Understanding Lighting Terminology: Wattage, Lumens, and Kelvin

When it comes to choosing the right lighting for your home, the options can be overwhelming. The style, the finishes, which fixture works in which room … there’s so much to consider!

And then there are the technical considerations.  They’re important because not only does your lighting need to look terrific, it also needs to provide enough illumination for your needs.

When you start shopping for lighting, one of the first things you’ll encounter is a series of terms such as wattage, lumens, and Kelvin. (Yes, there’s more to it than just finding a style you like. But fear not, we’re here to help!) Understanding these terms is essential to make informed decisions about the lighting that best suits your needs and preferences. Let’s take the mystery out of these terms and help you make the right choices for your residential lighting.

The Role of Wattage

LED Light Fixture with cool color tempTraditionally, people used wattage as a measure of a bulb’s brightness. The higher the wattage, the brighter the light. However, this is no longer the most accurate way to assess a bulb’s brightness because of energy-efficient technologies like LEDs and CFLs and the diminished use of incandescent bulbs. These bulbs use significantly less power (wattage) to produce the same amount of light as their older incandescent counterparts.

As a result, it’s crucial to understand that wattage no longer directly equates to brightness. Instead, it measures the amount of energy a bulb consumes. Since LEDs and CFLs consume considerably less energy to produce the same amount of light as other common light sources, the wattage numbers we are used to seeing will seem very low.

So, when choosing a light bulb, consider the wattage as an indicator of how much electricity it uses – not its brightness or output. (That’s lumens; read on for that info!) If you want to reduce your energy bill and environmental impact, opt for lower-wattage bulbs with equivalent lumens.

Lumens: The True Measure of Brightness

Lumens are the real measure of a bulb’s brightness. A lumen is a unit of measurement that quantifies the total amount of visible light emitted by a light source. In simple terms, the higher the lumens, the brighter the light. To find the right bulb for your space, you should focus on the lumens instead of wattage.


Here’s a rough guide to help you understand the relationship between wattage and lumens:

  • A 60-watt incandescent bulb produces about 800 lumens.
  • A 100-watt incandescent bulb produces about 1600 lumens.


For energy-efficient options like LED bulbs, you can get the same brightness with much lower wattages. For example, an LED bulb producing 800 lumens may only consume 9 watts of power. By choosing bulbs with the desired lumens, you can maintain the brightness you need while reducing your energy consumption.

Kelvin: The Temperature of Light

Kelvin (K) is a measure of the color temperature of light. It’s an important consideration when you want to create a specific ambiance in your space. Light sources with lower Kelvin values emit warm, yellowish light, like the cozy glow of candlelight – like what you might find in a spa, restaurant, or areas of your home like bedrooms or living areas. Higher Kelvin values produce cooler, sometimes bluish light, resembling daylight. You’ll likely find higher color temperature lighting in public buildings, grocery or big box stores, labs, or places where seeing true colors is particularly important. In a residential setting, higher K lighting is often used for task lighting in combination with other layers of light or to brightly light work surfaces, shops, or vanity areas in bathrooms.  

Here’s a general guideline for understanding Kelvin’s values:

  • 2700K to 3000K: Warm white light for a cozy and relaxing ambiance, perfect for living rooms and bedrooms.
  • 3500K to 4100K: Cool white light suitable for workspaces, kitchens, and bathrooms.
  • 5000K and higher: Daylight white, often used in offices or areas where task lighting is essential.

By selecting the right Kelvin value, you can set the mood and functionality of a room. A warm, lower-Kelvin light can create a comfortable atmosphere, while a cooler, higher-Kelvin light is ideal for tasks that require clarity and focus.

Flexible and Adaptable Light Sources

Bedroom with pendant lightUsing light bulbs or fixtures that offer multiple color temperatures has become a popular and practical choice in modern lighting design. This innovative technology provides the flexibility to adapt the lighting in a space to different needs and moods. Let’s consider a living or family room, for example. Here, you can create a warm, cozy ambiance with a softer, amber-toned light, perfect for relaxation or evening gatherings. But a cooler, daylight-like illumination is ideal for tasks that require focus and concentration, such as reading, doing handiwork, or working. With adaptable, multi-temp light sources, the same fixture works for nearly any activity you’d want to do in your space.

These multi-color temperature options are often controllable via remote control or smartphone apps, making it easy to switch between settings without the need for multiple fixtures. Whether it’s in a home, office, or commercial setting, the ability to adjust the color temperature of your lighting can greatly enhance comfort, productivity, and aesthetics, contributing to a more versatile and adaptable lighting experience.

Final Thoughts

Understanding lighting terminology, including wattage, lumens, and Kelvin, empowers you to make informed decisions about the lighting in your home. When shopping for light bulbs or fixtures, focus on lumens to determine brightness and Kelvin to create the desired ambiance. By doing so, you can not only enhance your living spaces but also save energy and reduce your environmental footprint. Whether you’re looking for warm, cozy lighting for your living room or cool, bright light for your workspace, now you have the knowledge to choose the perfect lighting solutions for your needs.

Still have questions? Let us know. Our lighting experts are well-versed in the important technical factors that need to be considered when selecting the perfect lighting for your space. 

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