How to choose the right color temperature with LEDs

LEDs offer many benefits compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, including energy efficiency, a significantly longer lifespan, and reduced maintenance expenses, but those aren’t the only reasons why many are making the switch. Home and business owners enjoy the versatility that LEDs offer, as the color temperature of LEDs can be customized to fit the mood and purpose of any residential or commercial space. So what is color temperature, and how do you choose the right one?

Understanding Color Temperature

kelvin color temperature scaleTo put it simply, a bulb’s color temperature describes its appearance. The Kelvin scale measures the correlated color temperature (CCT) from 10,000K to 1,000K. The scale begins with “warm” hues such as yellow and orange at the lowest end of the scale (“warm” incandescent bulb pictured right), and as the color temperature rises, the actual colors become “cool” on the blue side of the spectrum, even though the CCT is technically higher.

incandescent bulb

An easy way to visualize this is to imagine a campfire. As the flames become hotter, you’ll often see shades of blue and sometimes even purple. Although blue is generally a cool color, its color temperatures actually rank higher than warm colors such as red, orange, and yellow on the Kelvin scale.

Incorporating Color Temperatures into Your Lighting Plan

Traditional incandescent bulbs tend to fall within the 2,700K and 3,000K range, according to Energy Star. Many home and business owners prefer to simply mimic the bulbs they’re most familiar with, not realizing that specific color temperatures can improve the atmosphere of a room. For example, according to CNN, blue light suppresses the body’s release of melatonin, which can cause sleep problems. For that reason, you may want to use a lamp with a “soft” or “warm” color temperature during the evenings.

Matching Your LED’s Color Temperature to Your Rooms

On the Kelvin scale, color temperatures up to 3000K provide a soft, white light that tends to be peaceful, calming, and inviting. This type of lighting is perfect for rooms where an intimate, cozy feel is preferred, such as:

  • Living rooms
  • Bedrooms
  • Bathrooms
  • Restaurants
  • Outdoor lounge areas

In the middle of the Kelvin scale – up to around 4500K – the light is cool and white, and it provides a brighter, more vibrant atmosphere. This kind of neutral lighting works well for rooms where a more functional and unobtrusive light is preferred, such as:

  • Workspaces
  • Offices
  • Basements
  • Kitchens
  • Garages

Finally, on the far right end of the spectrum is a color temperature that mimics daylight. This type of lighting is crisp and energizing, and ideal for rooms where a strong, invigorating light is required, such as:

  • High-security areas
  • Task lighting
  • Display lighting
  • Reading rooms

Suggested Color Temperature Ranges

  • Bedroom:
    • Color Temp: 2700 – 3000K
    • Total brightness: 1,500 to 4,000 Lumens
  • Living room:
    • Color Temp: 2900 – 4100K
    • Total brightness: 1,500 to 3,000K
  • Office:
    • Color Temp: 4100 – 6500K
    • Total brightness: 3,000 to 6,000 Lumens
  • Kitchen:
    • Color Temp: 2700-4100K
    • Total brightness: 4,000 to 8,000 Lumens
  • Dining room:
    • Color Temp: 2900-4100K
    • Total brightness: 3,000 to 6,000 Lumens
  • Bathroom:
    • Color Temp: 3000-6000K
    • Total brightness: 4,000 to 8,000 Lumens

Consistency is Important

While it may be tempting to customize every room and area with a different light, mixing and matching various colors can reduce the overall light quality. At the same time, you may not want to use the same color temperature for your bedside reading lamp and your overhead kitchen lights.

In commercial buildings, it’s common for color temperature preferences to be zoned and labeled to ensure consistency. Once you’ve found the ideal lamps at home, take that same approach, and try to always replace your bulbs with matching color temperatures.

Consult an Expert

If the quality of your home or business lighting is important to you – and it should be – talk to an expert about the best approach for your needs. Companies such as Atlanta Light Bulbs offer expert advice that can help you to make informed decisions. Many home and business owners overlook lighting color temperature, not realizing that it’s one of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve the overall quality of a room – often drastically.

If you aren’t looking to make a change immediately, just keep color temperatures in mind next time you’re out buying new lamps. Buy warm, neutral, and cool LEDs, and decide for yourself which type of bulb you prefer, as well as where you prefer them. The lights you use can directly affect your overall mood and quality of life, so why not shop smart? You may be surprised by the results.


Author: Carolyn Clarke is a freelance writer, interior designer, and enthusiastic homeowner from Salt Lake City, UT. Carolyn loves finding new, affordable ways to improve a room, and she has helped transform local homes and businesses in her area. When she’s not working, Carolyn enjoys running, reading, and spending time with her husband and two sons.

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