbs basics:

  • LEDs have an exceptionally long lifespan. They can last up to three times longer than compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, and 20 times longer than traditional incandescents. A typical LED that burns three hours a day can last about 22 years before it needs changing.
  • They’re ideal for hard-to-reach fixtures, as they rarely require changing.
  • Durable and low-maintenance since they have no filament or moving parts.
  • LEDs generate almost no heat or UV rays, which can help reduce air conditioning costs and help keep fabrics and furnishings from fading.
  • They have 85 percent higher energy efficiency than incandescent bulbs and 10 percent higher efficiency than CFL bulbs.

Certain types of LED bulbs feature:

Home automation: Use WiFi technology to turn LED light bulbs on and off, dim them or even change the color of the light.

Remote controls: LED bulbs with remote controls provide convenience and eliminate the need for dimmers.

Warranty: Many LED bulbs come with a warranty covering replacement costs if the bulb malfunctions.

Bulbs Shapes and Color Temperatures

LED bulbs come in many shapes, including spot lights, flood lights, A-line and more.  

Spot lights or flood lights are best for track lighting or overhead recessed lighting.

Flood lights cast a wider directional light than spotlights and are best for outdoor and recessed lights.

Candle (aka “decorative”) bulbs emulate the shape of a candle flame and work in multiples to provide ambient and accent lighting. Use for wall sconces and decorative fixtures.

A-line bulbs disperse light at a wide angle throughout a room and are best for room lighting, reading lamps and hallways.

Globe lights emit light in every direction, which makes them ideal for bathroom vanities and pendant lights.

LED bulbs come in a range of colors, as well as white light in various shades: bright white (blue-tinted), soft white (yellow-tinted), and daylight (bright light mainly used for security purposes).

The color of light an incandescent bulb gives off is represented by a score of 100 on the Color Rendering Index (CRI). An LED or CFL bulb with a score of 80 or higher is considered good. An LED or CFL with a score of 90 or higher is considered very good. Typically, LED bulbs score near 85 on the scale.

Tip: Some LED bulbs offer dimmability, so check the packaging if that’s a feature you prefer.

Energy Efficiency

LED bulbs use far less energy than CFL or incandescent bulbs. If a bulb is an ENERGY STAR-certified LED bulb, it has been tested for color quality, light output and efficacy.

Lumens = the amount of light the bulb gives off
Wattage = the amount of energy a bulb uses

To choose the most energy-efficient light bulb, check the lumens per watt ratio on the bulb’s packaging. The greater the lumens-to-watts ratio, the more energy efficiency the bulb provides.

Base Configuration

Most common household fixtures have pin bases or Edison (“screw-in”) bases. You’ll need to make sure you get the right bulb that fits the base of your fixture.

Types of Edison bases include:

  • Candle: a slightly smaller bulb base, used in chandeliers, light sconces and other small fixtures
  • Medium: the bulb base for standard light bulbs, used in most lamps and overhead light fixtures

Types of pin bases include:

Bi-pin: a standard base for small light bulbs

GU 10: a U-shaped ceramic base mount with twist lock

GU 24: a two-pin base; twist and lock to replace the bulb