At least five times a day Sherry gets asked: “What are those LED bulbs that John loves?” Sometimes it seems even more popular than the ever-present “where you’d get that thing in your house?” question (all answers are here, btw) or “what are those short girl jeans Sherry wears constantly?” (they’re these). Because as anyone who has listened to our podcast knows, I am, shall we say, particular about my light bulbs. And as we switched over our entire house to LED bulbs over the last few years, it has sent me down the wormhole of finding my favorite bulbs (and avoiding the ones that make my eyes extremely angry). Since one big pro of LEDs is that you won’t have to replace them for years – maybe even decades (many of them say 30+ years on the packaging) – I wanted to make sure I got it right.
And although we’ve spoken about them SEVERAL times on the podcast (did I mention I’m obsessive?) it’s not much help to all the people who regularly inquire about not being able to find “that blog post with our favorite light bulbs” (I even got a text like this from my own mom) because, well, that blog post doesn’t exist. Until now!
“Buying Bulbs Used To Be So Easy“
That’s a direct quote from my mom when she texted me about what LEDs to buy. While I’m not 100% certain what “heyday” of light bulb shopping she’s referring to, I can completely relate to the sentiment. The classic-but-energy-hungry incandescent bulbs are being phased out and the once-newfangled, higher efficiency CFL bulbs are looking downright oldfangled these days compared to LEDs. LEDs used to be crazy pricey, but have come down in cost considerably, meaning it’s finally practical for everyone to make the switch. Our favorites still aren’t as cheap as CFLs (they’re about $5/bulb) but they say the average person recoups that cost within a year or so by lowering their electric bill with their use. So off we set to upgrade our house to LEDs.
A Simple Way To Read A Light Bulb’s Label
Before I get into our favorites, let’s talk about two intimidating terms on LED packaging: Kelvins and Lumens. They’re not nearly as complicated as they sound and (spoiler alert) you can mostly get away with ignoring them. Here are a couple of stupid word tricks I use to remember what those two mean (warning: cheesy mnemonics coming up):
- Lumens is a measurement of brightness, or how much light a bulb gives off (both L words!). Alternately, you can think of it as how much it will illuminate a space. More lumens = more light.
- Kelvins is a measurement of color temperature, or how warm (yellow) or cool (blue) the light is. The more Ks a bulb has, the kolder the temperature will be (both K words…sorta). So a 4000K bulb is cooler (bluer) looking than a 3000K bulb.
But the good news is that most light bulb packaging still includes familiar shorthand. “Lumens” often correlates to a “wattage equivalent,” so if you’re currently using a 60 watt bulb in a fixture, you should be fine putting a 60-watt-equivalent LED in its place (typically around 800 Lumens). There are exceptions (like specialty Edison-style LEDs that have much lower light output) so it’s helpful to double-check the lumens on a label, but if that’s too much for your noggin to process – like it is for me sometimes – don’t fret.
Kelvins also has a plain English correlation, and that’s to terms like “warm white,” “soft white,” or “daylight.” Although these descriptors seem to be applied somewhat standardly, I’m a true maniac about color temperature so I always verify the Kelvin rating. Our go-to throughout our whole house (and the beach house) is a 2700K bulb, which is usually called a “soft white” bulb. I hate lights that are too cool or blue looking because I feel they make a home look cold or sterile – like a hospital or a Walmart. I know those “daylight” bulbs promise more accurate colors in your home, but they just don’t look right to me.
Picture an evening when you’re sitting down to a cozy fire and turning on some lights, maybe for reading or chatting with friends. You don’t want the room to feel too yellow, and you definitely don’t want it to feel blue and stark and cold, and that’s what daylight bulbs feel like to me after finding the right bulbs (say it with me: soft white 2700 Kelvins).
Our Favorite General Use LED Light Bulbs
So let’s get down to business. Here are the 5 types of bulbs you’ll find in our house, starting with the heavy hitter and then moving to more special-use bulbs:
You’ll find this Cree 60W Equivalent Soft White LED light bulb in most of the fixtures in our house – lamps, overhead lights, sconces, etc. The price is one of the most affordable we’ve found, they sell them in bulk, and there’s not any sort of delay or humming that we’ve had with other brands. We stick to 2700K bulbs throughout our home and our beach house for the sake of consistency and simplicity, and only in some cases use corresponding 40W equivalents for a slightly dimmer light (like in the beach house’s bedside sconces). There’s also a candelabra version if you need that. And if you have recessed lights, here’s a soft white dimmable version of those that we love.
This Philips 60W Equivalent Clear Glass bulb offers the same light as our go-to Cree bulb, but the clear glass cover and Edison-esque filaments made it a better choice for exposed fixtures where the bulb is visible. They are a smidge more expensive but they’re far less visually intrusive than the Cree bulb’s frosted cover and chunky white base. So if you’ve got any bulbs that aren’t hidden behind a shade or a diffuser, these are a great option. There’s also a candelabra version of this bulb for chandeliers and such.
Our Favorite Speciality LED Light Bulbs
This specialty Philips Dusk To Dawn LED bulb incorporates a light sensor (that red dot) which allows the bulb to automatically turn itself on as the sun sets and then off when the sun rises. We put these in our front porch lights, meaning we no longer need to flip them on and off each day. It’s an extra little convenience that we’ve really appreciated and I’m only bummed I haven’t found a candelabra-equivalent yet for some other outdoor fixtures.
This is one area where I make an exception to my soft white rule. In work spaces or storage spaces like closets, garages, attics, or sheds, we’re not after that cozy “warm glow” of a soft white bulb – we need a bright, crisp light to find what we’re looking for! Our garage used to have two bare, incandescent bulbs struggling to illuminate the space. We swapped in two of these LED Flushmount Replacement fixtures that screw into a plain ol’ light bulb socket, making it look a bit more finished AND giving off a brighter cast. Suddenly things that were barely seen before are a lot easier to clearly find/see/use (which is a good thing when it comes to saws). They also sell a version with a pull-chain, in case you need that option too.
Lastly, for anyone else who’s incorporating smart home technology into our house, I’ve found these Philips Hue White bulbs to be an affordable way to go. They offer the same basic benefit of other smart bulbs: you can control them with your phone or your smart home speaker like an Amazon Echo or a Google Home. We even set up special routines so when we say “Alexa, Goodnight” downstairs as we walk out of the living room, our living room lights turn off and our bedside table lamps turn on upstairs to light the way as we walk in. I know, I’ve gone full nerd (and I couldn’t be happier). But unlike the pricier Hue Color Ambiance ($50), which can change to any color in the color spectrum, or the Hue White Ambiance ($29), which can change to any color temperature, these basic Hue White bulbs only produce my favorite 2700K, soft white light… and are downright cheap by comparison ($15).
I got a starter kit for Christmas that included two bulbs along with the required hub, so Sherry and I put them in our bedside lamps. Our favorite gimmick is to say things like “Alexa, turn John’s bedroom light to 22%” and it dims to exactly 22% of its total brightness. You can see the dimming in action in the Instagram below. They’re certainly more fun than they are necessary, but I thought I’d include them in this list just in case anyone else wants to get in on that smart light life.
So those are all of my time-tested, bought-them-with-my-own-money, favorite LEDs. And while they’re perfect for our house and our eyes (or at least my “special” eyes as Sherry likes to call them when I’m being particularly neurotic), I would recommend testing out a bulb or two in your home before committing to a houseload of new light bulbs. You may find that you have a different preference than us, and that’s fine… just as long as it’s not Daylight bulbs.
Sorta. Maybe not. ;)
P.S. For another post all about lights (and how to make certain fixtures look good together if multiple rooms open to one another) here’s a post all about that.
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