Shedding light on energy-efficient bulbs

Woodrow Aames | Improvement Center Columnist | September 6, 2013

If you're still using incandescent bulbs, it's time to see the light about how much energy you waste. According to Smart Energy Living, 90 percent of the energy used to power an old-fashioned light bulb is given off as heat. You might as well burn cash to illuminate your home.

Sealing the thermal envelope with additional insulation and completing a window replacement project can slice utility costs by 30 percent. But don't overlook new bulbs.

Here are four more surprising claims from the U.S. Department of Energy:

  1. If every American family replaced a single incandescent bulb with a an energy-saving one, enough energy would be saved to power three million homes a year.
  2. Each bulb meeting the ENERGY STAR standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can save homeowners $6 a year in energy costs, adding up to $40 during its service life.
  3. LED or CFL bulbs last at least six times as long as incandescents and use 75 percent less energy to emit the same amount of light.
  4. Full adoption of LED lighting by 2027 could save $265 billion in energy costs and eliminate the need for 40 new power plants.

Shopping for replacements

Forget about buying light bulbs based on the amount of watts they use. Today's energy savers are measured in lumens -- the amount of light they give off. More lumens means brighter light.

Energy Savers suggests that you replace incandescent bulbs along the following lines:

  • A CFL or LED with 1,600 lumens to replace a 100-watt incandescent
  • 1,100 lumens for the standard 75W bulb
  • 800 lumens to replace a 60W bulb
  • 450 lumens matches a 40W bulb.

Remember, not all CFL bulbs work with dimmer switches. But there are plenty of LEDs and halogen bulbs that do.

The new generation of bulbs

Don't panic when it takes between 30 seconds and several minutes for your new CFL bulb to completely illuminate a space. They're designed that way. CFLs work better in open fixtures; installing them indoors in an enclosed cover -- such as you find in a ceiling fan -- heats up the bulb, thus requiring more energy to produce light. For the effect you want, choose colors rated in Kelvin numbers: 2,700-3,000K for warm light, 3,500-4,100K for cool white hues, 5,000-6,500K for daylight tones.

LED bulbs are solid-state lighting products that can last as long as 22 years, delivering consistent lumens as long as they're switched on. They illuminate instantly. Cool to the touch, LEDs emit a very low amount of heat.

Record energy costs may drive us to energy efficiency. Keep new bulbs in mind when you're evaluating other upgrades, such as window replacements, adding insulation and weather stripping. These are all long-term investments that begin to reduce your energy bills immediately.

About the Author

Woodrow Aames has written articles and profiles for Yahoo, Microsoft Network, Microsoft Encarta, and other websites and print magazines around the world. He holds an MFA degree and has taught English abroad.