Lighting guide

This undated photo shows lights hanging in an office. 

FAIRBANKS -- Purchasing lighting isn’t as easy as it used to be. With the advent of LED, halogen and CFL bulbs, in addition to standard incandescents, you have more choices than ever. 

Fortunately, with a little knowledge, you can find bulbs that meet your needs and use far less energy than the old kind.

With incandescent bulbs, wattage was the indicator for both energy use and brightness, since bulbs that used more energy also produced more light. For instance, a 40-watt incandescent bulb is dimmer than an 80-watt bulb. Of course, a 120-watt bulb uses the most energy and will result in the highest electric bill.

However, LED and CFL bulbs produce the same amount of light with less energy, so you can no longer only rely on wattage to indicate brightness.

Instead, look for “lumens” on the label. The number of watts still indicates the electricity use of the bulb, but lumens indicate the brightness, which allows you to compare different types of lights. The more lumens, the brighter the bulb. For example, a 40-watt incandescent bulb produces 450 lumens of light, which is dimmer than the 1,600 lumens produced by a 100-watt bulb.

The color of the light bulb is simply described as “warm” or “cool.” Warm lights appear more yellow in color and cool lights are more white.

Other labels include the CRI, or color rendering index. The CRI doesn’t refer to the color of the light, but the ability of the bulb to illuminate the colors of the objects around it. The CRI is measured on a scale of 100, with 100 being natural sunlight. In other words, the closer to 100, the better at differentiating between a variety of colors.

This may not make much difference at home, but if you’re choosing paint color or looking at photos, you may want a light with a high CRI.

Lumens, warmth and CRI should all be taken into account when shopping for a light bulb. Stores often have lighting displays that allow you to compare lights in different situations and gauge the best one for you.

Of course, there are other factors to consider when buying a light bulb — also check the price, life expectancy and, for more expensive bubs, warranty information. 

Be sure to factor in the expected life of a bulb when considering price; for example, incandescents are usually cheap, but only last 750-2,000 hours, whereas a high-power white LED can last for 35,000-50,000 hours.

Life span is especially important if the bulb is difficult to access and replace. While buying lighting has become more complicated, the new choices offer better light at lower costs for homeowners.

If you have questions about building, retrofitting, heating appliances, or any other housing issues, come see us at the Carlson Center during the Home Show this weekend. 

And remember, you can sign up for GVEA’s WattzOn program to calculate your energy savings and help the borough win an energy efficiency competition. Just visit

 The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life. 

Ask a Builder articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, contact us at or 457-3454.