Bright Idea: Get the Right Light

Photo (cc) by Anton Fomkin

Last week, we mentioned that heating and cooling can account for half your electric bill and offered tips to cut that figure down.

Lighting accounts for another large chunk of home energy consumption – up to 15 percent of the bill, and averaging around 11 percent, according to EnergySavers.gov. But there’s good news: The next time you go to replace light bulbs, that cost will probably start to drop. Traditional incandescent bulbs are being phased out for more energy-efficient options over the next few years.

In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson explores some of your new options – all of which are more expensive up front, but will save you big in the long run. Check it out, and then read on for more.

As Stacy said, the 100-watt bulbs we all grew up with will be missing from store shelves in January 2012. It’s possible to stock up on them now and keep using them for years – there are no rules against it – but it’s not a bright idea. Ninety percent of the energy these bulbs consume is wasted on heat, and that’s what EnergySavers.gov rightly describes as “money we are throwing away.”

Instead, they estimate you can save about $50 per year by upgrading 15 incandescent bulbs to longer-lasting, more efficient ones. Here are the main options…

  1. LEDs. You’re already familiar with these on the small scale. They’re the light indicators on your cell phone and other electronics. Light-emitting diodes are about 50 times as expensive as incandescents but last more than 25 times as long. They may be kept even longer, though, because unlike traditional bulbs that burn out, LEDs simply fade over time – the dimmer light may be acceptable (or go unnoticed) for a while. Interesting side note: The Money Talks News videos you see online and on-air are now fully lighted with LEDs. Our on-camera reporters and videographers no longer have to work with hot incandescent camera lighting.
  2. CFLs. Those weird spiral-shaped lights you’ve seen are compact fluorescents, although not all CFLs look that way. They can be up to 10 times the expense of incandescents, but last 10 times longer. Because they use only about a quarter of the energy old bulbs do, they pay for themselves in about nine months and start saving you money thereafter. When these first appeared, people thought of the bluish-white as “cool lighting,” but they now come in a variety of colors, including the warmer tones you may be used to.
  3. Halogens. Those triangular lamps often used as porch lights will be replaced by this energy-efficient version, which is about double the old price but lasts up to three times longer.

Beyond the different types, there are some other things to know about the new lighting standards.

  • Specialty lights. Not all old lights are getting knocked out – some special-purpose lamps will be left alone. You can see a list of those specialty lights at EnergySavers. And the incandescent isn’t fading entirely. More energy-efficient incandescents are now becoming available.
  • Rebates. As the government pushes for energy efficiency, you may sometimes get rebates and other special offers for upgrading. When you go to buy, check the Energy Star rebate locator.
  • Light levels. We’ll probably see “watts” as a measure of light bulbs phased out parallel to incandescents. The new terminology is “lumens,” which measures the amount of light rather than the energy used. If you want to maintain the same level of lighting, memorize these numbers: 100W is about 1600 lumens, 75W is 1100 lumens, 60W is 800, and 40W is 450. You’ll see these brightness numbers on newer labels, along with the color on a scale from warm to cool.
  • Safety. While the Environmental Protection Agency says CFLs aren’t a big deal, like thermometers they do contain a small amount of a hazardous chemical: mercury. So they have guidelines for cleaning up broken CFLs you may want to check out.

Not using those old hot bulbs may help save on your power bill by lowering your cooling costs too. If you want more ways to save, check out 13 Cool Tips for Lower Energy Bills.

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