How to Read Those New Lighting Labels


The next time you shop for light bulbs, you may notice a Lighting Facts label on the package, almost like Nutrition Facts for lighting. Required by the Federal Trade Commission since 2012, the new labels are meant to help you better understand what you are buying and choose the light bulbs that are right for you.

These labels include a wealth of useful information: the bulb’s lifespan, an estimate of the bulb’s annual operating cost, the amount of energy (or watts) the bulb uses and the color of the light — from warm, yellowish tones to cool, blue tones. The Lighting Facts label also lists how bright a bulb is in lumens, a unit of measurement for brightness that most people are not familiar with.

So when you need to replace a 100-watt bulb, you should look for a bulb that lists 100 watts as the amount of energy it uses, right?

Wrong. The best way to choose bulbs is to compare lumens — or bulb brightness — rather than energy usage in watts, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends. Once you identify the amount of lumens you want, you can evaluate light bulbs across different technologies — halogen, CFL or LED — and by characteristics like yearly energy cost. If you have several choices of bulbs with the brightness you need, you can pick the bulb with the lowest energy use and operating cost to reduce your energy use and save money on your utility bills.

So how do you know the right number of lumens to look for in a bulb? The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the bulb. Here are some general guidelines for shopping for lumens:

  • To replace a 100-watt incandescent bulb, look for a bulb that puts out about 1,600 lumens
  • 75-watt bulb = about 1,100 lumens
  • 60-watt bulb = about 800 lumens
  • 40-watt bulb = about 450 lumens

Having trouble remembering that already? Watch this two-minute video from the Department of Energy:

Or you can use this chart as your lumen-buying guide.