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Color Me Comfortable

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Been down the lightbulb aisle at your local home improvement store lately? The glut of choices can be so overwhelming, you may just want to switch to candles. But with a little brushing up on bulb facts and what to look for – including desired color temperature – you can flip on the “satisfied homeowner” switch and better appreciate the ideal illumination options for every room in your home.

Yes, it’s important to look on the bulb packaging for watts (the energy needed to light the product) and lumens/brightness (which measure the amount of light you get from the bulb; more lumens equal a brighter light). But experts say it’s equally crucial to choose an LED, CFL, incandescent or halogen bulb based two other values that are often listed on the package’s Lighting Facts label:

1. Its correlated color temperature (CCT) score (also labeled on the box as “light appearance”), which measures light color on a Kelvin (K) scale, typically between 2,700 and 6,500 K; and

2. Its color rendering index (CRI) score, which measures color accuracy.

Sheva Knopfler, creative director with Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Lights.com, says picking a bulb based on its CCT and CRI scores is wise, as having the right color temperature for each of the various rooms in your home can help create the ideal atmosphere for those respective spaces.

“Choosing the wrong color temperature in a given setting can cause a variety of problems, including not allowing you to see your task and even preventing you from getting a good night’s rest,” Knopfler says.

Marlon Heimerl, content marketing manager for Minneapolis-headquartered Bellacor, agrees.

“Lighting arguably sets the mood and environment of a space more than any single room element, since it touches every corner of a room,” Heimerl says. “The stark differences between cool light, at 3,100 to 4,500K, and warm light, at 2,000 to 3,000K, are palpable, and will give family members and visitors a completely different sense and feel for the home.”

Heimerl notes that warm light is friendly, personable and intimate but less “alert” feeling, while cool light is neat, clean and efficient but less likely to induce relaxation. A CCT score between 4,600 and 6,500K, meanwhile, more closely mimics daylight with a bright and cool light that calls out sharper details.

“Rooms with red, brown, orange and warm tones tend to look better with lighting in the 2,500 to 3,200K range,” Joshua Pine, sales manager for T. Haynes Lighting in San Francisco, says. “Cooler tones like your grays, blues and some greens look better with 3,800K or higher.”

To help matters, Randall Whitehead, a residential lighting designer/expert in San Francisco, and Knopfler recommend certain color temps for the following rooms:

- Living rooms – warmer tones (2,400 -2,700K)

- Kitchen – clean task lighting (3,000-4,000K)

- Bathroom – clean task lighting that can be softened as desired with a dimmer switch (3,000-5,000K)

- Dining room – warmer tones for a comfortable evening meal (2,400 -2,700K)

- Bedroom – warm mood lighting for overhead lights (2,400-2,700K) but brighter task lighting for bedside reading lights and closets (3,000-4,000K)

- Office/study – invigorating work lighting (3,500-4,500K)

- Garage/workshop – bright, accurate lighting (5,000-6,500K)

“It’s also vital to select the right fixture for your bulb. Each fixture type is specifically designed to deliver light at a certain distance in order to accommodate both the layout of the room and the illumination needed for a particular task,” says Knopfler. “This is why, for example, pendant lights that provide direct, downward light are better for kitchen islands than chandeliers that reflect light upward.”

Be mindful of the CRI score on the box (if it’s listed) when selecting a bulb, too.

“This tells you how close the bulb is to the color quality of incandescent light,” Whitehead says. “Try to choose a bulb that has a CRI of 90 or higher.”

Lastly, don’t be in too big of a hurry to put all of your lighting eggs in the smart bulb basket just yet.

“Smart bulbs are getting there, but they’re not quite ready – they need to get their CRI up to 90 or higher; most are currently in the 80 to 85 CRI range,” Whitehead says.

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