How to Upgrade and Replace Lightbulbs

Replacing outdated lightbulbs in your new home can create the atmosphere you want and lower your electric bill. Here are your options.

Lightbulbs are the unsung heroes of home interiors. They can quietly enhance the mood, make rooms seem larger or more intimate, or highlight a special piece of art or statement furniture, all while saving you money on your energy bill.

Many first-time homeowners don’t give much thought to their lighting. But replacing the lightbulbs in your newly purchased house can easily and quickly create a space that feels like home while cutting utility costs. There are lots of lightbulb options, however, and settling on the right one can be challenging.

Here’s an overview of new-generation lightbulbs to consider for a lighting upgrade that makes your new home glow.

Why You Should Upgrade Your Home Lighting

There are two main reasons to upgrade the lightbulbs in your new home.

To save on energy consumption

Many homes still use old-school incandescent lightbulbs, which consume much more energy than their newer counterparts. Besides the environmental impact, running a house full of incandescent lights will drive up your utility bill.

Swap out any lingering incandescent bulbs with more energy-efficient CFL, halogen or LED bulbs to lower your carbon footprint as well as your electric bill.

To create the right atmosphere

Does your new kitchen look dim and drab even with the lights on, while the dining room chandelier makes you squint every time you switch it on?

Functional rooms like the kitchen, bathroom or workroom need bright white light, while leisure-oriented rooms like the dining and living rooms are more welcoming when bathed in a soft, warm glow. Choose lightbulbs that offer the ideal level of brightness or color to set the mood.

Types of Lightbulbs

The five most common types of lightbulbs sold today share a similar light quality but vary considerably in cost and energy efficiency.

Incandescent lightbulbs

This type of bulb dominated the domestic lighting market for the past century but is being phased out due to its low energy efficiency. Incandescent bulbs usually cost the cheapest but are by far the most expensive to use, and should be replaced with one of the more efficient options below. Dispose of these lightbulbs by tossing them in the regular trash, not your recycling bins.

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs)

These work like the long fluorescent tubes in classrooms and offices but are coiled up tight to fit in traditional light fixtures. They are more expensive than incandescent bulbs but less expensive than LED bulbs. These energy-efficient bulbs can take some time to warm up but last up to 10 times longer than traditional incandescents. These bulbs contain mercury, so they’re a hazard if broken and must be recycled. Check with your local recycling and waste collection service for specifics.

Halogen lightbulbs

These are incandescent bulbs that use up to 30 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. They instantly emit bright white light and are dimmable. They get hot, so don’t install them near flammable materials. They also have the shortest lifespan of any lightbulb and should be disposed of in your regular household waste.

LED lightbulbs

The newest lightbulbs on the market, LEDs are the most expensive and the most energy-efficient. They give off no heat, are instantly bright, contain no mercury, and last about six times longer than CFLs. Some light fixtures come with LED lights built in, called integrated LED. LED lightbulbs can be thrown away with your regular household waste; also check with your local recycling service to see if they have a drop-off point.

Smart LED or CFL lightbulbs

This type of LED or CFL lightbulb can be controlled, customized and scheduled remotely via an app, smart assistant (Alexa or Google Assistant, for example) or home automation hub using WiFi, Bluetooth or a proprietary home automation system connection. The option of controlling and scheduling the smart lightbulb significantly boosts its energy efficiency, lengthens its lifespan and enhances home safety and security. Disposal is the same as LED and CFL bulbs.

Lightbulb Performance Measurements

The brightness and color of the lightbulb you choose impacts the appearance and functionality of the room or space it’s in. When choosing a specific replacement lightbulb, keep these performance factors in mind:

Brightness

The light produced by a bulb is measured in lumens. and the energy it takes to produce a specific lumen level is measured in watts. Standard incandescent bulbs range from 450 lumens (40 watts) to 1,600 lumens (100 watts). For a kitchen or home workspace, choose light bulbs with higher lumen levels. To create a relaxing atmosphere in the living room or family room, opt for lower lumen levels. Before you buy one, here’s what you need to know about light bulb base types.

Color temperature

This is measured in Kelvins, with lower temperatures indicating warmer tones and higher temperatures indicating cooler tones. A light color measurement of 5,000K emits a cool, white light that simulates daylight, suitable for a kitchen or bathroom. Color measurements of 2,700K to 3,000K produce a warm yellow or white tone better for the more intimate atmosphere of a dining or living room.

Color Rendering Index (CRI)

This indicates how an object’s color appears under the bulb’s light as compared to under natural lighting. It’s often used with CFL bulbs. The higher the value, the more true the representation of color. Incandescent bulbs generally have the highest CRI value, followed by LEDs and CFLs. Aim for a CRI value of 80 or higher in spaces where a true rendering of color matters, like a bathroom vanity or home studio.

A Room-By-Room Lightbulb Guide

Not sure which lightbulbs to install in your new home? This quick guide will get you started:

  • Kitchen: Choose brighter lightbulbs to produce 5,000 to 10,000 lumens. Overhead or recessed LEDs offer immediate, bright general lighting and under-cabinet lights make countertop areas more functional.

  • Bathroom: Aim for moderate to bright general lighting, with additional high-CRI task lighting around the mirror and vanity. Avoid CFLs in the bathroom because the lights are frequently turned on and off, shortening the lifespan of the bulb.

  • Living and Dining Room: Install lightbulbs with low to moderate brightness and color temperatures of around 2,000K to 3,000K for a soft, warm glow.

  • Bedroom: Low to moderate brightness and warm color temperatures work well in bedrooms as well. Avoid bulbs with cool tones, as the bluish light may disturb your sleep even after you turn them off.

  • Home office or workspace: Opt for bright general lighting and focused lighting for workspaces. Cool tones with a color temperature of 4,000K or higher will help keep you focused and productive.

Rebecca Winke
Rebecca Winke moved to Italy from Chicago in 1993 and shortly thereafter took a deep dive into country living by renovating a sprawling medieval stone farmhouse and running it as a B&B for 20 years. Today, she spends her time writing about travel, culture, and food (it's Italy, after all!) for publications like The Telegraph and Italy Magazine, as well as pondering the strange winds that blew an urban vegetarian to a farm in Umbria.