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What bulbs work best in each room - and how do I tell the difference?

For starters, how bright do you want the room to be? Grainne O’Reilly sheds some light.

LIGHT BULBS CAN be an absolute minefield and can get very technical if you delve deeply into the options – aside from all the different specifications that a light bulb can have, there are even formulas to calculate exactly how much light you need per square footage depending on the type of room.

That’s probably too much information for most of us! So how do you know what to use when there is such a bewildering array of light bulbs out there?

Let’s say in my bedroom I have a pendant light. I want to be able to dim the lights for a relaxing feel at bedtime, but I like it nice and bright when I get up in the mornings, and I also want to be able to turn it off from my bed without getting up.

Can I find the right bulb? I’ll teach you how with these simple and (sort of) scientific steps.

1. Choose energy efficient

For starters, be kind to the environment and always go for bulbs with an A-rated energy efficiency. Then consider the light fixture and what you use it for.

2. Figure out what type of bulb you need

Artificial light sources have four different functions – creating ambient, accent, focal, or task lighting. An ambient light illuminates an overall space and sets the tone of the room. An accent light draws attention to a feature, such as an artwork, and a focal light draws attention to itself, such as a chandelier. A task light is for a specific activity, for instance a reading lamp on your bedside locker.

The function of the light fixture the bulb is going into will determine the type of bulb and level of brightness that you need.

3. Choose your level of brightness

Did you know that the wattage on a bulb actually tells you how much energy it uses rather than how bright it is? High wattage bulbs are typically very bright because it takes more energy to produce that brightness, but if you look closely at the bulb or packaging, you should see a lumen value (lm) – this is a truer measure of the amount of light a bulb produces, with a high lumen value meaning a bright bulb.

You’ll find lumen calculators online (try this one); all you need to know are the rough dimensions of your room. The total lumens you need can be made up from all the light sources in the room, including your ceiling lights, wall sconces, and lamps.

4. Decide how you want the room to feel

Do you want the room to feel warm and snug, or fresh and airy? On a bulb’s packaging you’ll see a colour temperature scale, also referred to as Kelvin (K). A high Kelvin value means the bulb casts cool light and a low value casts warm light. Daylight is around 5000K.

So, if your light bulb is for a space where you wind down in the evenings, such as your bedroom or living room, a bulb of around 2700K (also called warm white) will cast a soft, cosy glow and will help your circadian rhythm adjust. If your light bulb is for somewhere where you do detailed tasks, such as a chopping vegetables in the kitchen, a bulb around 4000K, usually called bright or cool white, will suit better.

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5. Know what fits your light fixture

The most common types of bulb for most lamps and pendants are CFLs, LED, and halogen. CFLs produce a soft, warm glow, while LEDs and halogen bulbs give a brighter, crisper light, and also show up colours better than CFLs.

In most rooms, a mixture of bulbs and light fixtures works best – aim for light sources at different eye levels such as ceiling lights, a tall lamp, and table lamps. You’ll always have a main ceiling light, whether it’s one or two pendants or a selection of downlighters, and for these I’d recommend LEDs or halogen bulbs to give an all over flood of brightness when you need it. Then for your wall lamps, floor lamps, and table lamps, choose either CFLs or warm white LEDs.

6. Get decorative

There are many styles of light bulb which can be a feature in their own right, and can add a unique detail to a scheme. Tungsten or Edison bulbs with a visible filament are all the rage at the moment, and can look fantastic in a minimalist light fixture with no lamp shade hiding them so that they can really shine. Textured bulbs, coloured bulbs, or vintage style bulbs are also a beautiful addition – put them in a light source where they can be seen and appreciated, such as a low lamp on a side table or exposed wall sconce.

Follow Gráinne @parsekus on Instagram for more home hacks and décor inspiration.

More: What’s the secret to putting flatpack furniture together like a pro?

About the author:

Grainne O'Reilly

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