Bright Ideas for Home Lighting

A bright idea for home lighting is changing your light bulbs, an effective step you can take to reduce your electric bill and the greenhouse gases emitted by creating electricity.

| April/May 2007


Replacing just one incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent will save you about $30 in electric bills over the life of the bulb and prevent about 500 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.


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. 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.

But there are other options to consider. In fact, 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 superefficient light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs; and simple strategies for using less electricity and bringing in more natural light. Here’s how to start finding the best lights for your home.

The Power of Fluorescent Lights

One energy-efficient option is standard fluorescent lights: These familiar long, thin tubes illuminate large spaces, from kitchens and garages to classrooms and office buildings. Fluorescents are more efficient than incandescent bulbs, which produce light by heating a metal filament, and therefore waste 90 percent of their energy as heat. Instead, fluorescent bulbs produce light through a chemical reaction. But fluorescents didn’t fit into most home light fixtures until 1979, when manufacturers added a twist.

The compact fluorescent 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 are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs.

“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,” says Wendy Reed, communications manager for the U.S. government’s Energy Star program, which promotes energy efficiency. The Energy Star program also estimates that replacing a single incandescent bulb with a CFL prevents nearly 500 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

And the savings start right away. Gary Reysa, a retired engineer and the author of our recent cover story “Build a Simple Solar Heater” (December/January 2007), calculated the money and energy he saved at home by switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs. When he bought 29 compact fluorescents, he spent a total of $50 on bulbs and expects to save $1,784 over 10 years. The cost of the bulbs (usually about $2 to $3 for a standard CFL) would have been a bit higher, but his local utility offered a rebate. In fact, many electric utilities offer rebates on these bulbs, so check with yours for details.

bob taylor_2
7/24/2009 10:48:09 AM

Years ago we installed dimmer switches in many of our lights. We like to be able to lower the lighting level and the bulbs last much longer. We have replaced all our on/off lights with CFLs but I have not found a good dimmable CFL. Is there one out there? Thanks, Bob

5/28/2007 8:53:32 AM

Our family is very conscious of trying to be environmentally friendly. We just purchased 10 new CFL bulbs for our home. The cost was almost $50. I cold have purchased the same amount of incadencent bulbs for $6.65 but we are willing to test the products. I will report our evaluation of both the energy savings and how well they work/last at regular intervals to MEN.

5/14/2007 12:09:26 PM

I have heard some interesting things about the CFL. Did you know that every bulb contains mercury, and if one is broken clean up can be very costly. How are they to be disposed of, I would say most people are not aware of the mercury content in these bulbs and most of them will end up in the landfills where they will break. Where does that Mercury then go... into the soil and natural water table. No CFL's are made in the U.S. the majority are made in China which is putting up coal burning factories at the rate of 1 per week, with NO restrictions on air pollution. Does it make sense to save a few bucks when you look at the big picture? By the way, California is trying to ban the incandescent bulb.

4/25/2007 6:53:13 PM

I find the bulbs work very well if you choose a higher wattage. If I am replacing a 75 watt incandescent I will use a 100w CFL. The only negative issue I see is the mercury content.

4/10/2007 11:37:09 AM

We switched to CFLs in our kitchen and it works well there, but I don't like the quality of the light. I find it harsh and unsettling. It's great for areas that are sort of 'work' areas, but for relaxing areas like the living room or bedroom, the light doesn't fit well. Is there a low-energy substitute that gives the warmth of incandescents? Also, the CFLs we have take some time to put their full strength when the house is cold. Since we keep our thermostat down, that's most of the winter.

4/3/2007 2:35:59 PM

1st: Flourscent light give me a headache - for that reason switching is a problem. 2nd: Why conserve (yes i agree conserving is important but) when we consumers use less of utilities over an extended period of time, the providing companies start whining about not raking in the $50 mil in profits per person they are used to getting so they double, quadruple the cost of ther product so they can continue milking the public for their fat wallets. Why should I pay 4x as much for using 1/2 as much product??? If I'm conserving the materials i use then my finances should be in equal proportion, not less! -- when you don't buy a product in a store or cars don't sell, they don't raise the price - they drop it - utilities should function the same way! Yes, there is exaggeration above, but I'm sure everyone will understan the point.

4/3/2007 10:14:12 AM

I'm so sorry to hear about Rick's situation. My experience has been the complete opposite. I recently changed the lights in my house to CFLs and LOVE THEM! The cost was a bit prohibitive, but I asked for bulbs for Christmas and was able to finish the job. I've had no failures and definitely saw an improvement in my electricity bill. I recommend them to anyone.

3/31/2007 10:26:16 AM

Thanks for a great article. How does low-voltage lighting fit into the picture? I would love to see the grid on "How much cash do light bulbs burn" be extended with a low voltage option. I am building several small cabins and could easily conver the entire cabin to low voltage if that was more effecient. thanks! Michel

3/31/2007 9:40:44 AM

I have to admit my interest in fluorescents is purely economical. I like the light fluorescents emit but my wife likes the light from incandescent bulbs better. She also likes the price of incandescent bulbs better. So, after much discussion about how fluorescents are more economical in the long run and with the help of some coupons my wife conceded and we bought a dozen fluorescents. My wife was actually impressed with how much the light quality improved since the last time I bravely inserted one in one of her beloved lamps. However, both of us quickly started becoming discouraged as we watched each lamp fail. Our dozen bulbs lasted no longer than a few months. Our five-year guarantee was over in as many months. This has been a recurring problem for as long as I have given fluorescents chance after chance. Unless the quality can significantly improve the general public is going to quickly become discouraged at this new technology in lighting. It is much too early to be promoting fluorescents as one of the magical cures to our Greenhouse problems. I’ll buy one more bulb and if it lives up to expectations I’ll buy another bulb. If it gives me more than a few months service I’ll buy another.

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