Lumens vs Watts: What's The Difference? September 19, 2016 00:00

You’ve probably heard that LEDs can cut your energy bill by as much as 80%. You’ve also probably heard about how LEDs are improving our environment by lowering carbon emissions.

Still, despite knowing their benefits by heart, and the innumerable ways they improve upon the traditional incandescent, standing in the lighting section at the store and staring quizzically at the box of your first LED, all you can think is, what the heck is a lumen?

While it’s true that LEDs have a bit of a different system for measuring brightness than traditional bulbs, it’s nothing to shy away from. We’ll show you how easy it is to become an LED aficionado and make the most out of this exciting new wave of home illumination.

LEDs vs Incandescent Bulbs

Before jumping into how to find an LED to match the light output of your old fashioned incandescent, it might be helpful to look at what exactly makes the two bulbs so vastly different.

As most people know, an incandescent bulb is basically a housing of a tungsten filament that’s heated up by an electric current to produce light (if you’re looking for a more in depth explanation of how it works, check out this article from

For a while, our only lighting option was this type of bulb. Decade in, decade out, the incandescent stood strong. Then, as our technological and manufacturing prowess advanced, other types of bulbs came onto the scene: fluorescent, neon, halogen. All had their benefits, but all had their drawbacks as well.

It was the focused development of light emitting diodes (LEDs) though that really overthrew traditional incandescents as the new champion of the lighting world. These bulbs contain semiconductors which convert electricity directly into light, and up until recently used to cost a fortune.

As industries began seeing the enormous benefits of the bulb, research efforts grew to develop a cheaper way to manufacture the bulbs. The Energy Department itself has even been investing in ways to produce low-cost LEDs since 2000, an effort which has contributed to LED prices dropping from $200 to the $5-$20 range of today.

Benefits of LEDs Over Incandescents

The reason behind the shift from incandescents to LEDs, and indeed the reason incandescents are currently being phased out by law, is that the old fashioned bulbs you grew up with simply aren’t efficient enough. In fact, 80% of the energy it takes to illuminate a traditional filament bulb is wasted on heat alone.

LEDs, on the other hand, are much more energy friendly. When compared to incandescent bulbs, modern LEDs:

  • have a lifetime of 25,000 hours, 25 times more than an incandescent
  • use 75% less energy
  • give off significantly less residual wasted heat
  • could save the U.S. $250 billion in energy costs by switching over entirely to LEDs, as well as prevent 1,800 million metric tons of carbon emissions

With all of these benefits, it’s no wonder more and more people are switching out their bulbs for LEDs. A slight problem in doing so, however, comes from negotiating the transition from watts to lumens.

Lumens vs. Watts

You may have noticed that LED bulb boxes have an unfamiliar system of light measurement called “lumens” where the watts used to be on the old incandescent bulb boxes. While the term itself sounds a bit strange, almost sci-fi, it’s nothing to get confused over.

Here’s a nifty little chart to give you an idea of lumens to watts equivalents from

Seems pretty simple right? So the question is, why the new system? Well, as pointed out earlier, LEDs require significantly less energy than an incandescent to create an equal amount of light. This amount of light is actually measured in lumens, where watts measured the amount of power running through the bulb.

If you look at the chart above, you’ll see that in order to create 2600 lumens, an incandescent would need to use 150 watts while an LED would only need 25-28 watts. So instead of creating even more confusion by measuring the brightness of LEDs in how much power they use like traditional incandescents, manufacturers went with the more universal measure of the actual light produced.

If the system seems confusing at first don’t worry, it’ll get easier. As incandescents make their way out of general production, the wattage measurement will become less and less frequent. To add to that, most LEDs have a lifetime of several decades so lightbulb shopping won’t be too common of a chore anyway.

What to Consider Before Switching to LED Bulbs

Before you switch over to the more energy efficient and longer lasting LED bulbs, there are a few things you should consider:

  • Make sure you know what lumen you’re after. Bringing along that handy chart included above, or even just writing down the proper conversion, can save you from a possible return to the store.

  • Be aware of color temperature. Light bulbs come with an associated color temperature, represented on the box by a number measured in K (i.e. 2700 K). This is an indication of yellow/white light, with lower numbers being more yellow. Here’s a little guide from Westinghouse to help you find what you’re looking for.

  • Don’t assume it’s dimmable. While some LEDs can boast a dimmability that other modern bulbs usually can’t (like compact fluorescents), just because it’s an LED doesn’t mean it’ll work with your dimmer switch. Make sure it says on the box whether it’ll work with dimmers.

  • Watch out for overheating. Although LEDs don’t produce a lot of heat, that doesn’t mean leaving one on in an enclosed fixture won’t hurt its life hours. If you’re looking to install an LED in an area with very little air-flow, make sure the box says it’s approved for such a space.

  • Consider investing in the more interesting features. One benefit of LED bulbs is their ability to be outfitted with perks not usually found on light bulbs. Color changing, music playing, and smart device interfacing bulbs are all becoming more and more commonplace, not to mention more affordable. Check it out!

Have You Made the Switch to LED Light Bulbs?

Do you still use incandescent bulbs? Have you made the switch and seen your energy bill drop? Let us know in the comments, then check out the energy-saving LED
bulbs you can get from Flux Smart  Lighting