Light bulb buying guide (continued…)
What about directionality?
Glad you asked. Some newer lights have hardware built into the bulb itself that can block the downward projection of light. These bulbs are still fine for something like a recessed light fixture, where they can hang upside down and shine straight out, but if you're buying one for a bedside reading lamp, it might be disappointingly dim. If you aren't sure exactly what you'll need from your bulb in terms of light direction, the safe bet might be to go with a bulb that shines in all directions. The term that you'll want to look for is "omnidirectional."
In addition, some nonomnidirectional lights will offer you an idea of just how close to omnidirectional they actually are. 360 degrees of light output is the obvious ideal, but a bulb that offered 330 degrees would probably be close enough.
How do I tell if a light bulb is efficient?
In simple terms, a light bulb is just a device that converts electricity into light. The more light you get per watt of electricity, the more efficient the light. With incandescent bulbs, efficiency is easy to understand because a specific wattage of electricity will always heat a tungsten filament to a specific temperature, which in turn will yield a specific level of light. This means that, generally speaking, one incandescent will be just as efficient (or by today's standards, inefficient) as another.
With LEDs and CFLs, the bulbs still convert electricity into light, but the methodology is totally different. Light output isn't fixed to the temperature of a filament, meaning there's more wiggle room for differences in efficiency. Simply put, unlike incandescents, LED and CFL bulbs are decidedly not created equal.
This is another place where understanding lumens comes in handy. A 10-watt LED can easily outshine a 12-watt competitor if it converts watts into lumens more efficiently. All the wattage tells you is how much power the bulb uses. The lumens tell you how much light the bulb puts out. The ratio between the two tells you how efficient the bulb is. The more lumens you're getting per watt, the better the bulb is at converting electricity into light.
What about smart lighting?
It's out there, and it's more affordable than you might think. Whether you want an elaborate network of fully automated lights, or just a simple bulb that you can program over your phone via Bluetooth, you'll find a growing number of options available from a variety of different sources.
It used to be that if you wanted your lights to turn on and off automatically, then you had to rely on a cheap wall socket timer, the kind used to control a Christmas tree. With a modest boom in smart lighting currently under way, it's easier than ever to dive into the sort of advanced automation controls that can make any home feel modern and futuristic. With the right devices, you'll be able to control your lights in all sorts of creative ways, and make your life a little bit easier in the process.
For lighting control as part of a larger home automation system, one that's capable of tethering the status of your lights to things like motion detectors, smart locks, or presence sensors, you could turn to a system like Insteon's. The company's Starter Kit isn't quite as flashy as some of the other new automation options we're seeing, but it'll work well if you're looking to automate your lights. You could even upgrade your system with a few of Insteon's fully automatable LED Bulbs, while you're at it. We've also seen interesting systems from Nexia, SmartThings, and others, so you'll definitely want to do a little research and shop around before committing to anything too elaborate.
If you're not looking to install a whole home automation system, but you'd still like some of those advanced lighting controls, you've still got options. The Belkin WeMo Light Switch is a single device that'll let you automate a light using the free WeMo app, or the popular Web serviceIFTTT. The WeMo Switch is even more flexible, letting you automate not just lights, but anything you plug into it. Additionally, you could look for smart bulbs with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi built right in — many don't even need any additional products or software. Just screw them in, download an app, and start automating. Best of all, most of these products boast surprisingly attractive prices.
Keep in mind, though, that many of these bulbs will need to draw a tiny bit of power while they're powered off in order to remember your automation settings, and this means that they'll be slightly less energy-efficient than normal bulbs. For green-minded consumers, this kind of bulb might not seem smart at all.
If you're looking for a little more color in your life, then be sure and take a look at a product like the Philips Hue Starter Kit. Aside from being fully automatable via a mobile app and control hub, the Hue LED bulbs are capable of on-demand color changes. Just pull out your phone, select one of millions of possible shades, and the light will match it. Can't decide between warm, yellowy light or a cool blue tone? Why not both?
Because Philips opened the lighting controls to third-party developers, we're starting to see new smartphone apps that will do some pretty crazy things, like changing the color of your lights in rhythm with whatever music you're playing. Hue lights are even compatible with IFTTT, with recipes already available that will change the color of your lights to match the weather, or to signal a touchdown from your favorite football team, or even to indicate when your stocks are doing well.
Even if that level of smart functionality makes your eyes roll, it still illuminates one last important thing about buying lights: you should look for the lighting setup that you'll enjoy the most, because you'll be using it more often than any other appliance in your home. Even if smart lights aren't for you, there's no reason not to be smart about your lighting choices. Know your options, shop intelligently, and you'll love your lights for years to come.
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