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"Fall Back" into Energy-Saving Light Bulbs

Noah Horowitz

Posted October 30, 2013

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Thumbnail image for 39_light_bulbs.jpgThis Sunday (Nov. 3) most Americans will go through the annual ritual of changing clocks back an hour in preparation for winter’s gradually decreasing daylight, a period also referred to as “lighting season” because the shorter days mean we’ll be using more lights in our homes and businesses.

This time of year also provides a great opportunity to take another look at our lighting and to switch to some of the new and improved light bulbs that have recently entered the market. With more than 4 billion screw-based light bulb sockets in the United States, getting an efficient bulb into each one of them is really important because the potential energy savings are massive:

  • Once all sockets have a CFL (compact fluorescent) or LED (light-emitting diode) bulb in them, consumers will pay $13 billion less per year in their electric bills, and
  • We will save 30 large (and polluting) coal-burning power plants worth of electricity annually.

NRDC Lighting Buying Guide

U.S. lighting options have significantly improved in the past few years, thanks to the phase-out of old, inefficient incandescent bulbs and the introduction of lots of new energy-saving, innovative products. Here are some tips on how to take advantage of these improved options:

  • Take a look at NRDC’s updated Light Bulb Buying Guide, which provides information on the three main types of bulbs available today: new and improved incandescents (also called halogen incandescent or halogen), CFLs, and LEDs. The CFLs and LEDs are almost always your best bet because they use 75% less energy and last 10 and 25 times longer, respectively. That eliminates the hassle of frequent trips up the ladder to change bulbs, too.
  • The days of simply choosing between a 60- or 100-watt bulb are over! It’s more important today to make selections based on the amount of light bulbs provide (expressed in lumens), instead of just the amount of power they use. It might seem counter-intuitive but as the chart below illustrates, a 19-watt LED bulb shines as much light as a 72-watt halogen incandescent, while also saving you more than $10 per year compared to the old 100-watt bulb it replaces.
  • NRDC Lighting Buying Guide

LEDs are really coming on fast

While CFLs continue to have the lowest purchase cost of the energy efficient light bulb options, they have a few remaining challenges that LED bulbs have overcome.  Most notably, LED bulbs do not have the 1- to 3-minute run-up time to meet full brightness and many of the models are dimmable.  LEDs come in all shapes and flavors. Also a 60W replacement LED bulb now costs around $10 today compared to $25 to $40 just a couple of years ago. To ensure you have a good experience, we recommend:

a) Only buy LED bulbs with the ENERGY STAR® label – These bulbs will meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements for lifetime, efficiency, and other key performance criteria.

b) Buy the light color you prefer – If you want a bulb to have the same yellowish white color as your old incandescent, buy a bulb marketed as “warm white.” The Lighting Facts box on the back of the bulb packaging will list a color temperature of 2700K. If you prefer “cooler,” more bluish white-looking light, purchase a bulb marketed as “Daylight” with a higher color temperature of 4000K or even 5600K. Hint: Because this is a personal preference, consider trying one of each before switching out all your bulbs.

c) Put the right bulb in the right socket – Most new LED bulbs now look more like the old incandescent versions and can distribute light in all directions. But some designs, like the ones with a half dome on top that resemble a sno-cone, may not deliver enough light in the downward direction and would not be suitable in reading lamps. But you should choose a LED reflector bulb for recessed can or down lighting because it’s designed to produce a beam of downward light where you need it.


Want to learn more?

EPA has released a highly informative two-part podcast about lighting that includes the lighting buyer from Home Depot, a lighting designer, an expert from EPA, and me. In it, Mark from Home Depot provides perhaps the most practical advice of all:

Bring your old burnt-out bulb to the store so the clerk can help you find the new replacement bulb that will deliver the same amount and type of light – and is roughly the same size to fit your existing fixture.

So as you’re preparing to move the clock hands back an hour, consider that the end of “daylight savings time” doesn’t mean your savings have to end: today’s lighting options offer numerous ways to save energy and money, too.

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peter dublinOct 31 2013 10:53 AM

All lighting has advantages and disadvantages.

Energy saving -in usage - is only one advantage, and mandating lower energy use on a given product sacrifices on performance quality, construction appearance, and/or usability issues as well as on price.

Moreover overall energy and environmental advantages are questionable to say the least.

Light bulbs don't burn coal or release CO2 emissions.
Power plants might - and might not.
Old emission data is dug out and projected far into the future for big easily quotable supposed savings:
Ignoring EPA emission reduction mandates

Coal burning plants are not saved
- in fact coal itself is hardly saved!

Not just on the overall c.1% grid saving on Dept of Energy data
It takes 5 minutes to make a phone coal to nearest coal power plant, and how they work
Base load night cycle levels more than cover whatever light bulbs people are using, at time of low overall demand and main domestic lighting use (DEFRA, APTECH etc referenced).

Lowering coal plant levels "to account for incandescent savings" is not an option given minimal operative levels based on cost and wear and tear and slow stoking up to daytime use.

That is not all.
No consideration is given to life cycle factors and the whole issue of environmental sustainability:

Simple incandescent products easily locally made with little energy or emissions and if need be long lasting of at least 20 000 hours (as for mining industry etc, eg Aerotech 2 dollar 100W bulbs), without recycling requirement.
[ The 1000hr standard arose out of Philips-GE-Osram Phoebus market controlling cartel ]

Complex mercury using and/or rare earth mineral depleting patented CFL/LED alternatives that are less easily locally made and involve more mining, component manufacture, product assembly, and recycling when not dumped (referenced UC Davis Dept of Chemical engineering studies recommending LED recycling also on toxicity grounds).
In particular, all the extra transport use of energy and emissions in each of the above stages, including dirty bunker oil fueled ships bringing products or their parts from China.
In addition, an electricity usage that not only as mentioned is small and largely off-peak and therefore electricity that is available anyway - but also which, if emission-free, may actually lead to an increase in emissions with replacement bulbs and room heating from oil or other potentially pollutant sources, as referenced ( with different research studies.

The "green" choice is, at the least, open to debate.

As said - LEDs etc are useful too, I use them as well - but not for all situations.
It's like saying "Eat only bananas - and save money" - a money saving which only occurs with most commonly used bulbs in a reasonable timeframe anyway

14 points why switchover pushes and light bulb regulations make no sense

Audrey FischerNov 3 2013 11:52 AM

Avoid Blue Lights at Night.
When thinking lighting, also consider ways we can reduce harmful effects of light pollution. Many people do not know that the blue spectrum light should rarely be used outdoors, as it is very harmful to our environment, ecosystem and human health. Here is a quote and link to an excellent international study: "We recommend a total ban of the outdoor emission of light at wavelengths shorter than 540 nm to reduce the adverse health effects of decreased melatonin production and circadian rhythm disruption in humans and animals. " Falchi, F., et al., Limiting the impact of light pollution on human health, environment and stellar visibility, Journal of Environmental Management (2011), doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2011.06.029

When choosing color of light for indoors, it is useful to know that blue light indoors is beneficial during the day when sunlight is not possible, but everyone, except those who work the night shift*, should totally avoid/filter out all blue light at night, (including blue light emitted from computers). Bottom line: We need sunshine and blue light during the day... and dark nights for a human and environmental health. Use amber night lights where needed. We can't unplug all lights... but smart choices provide a healthier environment for our loved ones and the planet.

• Keep ALL outdoor lights aimed DOWN and out of the night sky.
• The MOST efficient light is one that's turned OFF.

*note to shiftworkers: The World Health Organization proclaimed shift work is a probable carcinogen due to exposure to light at night severely disrupts the human circadian and ability to produce essential melatonin, triggering higher rates of cancer of breast, prostate and colon. American Medical Association (2009) resolution states light pollution is a public health hazard.

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