Energy-Efficient Lighting: Go Green While Saving Green!

Author: Ross Donald

Electric lighting is a primary consumer of energy in the home, comprising 15-25% of the average residence’s annual energy budget. If every home in America replaced just a single, standard bulb with one that is considered energy efficient, enough energy would be saved to light 3 million homes for an entire year. It would also save nearly $600 million in yearly energy costs and prevent 9 billion pounds of harmful, ozone-eating greenhouse gas emissions (roughly equivalent to that produced by upwards of 1 million automobiles.)

Making the switch to energy-efficient lighting, coupled with the notion of simply using less, has become one of the quickest and easiest means of cutting household energy bills and providing some of the best returns on investment (ROI.)

Reducing electricity consumption not only saves energy by lightning less, but it reduces heat gain within the home, thereby requiring the air-conditioner to work less, saving even more energy.

There are numerous choices when it comes to energy-efficient lighting, including the most popular options: light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs.) Each has played an important role in the revolutionizing of energy-efficient lighting and while they may cost a bit more initially, over time they are a much better buy, as they use less energy and last far longer relative to a standard, traditional-style incandescent bulb.
Light Emitting Diodes (LED) Lighting

LEDs are exceedingly energy-efficient, long-life, solid light bulbs once limited to use in single-bulb industrial, commercial, and technical applications, such as electronic devices, instrument panels in automobiles, and holiday light strings.

Recently, the applications of LEDs have been broadened a great deal by bundling the small bulbs together into clusters. With this alteration, involving up to 180 bulbs per cluster, lenses that diffuse and spread the light in widened beams, and standard bases for use in household fixtures, LEDs represent the next revolutionary step in home lighting.

In addition to being extremely efficient, LEDs produce a high quality light, radiate almost no heat/stay cool to the touch, last up to 30 times longer than ordinary incandescent bulbs, come in a variety of colors, can be used in a variety of ways indoors and out, and can be used with a dimmer switch.
However, the higher manufacturing costs of LEDs, and thus the higher average upfront cost of around $35-$40 per 1000 lumen (roughly equivalent to a 60-watt bulb) bulb, have discouraged many consumers from choosing this option. But over time, based on the 25,000 hour lifespan, energy efficient nature, and durability an LED bulb is still a cheaper option and will pay for itself in less than three years.

Additionally, LEDs contain no mercury, thus making disposal a snap, and will continue to drop in price with time as the technology improves.
Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs)

Unlike LEDs, CFLs have been marketed for residential use for over 30 years. Becoming increasingly popular and seeing considerable gains in quality in recent years, CFLs are considered the most cost-effective choice for energy-efficient lighting on the market today.

CFLs are four times more efficient and last 10 times longer than a standard incandescent bulb, operating on far fewer watts with comparable light output and using 50-80% less energy and producing far less heat.

Newer models on the market today give off a warm and appealing light, using rare earth phosphor which emits luminescence. Coming in numerous shapes, sizes, and tube configurations CFLs are also very versatile and can be used in every capacity that a standard incandescent bulb can, indoors or out, including with a dimmer switch (check manufacturer guidelines before installing, as not all CFLs are suited to be used with dimmer switches or outdoors.) However, it is important to use CFLs in applications where the light switch remains on for extended periods of time, as frequent on/off cycling can diminish lifespan.

Like LEDs the upfront cost of CFLs is a bit higher though over time, again based on its lifespan and energy-efficient nature, a CFL bulb will pay for itself in less than one year.

One of the only drawbacks of CFLs is the fact that they contain a very small amount (about 5mg) of the highly toxic metal mercury. While it poses no threat while inside the bulb, should the bulb be damaged or broken the mercury within may be released, exposing those within the room to danger.
The mercury within CFLs also necessitates using proper handling and disposal upon expiration, as it is vital to keep this nasty contaminant out of the waste stream. Some retailers accept spent CFL bulbs at specialized drop-off points and community-based household hazardous waste collection may also collect the bulbs and transport them to the proper facilities for disposal or recycling.

In light of our nation’s trying economic times, coupled with the planet’s dwindling natural resources, making the switch to energy-efficient lighting can not only be easier on the pocketbook but provide for a greener, more sustainable lifestyle.

Ross Donald is an eco-conscious DIY dad. When he’s not in the shop working on the next big project, he’s outside with his two daughters. Ross writes for specialists in light fixtures

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