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What is the Difference Between Watts and Lumens?

April 29th, 2015 | 3 min. read

By Dagmar Hemp

For as long as most of us have ever known, you could go the grocery store or hardware store and get light bulbs and all you ever needed to know was what wattage you wanted.

Anytime you wanted to talk about how bright a light bulb was all you would say was “60 watt” or “100 watt”. However comfortable the statement was, it really wasn't a correct statement.

Within the lighting industry there are a few specific terms that we use that will make your current light bulb choices easier. This can help you understand andmake a good decision on the lighting design for your home or business.

Let’s first define our 2 main topic terms. 

Watts: A Watt is a measure of electricity used by a device. A watt is the measure of consumption or usage. It has absolutely nothing to do with light output.

Lumens: A Lumen is a measure of visible light from a light source.

I like to describe this as, “Lumens are what you see. Watts are what you pay for”.

LED Lighting

With the popularity of LED light sources, the high cost of electricity and the impact on our environment, people are looking for ways to save money and optimize efficiency. With a little understanding this process will be easy for you to learn and implement into your purchases.

Incandescent, fluorescent and LED’s are the most common light sources that are used in today’s residential installations. Incandescent lamps include halogen and xenon sources. Fluorescent light sources have become less desirable with the popularity of LED, because of poor light quality and trace levels of mercury.

New Packaging

You may ask “How does this affect me?”

Well, new packaging requirements are enforcing that all manufacturers list the lumen output of all incandescent, compact fluorescent and LED lamps.

You will no longer buy a 100 WATT light bulb. It will be a 1,500 lumen light bulb!

Some additional information will be added to packaging as well. Here's what must be listed according to the FTC and the American Lighting Association.

The Lighting Facts label provides information about: 

  • Estimated yearly energy cost
  • Life expectancy
  • Light appearance (i.e,“warm” or “cool”)
  • Energy used (as measured in watts)
  • Whether the bulb contains mercury
  • Brightness, as measured in lumens (not watts)

Let’s talk about some comparisons. Here are a few of the most common household type of light bulbs used today.

Incandescent Bulb

Your standard 60 watt A19 frosted light bulb is rated for approximately 1,500 hours and emits approximately 630 lumens. Next to that is the LED version of the A19 lamp. The lamp life is 25,000 hours, emitting almost 820 lumens and is only using 9.8 watts. The life is over 16 times as long with higher lumen output and the LED uses 6 times less electricity.


Reflector Bulb

Reflector Bulbs are commonly used in recessed lights. Over the past few decades recessed lighting has probably been the most popular form of general or overall lighting for a home. Here we show a PAR reflector bulb. We have a standard halogen 35 watt PAR 20. This uses 35 watts. It emits 380 lumens and 2,000 hour average lamp life. The LED version offers 435 lumens, 35,000 life hours and only uses 7 watts.


Candelabra Bulb

Candelabra type lamps have been one of the hardest to replace with LED’s. Until now...

The incandescent candelabra lamps have also almost become obsolete. With LED’s available for chandeliers and wall sconces that look more like traditional incandescent you do not have to settle with only using LED’s in enclosed or shaded light fixtures. The candelabra type light bulbs are between 200 and 600 lumens and offer about 1,500 life hours. The LEDS offer similar lumen output and are rated for 35,000 life hours.


We replaced all the incandescent with 2 watt LED in our showroom. In our expanded showroom with more lights than ever, our electric bill has been reduced 50%.

LED does not emit heat whereas incandescent emits heat at 350 degrees. So our showroom is cool.


LED Issues

The biggest challenge with LED in the past is quality of light. Most people will tolerate a little difference in the way a light fixture may look for considerable energy savings, but at what point does it just not look acceptable?

LED lamp technology has improved tremendously over the past few years. In fact, they are roughly equivalent to halogen bulbs. Lighting is measured by the Kelvin scale. Look for a light bulb between 2,700-3,200 Kelvin for a really decent quality of light.

Final Thoughts

With the advent of LED technology, buying by a wattage number is no longer relevant. Lumens have become the new way to measure home lighting. As LED becomes more efficient, one day it will be 100 times brighter than an incandescent bulb.

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Dagmar Hemp

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