Shedding Light on Energy-Saving Bulb Options

There's a light bulb revolution going on, and it makes Thomas Edison's ingenious hundred-year-old invention look almost crude.

Edison was never concerned with how much energy his incandescent bulb consumed. But today's economic and environmental issues force us to look at energy consumption more critically.

Incandescent literally means “to give off light as a result of being heated.” With standard lightbulbs, typically only 10 percent of the energy consumed is converted to light, while 90 percent is given off as heat.

New technologies today improve on the energy efficiency of Edison’s invention. You'll pay more up front for the new energy-efficient light bulbs than for standard bulbs, they pay off in energy savings. You may even replace regular bulbs that haven’t burned out yet.

The newer bulbs available today also last much longer, saving you even more money.

“Energy-Saving” Incandescent Lights?
Inside an incandescent light is a filament that is heated, giving off light in the process. The filament is delicate and eventually burns out. Some incandescents incorporate heavy-duty filaments or introduce special gases into the bulb to increase life. While this does not increase efficiency, it can make the bulb last up to four times longer.

Most manufacturers are now offering “energy-saving” incandescent bulbs. These are nothing more than lower-wattage bulbs that are marketed as having “essentially the same light output as . . .” In fact, General Electric lost a multi-million-dollar lawsuit relating to this very issue.

A 52-watt incandescent bulb does not emit the same amount of light as a 60-watt bulb. An “energy-saving” incandescent bulb will use less power, true, but it will also give you less light. This specious advertising claim is just a mega-corporation excuse to avoid retooling by selling you a wimpier light bulb at a higher price. Don’t be hoodwinked; you can do much better.

Quartz-Halogen Lights Are a Good Start
Tungsten-halogen (or quartz) lamps are really just “turbocharged” incandescents. They are typically only 10 to 15 percent more efficient than standard incandescents; a step in the right direction, but nothing to write home about.

Compared to standard incandescents, halogen fixtures produce a brighter, whiter light and are more energy-efficient because they operate their tungsten filaments at higher temperatures than standard incandescents. In addition, unlike the standard incandescent lightbulb, which loses approximately 25 percent of its light output before it burns out, a halogen light’s output depreciates very little over its life, typically less than 10 percent.

Go Further with Compact Fluorescents
Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are the most efficient lighting option on the market today — putting out considerably more light per watt than incandescents. For example, a 15-watt CFL puts out the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb, and a 20-watt CFL equals a 75-watt incandescent. What’s more CFLs cost 75 percent less to run and last 10 to 20 years longer than incandescents.

A single CFL will typically save you its cost plus another $20-$30 in energy costs over its lifetime. It’s a simple yet significant way to help save the planet while you save on utilities. In fact, according to the Solar Lobby, if every home in the U.S. installed just four compact fluorescent bulbs, we would save the same amount of electricity that’s produced by the six largest nuclear power plants.

That same bulb will save 630 lbs. of coal from being burned or 51 gallons of oil. It will prevent 1,072 lbs. of carbon dioxide, 7.8 lbs. of acid rain and 4.1 lbs. of smog from going into the atmosphere. So switch to CFLs, and see how saving money and energy is as easy as changing a light bulb.

“Nothing beats a CFL for lumens per watt; it’s the best in terms of energy efficiency and for fully lighting a space,” says Giebler.

LEDs are best for specific applications such as reading lamps, task lighting and small areas, he adds. A 3-watt LED makes a perfect porch light, for example. While the light is bright enough to mark your house, the low output reduces light pollution.

An LED light also runs in very cold temperatures (unlike CFLs) and uses a third of the wattage of even the smallest CFL.

Try LEDs for task lighting and porches
LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, use a third of the wattage of even the smallest CFL. LEDs also last even longer than CFLs (up to 10 times longer) and contain no mercury. Like CFLs, they also run much cooler than incandescents. LEDs are common in electronics and in gadgets such as headlamps made for camping.

But when it comes to household lighting, there's a reason CFLs are now ubiquitous while LEDs remain a lesser-known alternative: "Nothing beats a CFL for lumens per watt," says Giebler. "It’s the best for getting energy efficiency while also fully lighting a space."

Using LEDs in household lighting fixtures is still a novel concept — but Giebler says LEDs are the best type of bulb out there for reading lamps, task lighting and small areas. He says a 3-watt LED makes a perfect porch light. The light is bright enough to mark your house, yet the low output reduces light pollution. And LEDs run fine in very cold temperatures, unlike CFLs.


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Debbie421's picture
User offline. Last seen 9 years 3 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 07/09/2007

Why doesn't anyone talk about the Mercury in the CFLs? What happens if you break one? You have to pay thousands for clean up. How do you dispose of them?

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