How to Read a Light Bulb Box

Mar 4, 2022

Going to the store and buying a light bulb seems like a simple enough task. But with all the different types of light bulbs currently available, it can become quite challenging rather quickly. Once-popular incandescent bulbs have faded significantly in use. Energy-saving LEDs and CFLs are the new bulbs of choice among today’s budget-conscious, environmentally aware consumers. 

When compared to incandescent light sources, LEDs and CFLs not only use completely different technology to create light, they also use different terms to describe their light. To find the right bulbs for your fixtures, you have to properly understand the “lighting lingo” on each light bulb label or box.

If you need a quick refresher course in reading a light bulb box, TCP is here to help. We understand that some of the terms found on today’s light bulb packaging sound unfamiliar or confusing. Hopefully this brief light bulb guide will make you a more confident, in-the-know consumer, and prevent frustration next time you purchase LED or CFL bulbs for your home. 

Reading the Label

Back in 2012, the Federal Trade Commission mandated that all light bulb packaging include a Lighting Facts label. This required label is modeled after the Nutrition Facts label found on all food packages. 

The purpose of the Lighting Facts label is to provide consumers with useful information when purchasing energy-efficient bulbs for common residential lighting fixtures. Here are basic explanations and definitions of the typical terms found on the Lighting Facts label.  


What are lumens? To put it simply, lumens are a direct measure of a bulb’s brightness, or luminosity. The more lumens, the brighter the bulb. Historically, wattage was used to measure light output, especially for incandescent bulbs. Unlike lumens, wattage refers to the amount of energy a bulb uses. 

Today’s energy-efficient lighting options like LEDs and CFLs produce more lumens by using far less energy. Therefore, to get a more accurate account of brightness, regulations now require listing lumens on light bulb packaging instead of watts.

Here are basic brightness equivalents of LED bulbs (lumens) versus incandescent bulbs (watts):

1600 lumens / 100 watts

1125 lumens / 75 watts

900 lumens / 60 watts

600 lumens / 40 watts

375 lumens / 25 watts  

Light Appearance 

This term typically refers to an LED bulb’s color temperature, which is measured in Kelvin (K), and ranges on a scale from warm to cool. 

The color temperature of a bulb determines the appearance of its light. Warm color temperatures (2700K – 3000K) appear to have a soft, golden hue, while cool color temperatures (5000K and above) appear to have a bluish tint similar to natural daylight.

Warmer bulbs are ideal for living room and bedroom light fixtures. Cooler bulbs are handy in desk, task, and reading lamps. 


LED and CFL bulbs have significantly longer lifespans when compared to their incandescent cousins. And LED bulbs generally don’t burn out. Instead, the light that’s emitted by the diode begins to fade over time and is considered useful until it has diminished by 30%. The number of years you see on the light bulb’s label refers to that useful period of life. 

LEDs can last 20 years or more. CFLs can last anywhere from 8 to 10 years. And incandescent bulbs usually last less than one year. 

Energy Star

You may come across the ENERGY STAR® symbol on certain labels when shopping for light bulbs. This means that these bulbs use 20-30% less energy than required by federal standards. Because these bulbs are independently certified to meet higher standards, warranties must be longer than the industry norm – at least three years for LEDs, and two years for CFLs. 

ENERGY STAR certified bulbs may help you earn rebates from your utility company. Check out energystar.gov/rebate-finder for more information.    

TCP Light Bulbs 

As light bulbs become more energy efficient and technologically advanced, the features and benefits listed on their packaging become more difficult to decipher. This seemingly strange lingo is fairly easy to comprehend once you have a basic understanding of what it all means. 

If you want to replace your home’s outdated incandescent bulbs with energy-saving LED light bulbs, it helps if you understand what lumens, watts, brightness and color temperature are.

TCP is an innovator and leader when it comes to lighting research and development. Are you ready to make the switch to LED or CFL bulbs for your home? Learn more about TCP’s residential lighting products here before you make that final decision.     

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