Have you ever purchased a new light bulb expecting the same warm, yellow light as the bulb you replaced, only to end up with a much brighter, whiter light instead? Chances are you didn’t know to check the bulb’s color temperature before making your purchase. Let’s take a closer look at what color temperature is and how it affects your lighting choices
What is Kelvin?
Every light source has a distinct character, from the warm, dim glow of a candle to the bright blue beam of a street light. Brightness, measured in Lumens, is one part of that character; the other part is color temperature, measured in degrees Kelvin. Color temperature is not the ambient hot/cold temperature of our surroundings, but the color of the light that is produced by the bulb. The higher the color temperature, the cooler light gets, and the lower the color temperature, the warmer light gets.
Warm Color Temperatures (2700K to 3500K)
Lights with color temperatures between 2700K-3500K are considered “warm.” Most homes look best in warm-toned light in part because people tend to decorate homes in warm earth tones which warm light enhances. Warm light is often used in bedrooms, dining rooms to create a cozy atmosphere since it’s softer and easier on the eyes than bright, cool-toned light. Another setting where you may find warmer lights is restaurants, the lights are used to add an inviting ambience for guests. In addition, people tend to look better in warm light.
Cool Color Temperatures (4000K to 4500K)
Some people prefer higher or “cooler” color temperatures. Because of the neutral tone, it’s common to see color temperatures of 4000K or higher used as task lighting in offices, kitchen under-cabinet lighting or craft rooms. Moreover, people often perceive higher color temperatures to be brighter than warm temperatures, while others feel cooler light looks “cleaner.” Cool white light makes imperfections and color variations between objects more apparent. While this may not always be ideal, it is useful for applications like makeup lighting or even general lighting in rooms where cleanliness is imperative.
Full Spectrum Color Temperatures (5000K to 6500K)
Less common are very high color temperatures, often referred to as “full spectrum” or “daylight.” Color temperatures of 5000K to 6500K approximate the color of a bright, sunny day. The cast of the light can be a very pronounced blue and can seem harsh to some people. It’s unlikely to see color temperatures of this range in homes expect in garages or home offices. Outside the home, there is a trend of installing “full spectrum” bulbs in offices as they are sometimes associated with higher productivity. Other locations that commonly use full spectrum lighting are museums, jewelry stores, showcase windows, and hospitals.
Making a Decision
When purchasing your next bulb, it is important to understand exactly what it’s for. Keep your application and color scheme in mind and make sure to buy the bulb with a color temperature to match.
So do you prefer warm or cool color temperatures in your home? Have you ever mistakenly bought a bulb of the wrong color temperature?