There are a growing number of ways you can save electricity and make your home more comfortable by choosing the right lights. Just a few of the most promising options include new varieties of CFLs and fluorescent lights, new super-efficient LED (light-emitting diodes) bulbs; and simple strategies for using less electricity and bringing in more natural light.
If you’re ready for a simple way to save energy, think light bulbs. To start with, choosing a compact fluorescent (CFL) is a smart move because these bulbs use much less electricity than old-fashioned incandescents (which produce light by heating a metal filament, and therefore waste 90 percent of their energy as heat). Fluorescent bulbs produce light through a chemical reaction. Not only will choosing a CFL save you about $30 in electric bills over the life of each bulb, it also will help you do your part to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants. The compact fluorescent bulb works much the same way as a standard fluorescent light, but the thin tube curves into a round bulb shape that fits neatly into most lamps. Commonly known as CFLs, they use two-thirds less energy to provide the same amount of light, and they last a long time, up to 10 times longer than incandescents.The U.S. government’s Energy Star program, which promotes energy efficiency, estimates that replacing a single incandescent bulb with a CFL prevents nearly 500 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. Today’s fluorescents are produced with electronic ballasts, so they’re not going to flicker and hum as they would with the older magnetic ballasts.
Most experts say not to worry about the health effects of exposure to the mercury in a compact fluorescent, even if the bulb breaks. As a frame of reference, one CFL contains 4 milligrams of mercury, just a fraction of the 500 milligrams found in old mercury thermometers. When fluorescents have ceased to work properly, they shouldn’t just be thrown in the trash; you should dispose of them through your local solid waste agency.
LED lights (light-emitting diodes) are more efficient than incandescents, because the bulbs don’t use heat to produce light. And unlike fluorescent lights, they don’t contain any mercury. Instead, LEDs are made with a semiconductor material that produces photons when electricity passes through it. LEDs are very good at focusing light exactly where it’s needed, plus, they produce light in a variety of colors and last a long time.
SMART LIGHTING STRATEGIES
- Always use the minimum lighting required. Some tasks, especially reading and sewing, require bright light. But in many areas of your home, lower-wattage bulbs may work just as well, such as for ambient lighting in the kitchen. For rooms where you want different levels of light at different times, light fixtures with dimmer settings can be a good option. Not all compact fluorescents work with dimmer switches, so check the packaging carefully.
- Put your home on a “lighting diet.” Paul Scheckel, a home energy consultant and author of The Home Energy Diet, has many tips such as “one person, one light,” as a good goal. He also suggests using low-energy (LED or fluorescent) under-counter lights, light-colored lamp shades, no halogen floor lamps, turning off the lights when you leave a room (as well as fining family members who don’t), and auto on-off and motion-sensor lighting controls in closets, bathrooms, etc. If you’ve heard conflicting advice about when to turn off the lights, you’re not alone. One source of confusion is that there are two separate issues to consider, saving money and saving energy. According to the U.S. government’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), every time you turn off fluorescent lights for more than five seconds you save energy. However, turning lights on and off reduces their life span. If your main goal is to save money, EERE recommends leaving fluorescent lights on for up to 15 minutes if you’re planning to go back to a room. Incandescent lights are less expensive to replace and burn mo re energy when they’re on, so turn them off every time you leave a room to save both money and energy.
- Use solar power for smaller applications, including outdoor lights.
- Daylighting, the practice of designing for maximum use of daytime sunlight (skylights, large windows with roof overhang, etc.), is used to light homes, make people happier, and save energy and dollars everywhere from garages to office buildings. The presence of daylighting often shows increased worker satisfaction and productivity in offices, better test scores in schools, increased sales in retail settings, and, of course, lower energy bills. If there’s enough sunlight to allow us to leave the electric lights off, it saves electricity. The goal is to let in natural light, but to prevent glare.
- Materials – Light isn’t all about the bulbs, though. Having eco-friendly lamps and light fixtures is key to greening your lighting. Look for lamps made with natural, recycled, or reused materials. Lights made from recycled materials include metal, glass, or plastic, and natural materials such as felt, cloth or wood. Interesting lamps that use reclaimed materials such as traffic signal lenses, and recycled wine bottles.