How can I make a lamp brighter?
October 17, 2012 9:46 AM   Subscribe

I bought a great looking lamp for my nightstand. But the max (60 watts) isn't nearly bright enough. What are my options?

I live alone and don't want to turn on 2 different lamps, on both nightstands, each night when I read in bed. I really should have considered the wattage before purchasing :/

Anyway, the metal piece the bulb screws into - can I replace that for one of a higher wattage? Is it easy to do?

Are there different kinds of bulbs I should try that are brighter than normal?
posted by deern the headlice to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Try a compact flourescent rated at a higher equivalent wattage. (E.g., a 100W-equivalent CF will typically draw about 23W, so it's entirely safe for your 60W socket.)

If possible, look for a bulb with a higher CRI (color-rendering index) -- the higher it is, the broader the spectrum of the light it emits, and the more it will resemble the light from an incandescent bulb.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 9:53 AM on October 17, 2012 [8 favorites]

What you're worried about here is heat. Lamps are generally rated for a specific heat output from their bulbs. But the thing of it is, you can't really tell which parts that rating is based on. Is it the socket? The shade? The stand? The wiring? Impossible to tell without testing, and you don't want to do that.

Solution? Use a higher luminosity CF bulb. A 60W incandescent bulb will put out 800 lumens, but an equivalently bright CF bulb only uses about 15W. So you can easily chuck in a 1,600 lumen CF bulb, equivalent to the output of a 100W incandescent, as that only uses about 30W.

There are definitely CF bulbs that are indistinguishable from incandescents in terms of color once you put 'em behind a shade, but there's no getting around the fact that CF bulbs take a few minutes to warm up. If you can get used to that, problem solved.
posted by valkyryn at 9:53 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't even bother with CFLs. Just spend the money on a nice LED bulb and you'll be using less than 10W. You'll save money in the long run, especially if you have A/C, and LED bulbs last forever.
posted by ssg at 10:03 AM on October 17, 2012

McCoy Pauley is right about CRI: high CRI means a broad spectrum similar to incandescents or sunlight.
The other number you want to consider is CCT, correlated color temperature. Imagine the electric stove coil heating up from red to yellow to bluish-white. An incandescent filament can't get hotter than 3,000K without melting, and that's still in the yellows; a 60W bulb has a CCT around 2600K, halogens around 3400K. Early fluorescent lighitng was usually 4000-5000K, "daylight" lamps 6500K or so - it looks very blue, and can be energizing and crisp in some contexts, but not what you want for a reading lamp. Now CFLs have a much broader range of available colors. Same goes for LEDs, cheapest products are often too blue, as it's less efficient to generate red/yellow light.
Look for something around 3000K; if the CCT number isn't there, look for "warm white" as opposed to "cool white". (yes, the warm white is a lower color temperature than the cool white, it's stupid.)
posted by aimedwander at 10:09 AM on October 17, 2012

LED bulbs last forever

That is as may be, but I've never heard of an LED bulb that puts out more than about 800 lumens, the 60W incandescent equivalent, which is exactly what the OP is trying to do.
posted by valkyryn at 10:12 AM on October 17, 2012

CFL or LED are the solution here. There are a number of factors that lead to the lamp's maximum wattage, including the internal wiring, the materials the shade and harp are made out of, etc., which you can't easily up-rate yourself. But a more efficient light bulb is fine.

Personally I'd go with CFLs, as LEDs are falling in price too rapidly right now for me to want to grab the falling blade that they seem to represent. But YMMV, and LEDs can be great if you are really bothered by the color temperature of CFLs ... just go check out some in person first. Home Depot now sells them, and at least at my local store has a bunch turned on so you can see the color temperature.

The big problem with CFLs is that you'll kill them if you turn them on and off too rapidly. Assuming this is a light you'll use for sustained bedside reading, and not something you're going to flick on for a few seconds when you walk in the room and then flick off when you leave, that shouldn't be a problem.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:13 AM on October 17, 2012

Another good reason to go with an LED bulb instead of CFL is that you don't have to worry about the mercury if they break.
posted by XMLicious at 10:14 AM on October 17, 2012

I would suggest an LED bulb as well. You can find the lamp you like and then get the bulb in the color temperature that you prefer. It takes 4 watts to give you 30 watts incandescent. You might want to splurge a little and get a dimmable LED bulb so that you can put your lamp on a dimmer. The bulb will probably outlast the fixture.
posted by Yellow at 10:19 AM on October 17, 2012

Question for those recommending LED -- are there any generally available bulbs that are brighter than 60W incandescent-equivalent? I'm not aware of any, and the OP's complaint is that a 60W incandescent isn't bright enough for them, so that's why an LED doesn't seem like it would help.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 10:36 AM on October 17, 2012

McCoy Pauley, there are definitely some listed on the Home Depot website (for example) as being equivalent to 75W. But all in all I would go for a CFL - 75 is more than 60 but if it still isn't enough you'll have spent $25 on a single light bulb that isn't what you need, and it's easy to find a CFL that puts out the equivalent of 90W or more.
posted by mskyle at 10:46 AM on October 17, 2012

Home Depot has some, GE and Phillips will have information about their bulbs on their sites too.
posted by Yellow at 11:24 AM on October 17, 2012

If you look at LEDs, check the light output in lumens. The manufacturers take a pretty optimistic view of what the "equivalent" incandescent wattage is and I would bet most 75 watt "equivalent" LEDs put out less light than a 60W incandescent. I have not swtiched many of my lights over to LED yet because the ones I have are noticeably dimmer.

Other than changing bulbs, have you considered the height of the lamp and the shade? Unless you have a bare bulb most of the light will be directed more or less straight up and down by the shade and if you can put the lamp up higher more of that downward light will spill into your reading area. I love to read in bed and got the tallest lamps I could find for that reason. Also, a different (lighter or more translucent or different shaped) shade may let more light get to where you want it. Target, Home Depot, and Lowes (among others) all have a good variety of replacement shades.
posted by TedW at 11:25 AM on October 17, 2012

I forgot to tell you about Ikea. You can find many places that will sell the LED bulbs for less than $25.
posted by Yellow at 11:26 AM on October 17, 2012

Seriously, though, Yellow, where can you find a 75W-equivalent LED bulb for less than $25? The only one listed on the Home Depot site costs $25 - it's also listed on the Philips website. GE doesn't advertise any of its LEDs as having more than a 60W equivalency. I'm a very happy user of Ikea CFLs, but I only see one CFL bulb on that page, and it's much smaller than what the OP is looking for.
posted by mskyle at 12:02 PM on October 17, 2012

I have the Phillips "standard" at 75W brightness. It's plenty bright. I think I paid about $18 on sale and the color decently approximates an incandescent. The bulb itself is ugly but if it's hidden in a lamp...
posted by at 1:00 PM on October 17, 2012

I really appreciate all the feedback guys. It's going to take me a bit to wade in and figure out what the difference is between LED, CFL, etc, but I'm glad to hear it could make a difference.

Does anyone think it would be easier to just replace the metal socket the bulb screws into, rather than paying $25+ for a bulb?
posted by deern the headlice at 8:28 PM on October 17, 2012

It's not necessarily the metal socket that's the problem here. A 100w bulb will generate more heat, which might melt or burn other parts of the lamp, such as any plastic or the lampshade. The suggestions for CFLs are good because while the bulbs do get toasty, their heat is nowhere near the heat generated by an incandescent, meaning less burny risk.
posted by Wulfhere at 8:44 PM on October 17, 2012

Does anyone think it would be easier to just replace the metal socket the bulb screws into

Again, not really. It could be the wiring that's only rated for 60W, so replacing the socket wouldn't actually do anything. Or it could be the mount for the socket, or the mount for the shade, or the shade itself, or the lamp body itself. No way at all of telling.

And you can get 6 100W-replacement CFL bulbs for like $15.
posted by valkyryn at 10:33 AM on October 18, 2012

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