An average household dedicates about 6% of its energy budget to lighting. Switching to energy-efficient lighting is one of the fastest ways to cut your energy bills. Timers and motion sensors save you even more money by reducing the amount of time lights are on but not being used.
You have many choices in energy-efficient lighting. The most popular light bulbs available are halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Although they can initially cost more than traditional incandescent bulbs, over their lifetime they save you money because they use less electricity.
Energy-Saving (also called Halogen) Incandescent Lighting
Halogen incandescent light bulbs are simply energy-efficient incandescent bulbs and can last up to three times longer than traditional incandescent light bulbs. Halogen incandescents come in a wide range of shapes and colors and can be used with dimmers.
CFL bulbs last about 10 times longer and use about one-fourth the energy of traditional incandescent bulbs. A typical CFL can pay for itself in energy savings in less than 9 months and continue to save you money each month.
You can buy CFLs that offer the same brightness and colors as traditional incandescent bulbs. Some CFLs are encased in a cover to further diffuse the light and provide a similar shape to traditional incandescent bulbs.
CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury and require special handling if they are broken. CFLs should be recycled at the end of their lifespan. Many retailers recycle CFLs for free. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency for cleanup and safe disposal steps.
LED bulbs are rapidly expanding in household use. ENERGY STAR-qualified LEDs use only about 20%-25% of the energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. They come in a variety of colors, and some are dimmable or offer convenient features such as daylight and motion sensors.
In addition to standard screw-in bulbs, you’ll find LEDs in desk lamps, kitchen under-cabinet lighting, and even holiday light strings.
Indoor Lighting Tips
- Replacing 15 inefficient incandescent bulbs in your home with energy-saving bulbs could save you about $50 per year. Replace your old incandescent bulbs with ENERGY STAR-qualified bulbs for the best quality in savings.
- Visit the Energy Star website to find the right light bulbs for your fixtures. They are available in sizes and shapes to fit in almost any fixture and provide the greatest savings in fixtures that are on for a long time each day.
- When remodeling, look for recessed light fixtures or “cans” which are rated for contact with insulation and are airtight (ICAT rated).
- When replacing incandescent bulbs from recessed light fixtures, use energy-efficient bulbs that are rated for that purpose. For example, the heat buildup in downlights will significantly shorten the life of spiral CFLs.
- Consider purchasing ENERGY STAR-qualified fixtures. They are available in many styles, distribute light more efficiently and evenly than standard fixtures, and some offer convenient features such as dimming.
- Controls such as timers and photocells save electricity by turning lights off when not in use. Dimmers save electricity when used to lower light levels. Be sure to select products that are compatible with the energy-efficient bulbs you want to use.
- Keep your curtains or shades open to use daylighting instead of turning on lights. For more privacy, use light-colored, loose-weave curtains to allow daylight into the room. Also, decorate with lighter colors that reflect daylight.
Many homeowners use outdoor lighting for decoration and security. A variety of products are available from low-voltage pathway lighting to motion-detector floodlights.
LEDs work well indoors and outdoors because of their durability and performance in cold environments. Look for LED products such as pathway lights, step lights, and porch lights for outdoor use. You can also find solar-powered outdoor lighting.
Outdoor Lighting Tips
- Because outdoor lights are usually left on a long time, using CFLs or LEDs in these fixtures will save a lot of energy. Most bare spiral CFLs can be used in enclosed fixtures that protect them from the weather.
- CFLs and LEDs are available as floodlights. These models have been tested to withstand the rain and snow so they can be used in exposed fixtures.
- Look for ENERGY STAR-qualified fixtures that are designed for outdoor use and come with features like automatic daylight shut-off and motion sensors.
The Lighting Facts Label
You’ll find a new label on light bulb packages starting in 2012: the Lighting Facts label. The Federal Trade Commission is requiring the label on all light bulb packages to help consumers easily compare energy-efficient light bulbs.
The label includes:
- Brightness, measured in lumens
- Estimated yearly energy cost (similar to the EnergyGuide label)
- Light appearance (from warm to cool)
- Energy used, measured in watts.
Like the helpful nutrition label on food products, the Lighting Facts label will help you to understand exactly what you are buying and to buy the light bulbs that are right for you.
New Lighting Standards in 2012
Beginning in 2012, the common light bulbs we use will be required to be about 25% more energy efficient to meet the new efficiency standards of the bipartisan Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007).
As of January 1, 2012, traditional 100 W incandescent light bulbs will not meet the standards and will no longer be available. Similar standards will take effect for traditional 75 W incandescent bulbs as of January 1, 2013, and traditional 40 W and 60 W incandescent bulbs as of January 1, 2014. However, you have many lighting options that are EISA-compliant and will save you money.
Recycle Your Old CFL’s
- CFLs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing, and must be recycled.
- Many retailers offer free recycling services, and some municipalities have special recycling programs
Lumens: A New Way to Shop for Light
In the past, we bought light bulbs based on how much energy, or watts, they use. Wouldn’t it make more sense to buy lights based on how much light they provide?
When you’re shopping for light bulbs, you can choose your next light bulb for the brightness you want by comparing lumens instead of watts. A lumen is a measure of the amount of brightness of a light bulb—the higher the number of lumens, the brighter the light bulb.
If you’re replacing an inefficient 100 W bulb, look for an energy-saving bulb that puts out about 1600 lumens. To replace a 60 W equivalent, look for a bulb with about 800 lumens.
So when you’re looking for a new bulb, look for lumens—or how bright the bulb is. Now that’s a pretty bright idea!