Lighting and Energy Efficiency

As a former educator and former psychotherapist, I have continually had a common notion about people reinforced: We are creatures of habit and change doesn’t come easy for any of us. With respect to our living environment, this is particularly true. It generally takes some kind of jolt or “smack in the face” to get us to consider making changes in where and how we live.

One of the strongest motivators in prompting people to change comes from information on how to save money particularly when we find we can get the same benefits from using things that are more efficient and cost-effective.

This article is a brief synopsis of ways that you can save money on your lighting costs. Implement some of these suggestions and you will notice a change in the bottom line of your electric bill. Remember, that these savings add up month after month and at the end of the year, a tally will prove that you’ve made a wise move.

For many people, the way they light their homes and businesses hasn’t changed much since the invention of the incandescent light bulb by Thomas Edison. Granted, these bulbs have evolved into more energy-efficient devices, but technology can only go so far with an idea that, by its very nature, is inefficient in terms of its basic function. The incandescent light bulb is really more of a heat than a light producer and compared to new lighting technology they just aren’t very durable.

The latest and greatest lighting innovation is the compact fluorescent light bulb also known as the CFL. The first CFLs had some definite drawbacks. Like most new technology, they were more expensive than their incandescent counterparts, had separate tubes and ballasts and were available in just a limited number of shapes, sizes and the amount of light that they generated. These limitations made the early CFLs somewhat limited in terms of popularity and applications were typically limited to just the right circumstance and need.

The great competitive nature of our culture soon began to prompt significant changes in all aspects of the CFL. If you haven’t been hanging around the lighting department in your local home center or hardware store, you may be in for a surprise with respect to what is currently available to homeowner and business owners and why you should seriously consider making some changes in the way you light your environment.

First, let’s consider expense. Modern CFLs use about one-third the electricity and last as much as ten times longer than their incandescent counterparts. For example, if you consider one single 18 watt CFL in place of a comparable 75 watt incandescent bulb, over its lifetime, the CFL will save you as much as $30-$40 at an average kWh unit cost.

Remember, we are talking about just one bulb. Multiply the number of bulbs by the average savings per bulb and you will be in for a real eye-opener.

Related to the cost savings provided by the CFL, let’s also consider efficiency. The typical CFL is up to four times more efficient than its incandescent counterpart and will last on average ten times longer. Taking a 22-watt CFL as an example, it will generate the same level of illumination as a 100 watt incandescent. Translated into energy efficiency, the CFL uses about 60% less energy than a comparable incandescent.

The quality of the light generated by the newer CFLs has improved considerably over the earlier versions. Everyone is familiar with the cool white look of the early fluorescent. While this type of color found many applications in factories and offices, it just wasn’t conducive to the type of lighting most people desired in their homes. Newer CFLs use rare earth phosphors that can provide a wide variety of colors including those that emit a warm, soft light that is desirable in a living environment. In addition, the newer CFLs include technology that eliminates the annoying hum and flicker of the older versions.

The big news is that today’s CFLs can be used just about anywhere that the traditional incandescent bulb is used. They can be used in table and floor lamps, on track lighting, in recessed fixtures, in ceiling fixtures and even outdoors. The newest technology also provides 3-way CFLs that can be used in lamps with high, medium and low settings and CFLs that can be used with a dimmer switch are also now on the market.

For the environmentally conscious individuals, CLFs have been proven to reduce both air and water pollution. For example, replacing just one incandescent bulb with a comparable CFL will reduce about one-half ton of CO2 over the life of the bulb. If using CFLs became the lighting method of choice for the entire country, we could eliminate a large number of electric power plants and their toxic by-products.

While the news about switching to CFL lighting is nearly all-positive, there are a few drawbacks or limitations that should be mentioned. Not all CFLs are dimmable. This technology is fairly recent and the models that are available are therefore limited. Be sure to carefully check the package before purchasing a CFL that you intend to use with a dimmer or in a 3-way light. If you plan to purchase a CFL for use on a timer, be particularly careful in making your selection. While the standard CFL will function with a timer, its life will be considerably shorter.

Unfortunately nearly all CFLs are not as durable when they are frequently turned on and off. Consider where you plan to install CFLs and stick with an incandescent bulb if this is an issue (such as in closets, laundry rooms, etc.).

Many CFLs don’t produce their rated light level when used in an outdoor setting. The package should let you know if the CFL is suited for outdoor use.

CFLs are not designed to function as spotlights so if you have a need for accent lighting in your home or in a retail setting, it’s best to consider other alternative lighting.

Finally, CLFs contain small amounts of mercury, which is classified as a toxic material and may be released if the bulb is broken or when it is disposed of. Take care to observe local, state, and federal regulations with respect to the disposal of this toxic metal. If you happen to break a CFL use a wet rag and dispose of both the bag and the pieces in a tightly sealed plastic bag. Your local recycling center may accept this waste but if they don’t, use your local trash container making sure to cleanse your hands after disposal.

Under no circumstances, send the waste material to an incinerator because it will simply release the mercury into the atmosphere.

Some final words about CFLs:

These fixtures are available in a wide variety of sizes, styles and shapes and have from two to six tubes. Some CFLs have the ballast permanently fixed and must be replaced as a unit while others have a separate bulb and fixture which permits you to replace just the bulb.

These CFLs are available with standard sockets, which are easily installed, in most household fixtures:

Triple tube lamps provide greater lighting in small areas using shorter bulbs. These lamps are ideal for table and reading lamps as well as for open hanging lamps. Spiral lamps are just as described and are typically used as replacements for incandescent light bulbs. Globe lamps look like standard incandescent bulbs and have a diffuser that will provide a soft and pleasing light. Globe lamps are typically used on bathroom vanities and add the benefit of reducing the heat in this area, which is usually lighted by multiple bulbs. Flood lamps are designed for track and recessed lighting and can generally be used both indoors and outdoors. They provide a soft light, which is diffused and generates considerably less heat than their incandescent counterparts. Candelabra style CFLs are screw-in fixtures that have a small base designed primarily for chandeliers. Socket reducers, available at most hardware stores, may be needed to adapt these bulbs to certain chandeliers and sconces.

While the majority of this article focuses on the benefits of CFL lighting, another light source is becoming more and more popular. I’m talking about natural sunlight. Some DIY will consider installing a skylight(s) a major project and for the most part, they are correct. However, when considering new construction, skylights are certainly an option to seriously consider. While they may be somewhat more expensive to install, they will more than make up the additional cost over the years in reduced electrical bills. If you decide to tackle the job yourself, be sure that the skylight is a tight fit and well caulked.

Finally, and beyond the scope of an extensive discussion in this article, solar panels (depending on where you live) can provide significant a significant savings in your electrical costs. The models and options available in solar panels have significantly increased over the years and there are models available that will fit just about anyone’s budget. There are some state and federal programs that provide financial incentives for homeowners considering solar panels and I suggest you look into these.

I hope the information in this brief article has been useful and will prove beneficial to you as you continue to look for better and more economical ways to light your part of the world.