Will your lamp give off enough light? Lumens to the rescue!

Lighting technology has exploded in the past decade, and it can seem hard to know if the fixture you want will give off enough light. What to do?

Not long ago we’d have paid attention to the wattage. We were familiar with 60, 75, or 100 watt bulbs, and could buy accordingly. Now wattage numbers are all over the place, and they seem to have no relationship to how bright your bulb will be.

Never fear! It’s “lumens” to the rescue!

What’s a lumen? It’s how much light you’ll get from a bulb. I love this analogy from the folks at energy.gov:

“Lumens are to light what pounds are to bananas or gallons are to milk.”

So the same way you can figure out that you need 3 pounds of bananas for your banana bread, and 1 gallon of milk for this week’s breakfasts, likewise you can decide how many lumens you’ll want to light your guests up when they walk into your powder room.

Let’s say you wanted to install these bubble lights on either side of the vanity in your powder room. The specifications say that they use “Two 5 watt built-in, non-dimmable LED modules.” What does that even mean?? Well, for one thing, “built-in” probably means you can’t easily change the bulb, but LED modules tend to last a really long time so it won’t create a problem for a while. But let’s get back to our first question – will it give off enough light?

Luckily, nowadays most manufacturers are also listing the lumens. If you read further on the specs, you’ll see “800 lumens.”

Great! That number mean you can easily compare this light to any other one you’re considering, and determine if it’s a good fit for your space. In this case, you’re looking at one that is 800 lumens, and another that is 525 lumens.

The manufacturer of the bubble light was also nice enough to include that 800 lumens is “comparable to a 60 watt incandescent bulb,” so you don’t have to do any more homework. But if they hadn’t listed that, a quick Google search of “800 lumens how bright” would reveal something like:

“To replace a 100 watt (W) incandescent bulb, look for a bulb that gives you about 1600 lumens. … Replace a 60W bulb with an energy-saving bulb that gives you about 800 lumens.”

So, that means if you install two of the bubble lights you’ll get the equivalent of 60 old-school watts. In my opinion that is plenty of light for a powder room (though maybe not enough for a master bath where you’d shave or put on makeup). You also know that if you install two of the alternative lights you’ll only get the equivalent of 40 old-school watts.

There you have it – everything you need to compare fixtures.

But wait! What was that other number, you ask? Oh yes, right alongside “800 lumens” they also wrote “3000 K.” In fact, both the bubble light and the alt light said “3000K.” That’s the *temperature* of the light – how warm (yellow) or cool (blue) it is. Cooler light tends to look brighter, crisper (to some, harsher) and more like daylight. Warmer light tends to look softer, friendlier, and for some, dimmer.

What you choose comes down mostly to personal preference, but the main thing is that if you install a warm bulb next to a cool bulb, you may hate the “weird” look that creates in your room. It will also affect what things look like in your space (like your sofa fabric, carpet, or wall paint), so try to choose those items under the same temperature of light that will be in that room. Want to learn more? Here’s a great run-down on color temperature by the folks at Integral-LED. Also, want to determine if a sexy, industrial Edison bulb will give you enough light (sadly, not always) here’s a great post on Edison bulbs from 1000bulbs.com.

Cool vs Warm light as illustrated by the folks at Integral-LED


One more pro-tip. When you buy your fixture, consider buying a couple extra bulbs right away. Use a sharpie to write on the package indicating which light it belongs to, and stash them in the back of the vanity or a closet in the same room. It’ll make it so much easier when that bulb finally does burn out. But if you get stuck, thebulbman.com and top bulb.com can save you from a frustrating scavenger hunt at the store.

That’s it! Hope that makes it easier for you to pick out your next fixture!

May your home always be happy (and well-lit)!





Hi! I’m Rebecca West.

I’m not your classic interior designer because, frankly, I don’t care if you buy a new sofa. I do care if your home supports your goals and feels like “you.” Remember, happy starts at home!