I went for a walk in my neighborhood last night after dark, which I love to do. (Not because people have their lights on, making it perfectly legal for me to see in their windows and check out their decorating. No, not that at all. But to my neighbors with the leather chair and bookshelves in the front room: Very nice.)
There must be a rule in the development next to mine requiring post lights, because every house had one. And looking down the street, it was striking to see the difference between the lamps that had warm white bulbs and those that used cool white.
Which led me to think it’s time for a primer on light color.
I’m definitely a fan of warm white bulbs, especially for something like a decorative outdoor fixture. The light those bulbs produce is yellower and softer, more like the light from the old-time gas lamps these post lights are trying to imitate.
Cool white bulbs, on the other hand, look like operating room lights to me, all bluish and harsh. They’re often called daylight bulbs because they approximate bright sunlight. They have their advantages, but they’re not for me.
But no matter which type of light you prefer, you can find it in every common type of light bulb, be it incandescent, compact fluorescent (“twisty bulbs”) or LED.
How do you tell? Check out the Lighting Facts Label on the package.
That label has a section for light appearance, with a graphic representing the spectrum from warm to cool light. An arrow points to where on that spectrum the light bulb falls.
If you want to get really technical, you can look for the bulb’s color temperature. That’s also on the label, expressed in a number that ends with a K. (It stands for Kelvin, the scale that measures color temperature.) If you want warm light, look for a number close to 2,700 K. If you want cool light, look for one with 5,000 K or higher.
But really, you don’t have to worry about numbers. The label will tell you how warm or cool the light is, and that’s pretty much all you need to know.
One more tip: Always look for the Energy Star logo if you’re buying either compact fluorescent or LED bulbs. To earn it, bulbs have to meet certain quality standards and be backed by a warranty.