Best Color Temperature For Outdoor Security Lighting
Quickly, before I recommend the specific best color temperature for outdoor security lighting or outdoor motion lights, let me briefly explain a few things (how it works).
Outdoor Security Lights – Warm White vs Cool White – What’s Best?
( In a hurry? Jump straight to the answer )
But if you’re interested in the “why”, read on…
Light is an oscillating electromagnetic wave. Visible light is a band (segment) of wavelengths that our eyes can ‘see’. Actually, it’s the ‘rods’ and ‘cones’ in our eyes that get the job done. More on that in a minute.
Light itself is not colored. Light is simply electromagnetic waves of various wavelengths within the visible spectrum. The color is our brain’s translation/interpretation of those wavelengths through our eyes.
What is Color Temperature?
Color temperature is a technical representation of the perceived color of light. The visible spectrum ranges from deep red (long wavelengths) shortening through yellow, green, blue, all the way to deep violet (short wavelengths).
Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (K).
The Color Temperature Of Light Bulbs
When you look at a package of LED light bulbs, among the specifications there will be a color temperature rating.
The color, or hue, will range from a very soft yellow-red on up to a white, even bluish color hue.
Many manufacturers list the equivalent color temperature in Kelvin (K). That said, they market words like “soft white”, “warm”, “cool white”, etc.. which is arbitrary. However, it is the color in degrees Kelvin which is the important factor for comparison.
A 2700K light bulb gives off a very soft yellow hue, similar to the standard incandescent bulb (soft white). These are popular in homes.
3000K bulbs are still warm but with a bit more ‘white’ in them (warm white). I like these in homes too. It’s not as yellow as 2700, but still ‘cozy’.
A 5000K bulb is considered to be “horizon daylight” (Wikipedia’s term) and is pretty much ‘white’. It approximates a typical tubular fluorescent lamp, “cool white”.
6000K is the color temperature of “vertical daylight” (the sunlight above the atmosphere), similar to a professional camera’s electronic flash.
Bulbs are available in a variety of color temperatures. I find that once you get up to 4000K, the bulb hue appears to be pretty close to white.
Best Color Temperature For Outdoor Security Lights
Okay so let me answer this… Warm white or Cool white for security lights?
5000K – 6000K light produces HIGHER CONTRAST as seen by our eyes.
For the sake of security lighting or flood lights purposed for security, I would go with at least 5000K color temperature bulbs or floods. In marketing terms, that would be Cool white (5000K), or slightly bluer (6000K).
My recommendation for the best color temperature for outdoor security lighting:
My preference for ideal outdoor security lighting: Floods (rather than spots), at 5000K or 6000K color temperature, preferably 1400 lumen or more (depends on what you’re lighting up though), waterproof, and PAR38 to fit in standard fixtures. Check for outdoor rating. That is, assuming you’re using them outdoors.
My current choices as of this post update:
It’s slightly pricey, but, the color temperature is 6000K (6000K LED floods are somewhat hard to find, whereas 5000K are more readily available). It’s IP65 waterproof. 1400 lumen with a flood beam angle of 120-degrees.
LED FLOODS (6000K)
(view on amzn)
While the bulb listed above is great if you’re willing to pay for it (I love the 6000K attribute), here’s another choice, and they’re what I’m currently using (because I have a lot of floods and these cost less).
There are far more choices for standard PAR38 flood lights with 5000K color temperature – and even more with 3000K (but I don’t like them as much for security lighting). Also, the following LED floods are dimmable. Although I don’t use the dimming feature, it has been said that a dimmable LED floodlight functions better with the RAB Stealth-360 outdoor motion sensor lights (the best sensor on the market – which I use exclusively) (My review article linked below).
The following are 1600 lumen LED floodlights, outdoor rated – waterproof, 5000K color temperature:
LED FLOODS (5000K)
Here’s another type of ‘stand-alone’ outdoor security lighting that’s becoming popular. An all-in-one outdoor bright security light. It’s portable too. Could be used as a work light, or mounted permanently. This one (for example) is 6000K color temperature and a bright 3000 lumens:
Important For Security Lighting
1. Sufficient lumens (brightness) to illuminate the area.
2. Enough light to quickly identify objects, people, movement.
3. Good color discernment.
While a ‘warmer’ color temperature might look better for specific landscaping appeal, when it comes to home security you will want to bathe the area in bright ‘cool white’ light at 5000K or even cooler at 6000K (a hint of blue).
How Do Our Eyes See Color?
Light waves enter the eye as they travel through the pupil and hits the retina.
The retina has cells that sense the light (rods and cones).
Rods sense the intensity of the light.
Cones sense the wavelength (translated to color).
There are 3 types of cones and they’re especially sensitive to red, green, and blue – but also wavelengths in-between to a lesser extent.
When light waves activate the various cone groups, a chemical reaction sends messages to the brain which interprets what color (wavelength) the light is.
data sources include Wikipedia
(this article has been updated with more precise detail for your knowledge-gathering experience)
Read the following related articles:
LED Light Bulbs – Cost Savings Over Incandescent
Best LED Flood Light For Outdoor Motion Light
Best Outdoor Motion Lights For Home Security (RAB Stealth)
I never really understood this, thank you for the information. Another first for the MSB
Interesting article. I am saving for future reference!
After working ‘a while’ in plant engineering in a hospital I learned a few things about lighting.
Operating theaters use only 5000 degree Kelvin lighting. WHY? With trashy orange lights, blood and several internal organs, disappear. Surgeons have to have 5K Kelvin lighting to actually see what they are doing. Or, what they have done. Being as though I might end up at the focus of their attention, I made sure that they got what they wanted.
I also did an experiment. I like experiments. While being volunteered to work 2nd shift, and the foot traffic was lower at that time, I was allowed to ensure that the 2,000+ florescent fixtures in my part of the facility worked as designed. Not a fun thing, really, since the fixtures were about eight inches higher than I could reach. This meant dragging a ladder around all the time. Oh, well. Pay was the same. During my shift one evening, and there just happened to be several lamps not working, I placed 5K Kelvin florescent lamps in all four slots in one fixture, three in the fixtures at each side, then two, then one. The first thing noticed was the color of the wall changed. Well, not really. The ‘color’ of the light did. Which made the wall color seem different. It was actually the ‘real’ color. Plus, watching the people traversing the hallway and reading things, they would congregate around the fixture that had all 5K Kelvin lamps. I didn’t dare discuss what I had done since the 5K Kelvin florescent tubes were fifty cents a piece more expensive. (Tight-wads)
Currently, I only have a few 4100 degree Kelvin lamps in my house. Everything else is 5000 to 5200 degree Kelvin. I will not have anything below 4100 Kelvin. They just look nasty and about to burn out. I have changed out all lamps in the shop, also. Every one of the stains I use is now a different color. Most look better. Of course, I can now see more things that need ‘touching up’. Oh, well.
And then there’s this: If you change a 60 watt incandescent with an LED lamp, generally 8 watt equivalent, your using about 85% LESS power for the same illumination. And you can see a lot better.
Mentioning lighting in a hospital took me back down memory lane. One hospital I worked in got the bright idea that using 35 watt incandescent in the bathrooms would save a ton of money in the long run. It wasn’t such a great idea. Nurses can tell many things about your health by looking at your poop. Poor lighting negates that.
I recently installed a Stealth light on the house and had to choose what bulbs were available locally. That meant Home Depot or Ace. (I tend to avoid Ace as they are VERY expensive in my town.) I used enhance LED bulbs rated as 5000K and described as vivid natural light. They are working well but were a bit difficult to get into the Stealth fixture as they were kind of short for the job.
As some you all might know I sold residential lighting for 16 years. When the 3500K fluorescents replaced the old mercury T12’s 40 watt it was great. I like the 4100 too. A great up sale for closets with an electronic ballast off course. No humming or flickering. The T8’s 32 watt used less energy and require an electronic ballast. The sales pitch went something like this, Would you like to tell your black socks and pants from your navy pants and socks?:-)
5000k is a bit blue if you are looking for true color and warmth in your home. Funny we think of the sun as warm, but the kelvin temp is 5000k. Use 3500K inside. Very nice color without blasting you out of the room. Halogens come close to this. It is more neutral and of course it always a personal choice. 5000K outside would be crisper but bluer. The light emitting diode, LED, are really neat and I recall a sales meeting when they were 1st introduced a long time ago!!! They have changed the industry a lot.
The color light sheds can helpful or hurtful just like NMA mentioned above. The high pressure sodium bulbs that light most of our highways are a prime example of terrible color. In an accident situation you cannot tell oil/gas
Mrs. USMCBG. Thanks for the insight. I recently installed another fluorescent fixture in my shop and was disappointed that all the had were a newer kind of fixture. I was disappointed until I installed it. What a difference it made. I’ve since replaced the ones in my garage with the newer ones.
I laughed at your mention of the telling the difference between navy blue and black in the closet as DW is frequently reminding me that I goofed on my color choices. I have a three bulb fixture with pointable LEDs in our walk in closet. I’d like to be able to tell what colors are hanging on the rods. Any suggestion for bulb type would be appreciated.
Thanks Ken, I never new about the Kelvin thing as a rating for light bulbs.. I like learning new things and have always felt that when you stop learning you start dying.
You’re welcome! And I’m glad that I’m doing my part keeping you alive ;)
Some of the early LED’s were very warm in color say 2700k it adds a yellow/brown tone. There are some LED’s bulbs with better color rendering. Look for the 3500k on the box or google to see where sold. I have been out of the biz for some years now and would need a lesson or two on the LED’s!!! I lost a very $$$ job once by voicing my opinion on a customers choice of powder room paint color. It was Apple Green. The color of any room will reflect onto your face etc. I mentioned that when her guest would look in the mirror they will look sick, which is true. However it did not go over well…………LOL Oh well can’t win em all.
I bought a bunch of those curly CFL’s not too long after they first came out. I paid something like $11 each. The sales pitch was they use less power for a comparable output and they were supposed to last a long time. Well, most of those bulbs didn’t last very long even in places that didn’t get used very often. BIG waste of money as if I would have just used incandescent bulbs, I would have saved a lot of money. The new LED bulbs seems to last much longer with very little power usage. I have no problem spending more up front if the savings are realized over time.
We bought a brighter light for our kitchen. I did not realize how dull other bulbs in the house were! The kitchen was so bright. You could see everything. And I mean everything. Every little spider web and dust bunny. LOL….
This is a great article. Explains so much! Thanks!
Great article with enough info to make me search for more.
Just a couple of side notes. Used the 5K lights in an atrium and had to replace them the same day as I was told it made it look like a prison (e.g. very bright lights). The second is that if you need grow lights you can achieve relatively the same effect by mixing the different temps a lot cheaper.
Not related to flood lights but if you’re getting leds for say your garage you would want the 5000 to 6000 definitely. It’s like the lights in your dentist office just perfect for garage.
I had put the 5000 in my kitchen but you would be like “omg” I guess you could get used to it but you see every smudge dust particle etc.
The 3000 in the kitchen you get used to pretty quickly and what I would recommend.
I have two outdoor lamp posts and have 100 watt equivalent led lights and they are not that bright.
I want to go brighter because of neighborhood problems lately.
I bought two 5000k (150watt equivalent) to replace current bulbs. The wattage is in question here. I don’t really understand how this all works. Are these okay to use?
Don’t want to cause a fire. Yikes!
You bought “two 5000k (150 watt equivalent) to replace the current bulbs.”…. So the new bulbs are 150 watts equivalent LED bulbs? If so, they will actually draw something less than 30 watts each (this is the beauty of LED bulbs- same amount of light for way less wattage), which is probably going to be fine in the lamp post lights you have. the “5000K” refers to the color of the light not the wattage or heat. These are basically whiter. If the new bulbs are not LED, and are 150 watt incandescent bulbs, they may be too big wattage-wise for the fixture. ( there should be a fixture label that tells you the maximum wattage). If you put a 150 watt incandescent bulb in a fixture rated for 100 watts minimum you will likely burn the fixture out, maybe with some fire and electrical shorting…. not good. Hope this helps.
Also, to add a bit more info, perhaps this article will shed some light (pun intended)…
[ Read: LED Light Bulbs – Cost Savings Over Incandescent ]
Try the 100w equivalent in your garage door opener. Bright and no heat.