Lighting, lighting on the wall – which is prettiest of them all?

| by Melissa Baldridge
Lighting, lighting on the wall – which is prettiest of them all?

Trying to find the right light bulb is a mind-bender on the order of finishing a Rubik’s cube. Incandescent, CFL, LED, Edison screw-in or pin-based?  And who the heck is “Kelvin,” anyway?  I want light that’s pretty, and yeah makes me look good.

Even though we have lots of options today, one thing to remember is that there’s something primal about light.  Through the millennia, humankind has become hard-wired to draw near glowing campfires, or later, roaring fires in fireplaces.  Fire warms us, feeds us, and lights our homes.

There’s a scale to help you select the right light bulb, and it’s called the “CCT” = CORRELATED COLOR TEMPERATURE. The easiest way to remember this is thatCCT is the COLOR of light in degrees “Kelvin”. Kelvin is used to measure thermal, or heat energy.  For our purposes, the Kelvin scale runs from approximately 2,000 to 6,500 degrees.

Light chart via

Think of it like this – if you have a piece of steel or a light bulb filament (technically known as a “black body”), it starts out black when you heat it.  As the temperature rises, that metal becomes red, then orange, then yellow, then white, and finally blue. Degrees Kelvin chart that heat rise with light thrown off as a byproduct.  This is why old, incandescent bulbs are so inefficient - they're really heat sources, that oh, by the way, cast light, too.

REAL ESTATE IMPACT –  One easy thing to do when you’re selling a home or building is upgrade the lighting to LED.  Many utilities have easy rebates to help you offset the cost.  Then MARKET THAT – mention that you have LEDs.  It connotes an impression that the space is current and efficient.  Also, ask your utility provider to give you an estimate on bill savings.  Put that in your marketing materials, too, with a citation where the numbers came from.  It shows you care about your buyer’s experience AFTER they close.

The CCT scale has a midway point at about 3,000 Kelvin, and that’s the difference between daylight (bright and bluer light) and warmer light – remember our toasty fireplace.  Different color temperatures have different applications, and yes – some make us look a whole-lot better than others. 

Cool colors up the Kelvin scale are unforgiving.  That’s why they’re sought-after in places like laboratories, warehouses and other industrial applications. Winter-sky blues are reflectedfrom most surfaces like skin, except for red. Reds absorb that light and appear dark and muddy as a result. This is why most of us look really bad in blue, ultraviolet light.  (Think of outdated department store dressing rooms. Note to store owners – “If you want me to buy the expensive party frock, make me look good.”)​​

White light like bright daylight rings in at about 3,000 degrees Kelvin and can range as high as 5,500. “Daylight” is usually a dominant option in store light-bulb aisles.  Bulbs at 3,000 Kelvin are great for offices and work spaces where folks need to be alert and able to see what they’re doing, and for use in home kitchens where we prepare food and hopefully don't chop off fingers. And fish tanks can have CCTs that start at 10,000 Kelvin and go up.

REAL ESTATE IMPACT –One easy, attractive upgrade you can make to a property is to install a wireless light controller like the Phillips hue.  It’s inexpensive (around $250), and wirelessly controls lights (on/off) AND coloration.  Be sure to use it for open houses so spaces look their prettiest. 

Some of the most beautifully lit scenes are rooms with fireplaces, candlelit dinners and cozy interiors with soft lighting. The common denominator is yellow, and it’s the kindest light because it doesn’t contain much blue (remember, blue accentuates reds and makes them appear dark – like splotches and wrinkles.)

Photo via

Warmer lights below 3,000 Kelvin are for homes, restaurants and even retail displays where how things look matters. For that light, look for bulbs that either say “soft”or anything below 3,000 Kelvin.

So remember – pick lighting for your application.  Warmer lighting (smaller Kelvin numbers) are more like inviting fireplaces and yummy interiors. And higher temps up the Kelvin scale are cooler and more vivid.

As always, reach out anytime with questions. [email protected]

Topics: Energy Star, Going Green, Healthy Homes, Lighting, Sustainability Trends & Statistics

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