LED light bulbs are on the rise as a commercial and residential lighting option, and rightly so given their cost and energy savings, but as with many innovations throughout history LED lighting often fails to communicate its value.And, you can blame it all on the shortsightedness of America’s lighting industry.Watts the problem?
It’s punny, but true – watts really are the problem in our collective confusion about LED lights
and how to measure their brightness.Since the beginning of the bulb
, the lighting industry has conflated power (wattage) with luminosity (lumens). Simply put, we think in terms of watts when we think about bulb brightness. Here’s a real-life example:Homeowner:
“How bright is that bulb?”Electrician:
“That’s a 40-watt bulb.”What?
How did that happen, you ask? They did it with packaging and no one ever questioned the sense of it, so now we’re used to buying bulbs based on wattage and a misguided notion of how bright a watt is – even though watts are and never were a measure of luminosity.Watts don’t work so well for LEDs (yet).
Our conventional understanding of watts doesn’t work for LEDs because they use far less power to create way more light – and for a lot longer, too. The short story is that LED bulbs don't use nearly as much power to provide light equal to that of their incandescent counterparts.That’s why LED brightness is better communicated in lumens, but there’s just one problem: We don’t know what the heck those are.Lumens are the solution.
A lumen is an actual measurement of visible light. They're helpful because lumens are uniformly applicable across all light sources, from candles and light bulbs to matches and the sun. For your convenience, below is a chart that will help you compare lumens to watts:
In case you're wondering, lumens are a real unit of measurement and are increasingly being used on LED packaging. If the conversion is too hard to remember, just multiply the LED wattage by 4 and you'll have a good idea of its brightness in a metric you understand.