Now that the incandescent light bulb is pretty much a thing of the past, you must choose between LED (light-emitting diode), CFL (compact fluorescent), and halogen bulbs to light your home.
But which is the best light bulb? It all depends on your needs. We’ll take you through the various kinds of lighting, the benefits that each offers, and help you find the best light bulb (or best smart light bulbs) for you.
LED vs. incandescent bulbs
Traditional incandescent bulbs measured their brightness in watts; if you wanted a brighter bulb, you bought one with a higher wattage. However, with the advent of LEDs and other types of lighting, that yardstick has become meaningless, and as a result, a bulb's brightness is now listed as lumens, which is a more accurate measurement of how bright it is, rather than how much energy it consumes. Below is a conversion table which shows how much energy, in watts, an incandescent bulb and an LED typically require to produce the same amount of light.
|Incandescent Bulb (Watts)||Lumens||LED Bulb (Watts)|
CFL and halogen bulbs
Other replacement lightbulb choices consume more power than LED bulbs and have shorter rated-lifespans, but cost much less upfront.
A 60-watt–equivalent CFL bulb from Philips, for example, consumes 13 watts and has a rated lifetime of 12,000 hours (or about 11 years) when lit for three hours a day, but retails for only $1.50-$2.50.
While technically a form of incandescent lighting, halogen bulbs are more efficient than traditional bulbs. Many companies sell “eco-Incandescent” bulbs which look like traditional lightbulbs, but use halogen elements. But they are still no match for LEDs. A 60-watt–equivalent halogen bulb from Philips consumes 43 watts and has a rated lifetime of 0.9 years. It also retails for under $5.00.
Other light bulb alternatives
EISA has stopped the manufacturing of candle-and globe-shaped 60-watt incandescent bulbs (the types used in chandeliers and bathroom vanity light fixtures). However, the law doesn't affect 40-watt versions of those bulbs, nor three-way (50 to 100 to 150-watt) incandescent A19 bulbs. So, those will continue to be an option for you, as well, in fixtures that will accommodate them.
|Lamp (A19) |
|Price per bulb|
(Hrs. @ 3 hrs./day;
varies by Mfr.)
(Varies by Mfr.)
(Varies by Mfr.)
|$1.50 and up||15,000-25,000||9-12||570-830|
LED light bulb lifespan and cost
Traditional bulbs for table and floor lamps are known by their lighting industry style name "A19,"while floodlight bulbs made for track lights and in-ceiling fixtures are dubbed "BR30." Your best long-term alternative to either style is extremely energy-efficient LED technology.
The LED equivalent of a 60-watt A19 bulb consumes only between 9 and 12 watts, and provides about the same light output, measured in lumens. A 40-watt equivalent LED bulb consumes only 6 to 8.5 watts. And a 65-watt BR30 (floodlight) replacement LED bulb consumes only 10 to 13 watts.
An LED bulb's lifespan, estimated based on three hours of use per day, is at least a decade, manufacturers say. Under the same conditions, an old-fashioned lightbulb may work for only about a year before burning out. GE's equivalent LED bulb has a rated lifetime of 15,000 hours or 13.7 years. Philips' equivalent LED bulb has a rated lifetime of 10,000 hours or 9.13 years.
LED bulbs will continue to light up even after their rated lifetimes expire; however, brightness may drop or the color cast of the light may change.
Initially, LED bulbs cost a lot more than old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, but now have dropped in price. For example, a 4-pack of Philips 60-watt-equivalent soft white LED bulbs costs about $12 on Amazon, a cost of $3 per bulb.
LED light bulb color temperature meaning
GE, Philips, Sylvania, Cree and other brands (including IKEA) all offer LED bulbs that output the most popular "soft white" light, at retailers including Home Depot, Target and Walmart. In addition, GE ‘s Reveal lineup of color-enhancing lightbulbs (a coating filters out yellow tones to enhance colors lit by the bulb) with LED replacements equivalent to 40-watt and 60-watt A19 bulbs and to a 65-watt BR30 bulb.
When they first came out, LED bulbs emitted a bluish light that many found harsh compared to the “warmer” light cast by traditional bulbs. However, LED makers now offer LED bulbs that emit different color temperatures, measured in Kelvin. Here are a few that you’ll most likely find at a home improvement store:
2700K: These bulbs will be labeled “soft white,” and will cast a gentle warm glow that’s good for the bedroom, as well as table and floor lamps.
3000K: “Bright White” bulbs have a more neutral glow, being neither warm nor cool.
5000K: Lights that are 5000K and higher will typically have a “daylight” label, and edge towards the bluer part of the spectrum. However, they will best approximate actual sunlight.
Smart LED bulbs
A new subset of LED bulbs are so-called “Smart Bulbs,” in that they can be controlled by your smartphone, and often have other features built in, such as the ability to work with a wide range of best smart home devices. However, these also cost more than other LEDs.
Smart bulbs fall into two categories: Those that require a hub to connect to your home Wi-Fi network, and those that don't. The advantage for the former is that they tend to be smaller and less expensive than Wi-Fi-enabled bulbs. However, setup is a little longer, and involves connecting a hub or bridge to your Wi-Fi router, and then linking the bulbs to the hub. Some companies, such as Philips, include a bridge with their bulbs, but many can also be linked to third-party smart home hubs, such as the Samsung SmartThings, Wink, and the Amazon Echo Plus.
If you have a room that requires multiple in-ceiling lights, then it may make more sense to use a smart light switch; here are our picks for the best smart light switches. Lutron has also released a battery-powered smart dimmer switch called the Aurora ($40), which fits on top of a traditional light switch, but lets you control Philips Hue lights directly.
Best smart light starter kits
Companies whose bulbs require a bridge or hub to connect to your Wi-Fi network (which includes Philips, Sengled, and IKEA) often sell starter kits, which include several bulbs plus the bridge.
Philips Hue White Starter Kit
The Philips Hue White Starter kit includes two dimmable bulbs and the hub. The Philips Hue app is the most comprehensive of all those we've tested, and works with a lot of smart home systems, including Alexa, Google Home, and more.
Best Wi-Fi smart bulbs
Bulbs with built-in Wi-Fi can connect directly to your router, so there's no need to install a bridge first. However, on a per-bulb basis, Wi-Fi bulbs tend to be more expensive and larger than their counterparts.
Xiaomi Yeelight Smart Bulb
Xiaomi's Yeelight Tunable ($19) and Color ($26) LED bulbs are excellent Wi-Fi-enabled devices for a decent price. They take less than a minute to set up, and work with Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT.
Best miscellaneous bulbs
Philips Hue Single PAR38 Outdoor
Philips Hue's PAR38 floodlight bulbs are designed to light your driveway, garden, or patio. They work with Alexa, Google Assistant, and HomeKit, and are very bright, offering 1300 lumens and an adjustable white color temperature of 3000k.
Best bulbs with extra features
In addition to providing light, there are a number of smart bulbs that have added features, such as speakers, Wi-Fi extenders, and infrared lights.
Lifx+ Smart LED with Infrared
The Lifx+ line of smart lights, which includes A19 and BR30 bulbs, are Wi-Fi-connected multicolor, dimmable bulbs that provide utility even when they're off. They have infrared lights, which provide additional illumination for security cameras to see in the dark.
Best nontraditional lights
Because LEDs are so small, they can be used in a variety of shapes and installations, from long strips of light to even more exotic designs.
Philips Hue Play
The Philips Hue is a ten-inch light bar that you can mount vertically, horizontally, or flat on the floor. It can synchronize its brightness and color effects to your music or videos, using Philips Hue's Sync app. It works with Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit.