Shining a Light on Light Bulb Efficiency

Okay, I’ll warn you now, light bulbs are not the most interesting topic I’ll cover on this website. It’s not sexy but it’s important and understanding the light bulbs you use at home is seriously one of the simplest ways you can be eco-friendly and energy-efficient. Don’t believe me? Check this out: found that the average American household’s lighting alone accounts for nearly 20% of their annual energy usage! Crazy, right?!

Not convinced? How about these mind-blowing stats: according to the Department of Energy, if every American home replaced just one incandescent bulb with an EnergyStar CFL bulb we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save $600 million in annual energy costs AND prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year (which, by the way, is the equivalent of 800,000 cars).

Now you’re listening! Let’s shed some light on light bulbs!

Incandescent Lighting

Up first, the incandescent light bulb. Chances are good that you have, or have had, one of these in your home, lighting up a room. While these bulbs have been the industry standard for the last 125 years, they are hardly the most efficient option out there. Sure, they are, typically, the least expensive and most accessible option but, even with the new lighting efficiency standards (as of January 2014) which require bulbs to use 25% less energy than they were previously using, these bad boys still can’t compete with their eco-friendly kin.

Because of the new regulations in lighting standards, the most common incandescent bulb, the A-19 (these are the ones you probably have sitting in a drawer at home), is becoming ever harder to find in stores. It has been replaced with a (slightly) more energy-efficient and more costly option, the Halogen Bulb. Halogen bulbs have a special inner coating that allows the heat to reflect into the bulb, effectively “recycling” the heat which would have otherwise been wasted. This keeps the filament hot and uses less electricity to do so.  Like most higher efficiency bulbs, halogens are more expensive to purchase but less expensive to operate so they even themselves out in terms of cost. Not a bad option, but let’s look at some better alternatives.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) Lighting

Next, we have the CFL Bulb. Widely recognized as the energy-efficient option, these are the bulbs you’ll see at the store with the “spiral” look to them. CFL bulbs fit most lighting fixtures, are readily available and generally use about 75% less energy than your typical incandescent bulb! Most likely, you’ll pay a bit more out-of-pocket for a CFL bulb but your long-term cost will outweigh your upfront costs. These bulbs tend to last 6-15 times longer than a typical bulb (on average 6,000-15,000 hours). That’s a ton of energy-efficient use! Take advantage of their long life and use these bulbs in hard-to-reach, pain-in-the-you-know-what areas!

It’s worth noting, however, that these bulb, like all fluorescent lamps, do contain small amounts of mercury (which can be hazardous to the environment and to your health). Once they have lived their life, it is important to recycle these bulbs. Contact your local retailer or hardware store to find out if they accept recycled CFLs.

Light-Emitting Diode (LED) Lighting

Last but not least, LED bulbs. These are rapidly gaining popularity and for good reason. LED bulbs are one of the most energy-efficient types of bulbs in the market today. The quality of light produced by these bulbs is often comparable or better than that of other types of lighting. Their bulbs are more durable and tend to last longer. LED lights use at least 75% less energy than typical incandescent bulbs (whoo hoo!) and can last 25 times longer (double whoo hoo!).

These tiny lights are no joke! According to “by 2027, widespread use of LEDs could save about 348 TWh (compared to no LED use) of electricity: This is the equivalent annual electrical output of 44 large electric power plants (1000 megawatts each), and a total savings of more than $30 billion at today’s electricity prices.” Imagine what using these lights could save you!

Turn Your Lights Off When Not in Use

Of course, swapping out your bulbs is ideal, but shouldn’t we also understand when to turn them off altogether? An energy-efficient home is only efficient when being used wisely. So, here’s a quick overview of when to turn off your lights, depending on the type of bulb you’re using.

If you’re still using incandescent bulbs (but you’ll be switching those out soon, right?), they should be turned off whenever you are not using them. Makes sense. These are the least efficient type of lighting. In fact, 90% of the energy they use is given off as heat, only 10% actually results in light.

(Bonus #1: Turning these lights off will keep your room cooler, too. Another reason to turn off your incandescent bulbs or, switch them out!)

CFL bulbs are already very efficient but their operating life is affected by the amount of times they are switched on and off. A good rule-of-thumb to keep the life of the bulb up and ensure the cost effectiveness is:

  • If you will be out of a room for 15 minutes or less, leave it on.
  • If you will be out of a room for more than 15 minutes, turn it off.

LED bulbs are unaffected by switching them on and off and are, obviously, extremely energy-efficient. So, while I don’t recommend keeping them on 24/7, there is less of a concern regarding efficiency with LED bulbs than with incandescent and CFL bulbs.

(BONUS #2: We’ve talked about a few different bulb options and now your psyched to go out and buy all new light bulbs! But where do you buy them? How much will they cost and will you really save any money, long-term? Enter the Light Bulb Finder App! Seriously. It will answer all those questions and more! This app will help you find the perfect light bulb for any fixture, show you your costs and tell you where to purchase them. I’ve never had so much fun picking out light bulbs!)

Talk about easy energy-efficiency! Cut 70% of your lighting energy consumption just by swapping out your light bulbs with the potential for long-term savings? Sign me up! Seriously, though the statistics are staggering and the amount of energy that can be saved by an easy, quick fix is amazing. If we can all do our part, switch out a few light bulbs and tell a friend or two to do the same, think of all the good we can do for the environment. Shine some light on this topic (sorry, I had to) and spread the word! Until we meet again…


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