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New Energy-Saving Bulbs Are Coming -- Here's How You Find the Right Ones for Your Home

Posted by Noah Horowitz on December 13, 2011
New Energy-Saving Bulbs Are Coming -- Here's How You Find the Right Ones for Your Home

Come January 1st, a new light bulb standard goes into effect that gradually phase out the 125-year-old inefficient incandescent bulbs. The old 100W bulb as we used to know it will go away in 2012 and be replaced by more efficient incandescent bulbs as well as other energy saving bulbs such as CFLs and LEDs. The old 75W incandescents will be phased out in 2013 and the 60 and 40W bulbs in 2014.
 
Back in 2007, these standards were signed into law by President Bush with broad bipartisan support and will require new bulbs to be roughly 30% more energy efficient. These standards have huge benefits and will cut our nation’s electric bill by approximately $13 billion/year and eliminate the need for 30 large power plants.
 
Well guess what, January 1, 2012 is around the corner and there continues to be a lot of misinformation out there. Let me be clear: Consumers will continue to have an array of lighting choices, including new and improved incandescent bulbs. In an attempt to help consumers better prepare for this new standard and find the right energy saving bulbs for their home, I put together, in David Letterman style, a list of the “Top-5 Tips on How to Select the Right Energy Saving Bulbs.” So here it goes:
 
Tip number 5 for consumers to find the right energy saving bulbs is … Buy the bulb that gives off the amount of light you need.

In the past we all bought bulbs based on the amount of power it used.  We all got the call — “bring me home a pack of 100W bulbs from the hardware store.” While consumers were basing their bulb purchase on the amount of power it used, in reality they were trying to buy a certain amount of light and chose between the 40, 60, 75, or 100W incandescent bulb. Given the range of efficiencies the new bulbs provide, buying a bulb solely on the amount of power it uses no longer makes sense and we’ll have to shift to buying lumens. For example, a typical 60W light bulb produces around 800 lumens. The CFL that produces 800 lumens only uses 15W.  To help consumers during this transition, bulb packages will likely contain a claim like “as bright as a 60W bulb” or “15W = 60W” to indicate the bulb is a suitable replacement for your old 60W incandescent bulb.

(See chart above, right.)

Number 4: Buy the quality of light you are used to.
Most consumers are most familiar with and used to bulbs that are marketed as “warm white.”  CFLs and LEDs come in many flavors, some offer light that is similar to the slightly yellowish glow a “warm white” incandescent bulb provides while others offer “cooler” white light that is blueish/white in color. While numerous surveys show that more than 80% of consumers who use CFLs state that they are very happy with them, the reason that some are dissatisfied is likely because they bought the wrong one. When shopping for a CFL or LED, be sure to look for one marketed as warm white. Those marketed as cool white or day light have much different light color, which only a small minority of consumers prefer.
 
Number 3:  Not all bulbs are dimmable.
Most of the sockets in our home are not dimmable. Those sockets that are hooked up to a dimmer require a dimmable bulb. Please note, the typical CFL bulb does NOT dim and may fail prematurely if installed in a dimming circuit. For dimmable applications, use LEDs, the new energy saving incandescents or a CFL labeled as dimmable.
 
Number 2:  Downlights are different.
An increasingly popular type of fixture in our home are the circular downlights in our ceilings, also known as recessed cans. These are intended to use directional type bulbs designed to shine the light downwards. As such do NOT put in a regular pear shaped bulb or a spiral CFL bulb inside the recessed can. They will not shine the light where you want it. Instead select an LED, CFL or halogen reflector or flood light.
 
And tip number 1 for consumers looking for new energy saving light bulbs...   Energy efficient bulbs save a lot of money!  To make sure you get a good one only buy those with the ENERGY STAR label on them.

A typical CFL bulb will save a consumer $30 to $50 over its 6 year lifetime. LEDs are rated to last up to 25 years and will thus save consumers more than a hundred dollars over its lifetime.  The best bang for your buck today are CFLs as they typically cost less than $5 and can often be purchased in a multi-pack for less than $2  a bulb. Over time LED pricing will come down and become more affordable for the average consumer.
 
Also not all CFLs and LEDs are created equally. ENERGY STAR labeled products must meet detailed performance requirements and are subjected to independent testing to help ensure the super efficient bulb you are buying not only saves energy, but is also as bright as the bulb it claims to replace and  does not fail prematurely.
 
Now here are some of the best places to go for more info:

  • Sylvania Lighting has put together a great online guide that shows a photo of the old bulb you used to have and photos of the new bulb choices.
  • NRDC has published a light bulb buying guide that includes information on the cost and savings from each type of bulb.
  • A great light bulb finder smartphone app is available from the folks at Eco Hatchery. It helps a consumer select the right type of light bulb for a given application. It also provides the ability to directly order the bulbs, although the prices are much higher than those found at a big box retailer.
  • EPA also has a wonderful CFL buying guide.
  • DOE also has some great information on its website.
  • And finally, our friends at Consumer Reports recently wrote a wonderful story called Get Ready to Replace Your 100W Incandescent Bulb.

 

Noah Horowitz is an efficiency guru and a member of the Energy & Transportation program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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