Mr. DIY Landlord’s Guide to Recessed Lighting Flood Bulbs

When installing new recessed lighting, you will want to test and measure lighting levels to ensure that the planned layout and positioning provides the necessary lighting for your kitchen’s work and prep areas.  To perform these tests you will need to get some bulbs for your recessed lighting.  Sounds simple enough until you find yourself in the lighting aisle at the local big box home improvement store.  There, you will be bombarded with all types of bulbs, not to mention the endless lists of terms, such as watts, PAR40, lumens, 2700K, LED, and whatever *@#$& else!  This guide will help simplify and clarify some basic lighting concepts and terms so that you can quickly and correctly choose the right bulbs for your recessed lighting needs.

Incandescent, Halogen, CFL, and LED

These terms denote the technology used to produce the lighting emitted by each type of bulb.  Depending on your age, you will have more experience with some types than others.  The important thing to know is that these technologies result in bulbs with different longevity and energy efficiency.  Incandescent is the oldest and least energy efficient technology, followed by halogen, then CFL (compact flourescent), and then LED (light-emitting diode).  When possible, you should use bulbs which utilize the newest technology, LED, for the best longevity and the least power consumption.

Since we are still transitioning through the use of these different technology, it is often desirable to replace a bulb of an older technology with a bulb of a newer technology while keeping the same light output unchanged.  The table below serves as a translation table of sorts for these situations.  It identifies the wattage of bulbs from each of the four technologies which produces the equivalent level of light output.  For example, if you are transitioning from a 75-watt incandescent to an LED bulb, you should select a 13 watt LED bulb.

Incandescent25 watt40 watt60 watt75 watt100 watt
Halogen18 watt28 watt42 watt53 watt70 watt
CFL6 watt9 watt12 watt15 watt20 watt
LED4 watt6 watt10 watt13 watt18 watt
Watts and Lumens

Watt is a unit of power consumption.  However, in the age of incandescent lighting, it also became synonymous with light output and understandably so since a 100 watt light bulb consumes more power and generates more light output than a 60 watt light bulb.  However, bulbs of newer, more energy-efficient technologies can generate the same light output as a 100 watt light bulb while consuming much less than 100 watt of electricity.   So, we can no longer use wattage consumption to express a measure of light output.

A lumen is a measurement of light output.  The table below displays levels of light output in lumens for bulbs of different technologies at different levels of power consumption.

Brightness (Lumens)2204007009001300
Incandescent25 watt40 watt60 watt75 watt100 watt
Halogen18 watt28 watt42 watt53 watt70 watt
CFL6 watt9 watt12 watt15 watt20 watt
LED4 watt6 watt10 watt13 watt18 watt

As the table indicates, when possible, LED bulbs should be used since they produce the greatest light output with the least amount of power consumed.

Dimmable and Non-Dimmable

Those familiar with incandescent bulbs are most likely familiar with how their light output and power consumption can be adjusted with dimmer.  When shopping for LED replacements for  incandescent bulbs, you should know that not all LED bulbs are dimmable.  If you intend to use your bulb with a dimmer or in a fixture with built-in dimming features, then you must look for “dimmable” LED bulbs.

PAR and BR

When shopping for recessed lighting bulbs, you will see two main types of flood light bulbs, PAR and BR.  PAR stands for “Parabolic Aluminized Reflector” while BR stands for “bulged reflector”.  Both types utilize the same numerical grading to indicate the diameter of their bulbs in 1/8 of an inch increments.  For example, a PAR30 and a BR30 both have diameters which are 30 multiples of 1/8 inch units or 3.75 inches.  Likewise, both a PAR40 and a BR40 bulb have 5 inch diameters.  Wider diameters results in larger bulbs which typically translates to greater light output.

Where PAR and BR bulbs differ is in their internal engineering.  This difference translates to differences in light output.    PAR bulbs produce focused and narrow beams of light which typically do not exceed a spread of more than 45 degrees.  This makes then ideal for accent lighting or for kitchen work and prep areas.  BR bulbs, on the other hand, produce soft, diffuse lighting which are typically spread greater than 45 degrees.  They are more suitable for areas with ambient lighting requirements such as in kitchen walkways.

While BR LED bulbs are typically cheaper than PAR LED bulbs, they have disadvantages in terms of longevity.  PAR LED bulbs have average lifetime of 70,000 hours while BR LED bulbs have a significantly lower average lifetime of 25,000 hours.  PAR LED bulbs also outperform BR LED bulbs in light output.  For the same lumens rating, a PAR LED bulb will produce more foot candles of light on a work surface than a BR LED bulb.  Therefore, PAR LED bulbs should be selected over BR LED bulbs for kitchen work and prep area lighting.


Kelvin is a measurement of light color or appearance.  A number on the lower end of the scale indicates a warmer, more yellow light.  Conversely, a number on the higher end of the scale indicates a more harsh, blue light.


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