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How to Upgrade Incandescent Bulbs

Many people are choosing replacements for their standard incandescent light bulbs to save money or energy, because they've heard of new LED options, or because of the phase-out of some conventional bulbs that do not meet the new energy efficiency standards. Shoppers will find many options on store shelves, so the LRC offers the following steps to choose replacement light bulbs.


Step 1: Choose which bulbs to replace first

Replacing any standard incandescent light bulb in the house will save money. Start with the lights that are on for long periods of time per day and use the most power. In most houses, this means first replacing the primary lights in the kitchen, living room, and dining room.

Table - Lighting Energy Use by Room


Step 2: Take out the current bulb and write down information about it

Bring this information to the store:

  • Note the type and shape of light bulb being replaced, such as a general-use light bulb or a reflector bulb.
    General use A-Lamp, and PAR and BR reflector bulbs
    Measure the length and maximum diameter of the bulb with a ruler to make sure the new bulb will fit in the light fixture it will be installed in.
  • Determine the light output from the current bulb, measured in lumens (lm). Look at the wattage on the incandescent bulb and use the following graph from ENERGY STAR® to determine how many lumens are needed.

    Lumens Produced By Standard Incandescent Bulbs
    Incandescent Bulb
    Power (Watts)
    Light Output
    25 250
    40 450
    60 800
    75 1100
    100 1600


Step 3: Choose the new bulb type


Halogen bulbs are similar to standard incandescent bulbs, but use about three-quarters of the energy. They provide the same quality of light as standard incandescent bulbs and can be used with any dimmer, but because of the higher bulb price, halogens cost about the same to own as standard incandescent bulbs.

CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamp)

CFLs use about one-third the energy of incandescent bulbs and are likely to be the least expensive replacement option in many fixtures in the home. Keep in mind that CFLs may require up to a few minutes to reach full light output.

LED (Light-Emitting Diode)

As expected for a new technology, there is a wide variation in cost and performance among LED products. LEDs are leading to new product forms, such as LED downlight bulbs, which can replace reflector bulbs in recessed downlights.


Step 4: At the store, choose which light bulb to buy

  • Find the right type of bulb, such as a general purpose bulb or the specific reflector bulb being replaced (e.g. "PAR38").
  • Find a bulb that provides about the amount of light needed based on the lumens marked on the package.
  • To match the look of incandescent light, look for a color temperature of 2700 K or 3000 K on the package.
  • Make sure the bulb is rated for exterior use if it will be installed in an outdoor fixture.
  • If the light will be installed on a circuit with a dimmer, either use halogen bulbs or look for a CFL or LED package that says it is dimmable and then test the bulb for compatibility with the dimmer before buying more.
  • Look for the ENERGY STAR® label on the package. This is a mark of quality assurance in addition to energy savings.
  • Make sure the new light bulb is the same size or smaller than the old one so it will fit properly in the fixture.


Step 5: After installing the new bulb

Save the packaging and receipt in case the bulb fails during the warranty period.

To save even more energy:

  • Upgrade to a more efficient light fixture,
  • Use occupancy or vacancy sensors,
  • If renovating your home or building a new home, improve the lighting design to achieve higher quality lighting with less energy use, and
  • Take advantage of daylight.