Your old incandescent has been turned off and you decided to replace it with an LED bulb. You screw it, turn it on, and … gahhh! While blinking to remove the dots in front of your eyes, you realize something: this LED bulb is too bright! But it was the same equivalency in watts as your old bulb, so why is it much brighter?
The perception is everything
The light that can be seen with the human eye is called the visible spectrum. It is measured in wavelengths and falls between 380 and 760 nanometers. On both sides of the visible spectrum there is an ultraviolet and infrared light, both invisible to us. Incandescent and LED bulbs emit very different light spectra. Below is a graph that shows a general incandescent spectrum:
When a light source is working, part of its energy is burned as the heat is converted to infrared light. When observing the previous graph, the incandescent light follows a very smooth curve that increases gradually. Its strongest light is towards the red end of the visible spectrum. As the light nears the end of what we can perceive, most of its energy (up to 90%) is burned, making it invisible. Now let’s look at a LED bulb:
Note the difference in the light delivered. Designed to point to the visible spectrum, the highest peak of LED light is in the middle. Since LEDs also generate a smaller amount of heat, they do not lose as much light at the infrared end. What this means is that LEDs appear to be brighter compared to incandescent bulbs because they generate a greater amount of light than the human eye can see.
However, remember that the true light output is measured in lumens. This is why it is better to look at the lumens when considering which light bulbs to select. Sometimes LEDs can be listed with a certain equivalent wattage, but they vary in light output, exceeding the average light count of the light source that is designed to mimic. Going alone by equivalent wattage can cause you to choose a light that is too bright for the intended purpose. To give you an idea of the standard output, the table below shows an average lumen count per bulb wattage:
6 to 9 watts
8 to 12 watts
9 to 13 watts
16 to 20 watts
25 to 28 watts
Kelvin (color of light) can also alter the perceived brightness. Kelvin varies from an orange color, around 2200 Kelvin, to a blue color (that is, 6500 Kelvin, which simulates daylight). A standard incandescent is generally around 2700 Kelvin, emitting the warm light to which you are accustomed. An LED of the same color temperature and lumens will have a similar brightness but will still be brighter. If you replace that 2700K incandescent with a 4000K, it will change from a yellowish light to a bright white. Big jumps like that are remarkable and can seem very drastic.
Tips to cut the brightness
While the light may seem very bright at first, it will adjust. If light really bothers you, there are several ways you can decrease the brightness. If your bulbs are adjustable, then you can combine them with a compatible intensity regulator. We have various types of wall dimmer switches and plug dimmers for table lamps. The screens are also a useful tool to reduce the brightness of the light by redirecting the light to the room. If the ceiling lights are too bright, replace the covers and the transparent balloons with frosted covers to soften the light. The frosted lens will help diffuse light to more bearable levels, reduce brightness on glossy surfaces such as countertops and tables, and it will also look good. There is also the option of buying light bulbs that have frosted glass. This is especially useful for decorative lighting, such as chandeliers and sconces, where light bulbs are exposed.