To choose the best energy-efficient lighting options for your home, you should understand basic lighting principles and terms.

Energy Consumption

The ratio of light produced to energy consumed. It's measured as the number of lumens produced divided by the rate of electricity consumption (lumens per watt).


Light Quantity

The distribution of light on a horizontal surface. The purpose of all lighting is to produce illumination.

A measurement of light emitted by a lamp. As reference, a 100-watt incandescent lamp emits about 1600 lumens.

A measurement of the intensity of illumination. A footcandle is the illumination produced by one lumen distributed over a 1-square-foot area. For most home and office work, 30–50 footcandles of illumination is sufficient. For detailed work, 200 footcandles of illumination or more allows more accuracy and less eyestrain. For simply finding one's way around at night, 5–20 footcandles may be sufficient.

Light Quality

Color temperature
The color of the light source. By convention, yellow-red colors (like the flames of a fire) are considered warm, and blue-green colors (like light from an overcast sky) are considered cool. Color temperature is measured in Kelvin (K) temperature. Confusingly, higher Kelvin temperatures (3600–5500 K) are what we consider cool and lower color temperatures (2700–3000 K) are considered warm. Cool light is preferred for visual tasks because it produces higher contrast than warm light. Warm light is preferred for living spaces because it is more flattering to skin tones and clothing. A color temperature of 2700–3600 K is generally recommended for most indoor general and task lighting applications.

Color rendition
Color quality, or how colors appear when illuminated by a light source. Color rendition is generally considered to be a more important lighting quality than color temperature. Most objects are not a single color, but a combination of many colors, and certain light sources may change the apparent color of an object. The Color Rendering Index (CRI) is a 1–100 scale that measures a light source's ability to render colors the same way sunlight does. A light source with a CRI of 80 or higher is considered acceptable for most indoor residential applications.

The excessive brightness from a direct light source that makes it difficult to see what one wishes to see. A bright object in front of a dark background usually will cause glare. Bright lights reflecting off a television or computer screen or even a printed page produces glare. Intense light sources -- such as bright incandescent lamps -- are likely to produce more direct glare than large fluorescent lamps. However, glare is primarily the result of relative placement of light sources and the objects being viewed.

Lighting Uses

Ambient lighting
Provides general illumination indoors for daily activities, and outdoors for safety and security.

Task lighting
Facilitates particular tasks that require more light than is needed for general illumination, such as under-counter kitchen lights, table lamps, or bathroom mirror lights.

Accent lighting
Draws attention to special features or enhances the aesthetic qualities of an indoor or outdoor environment.