The Energy Star LED Difference

December 15, 2014
January/February 2015
This online-only article is a supplement to the January/February 2015 print edition of Home Energy Magazine.
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In early 2013, EPA challenged retailers to sell 20 million Energy Star-certified LED lightbulbs by Earth Day 2014. The results are in, and U.S. retailers—with the help of manufacturers and utilities—more than exceeded the goal. In fact, they sold enough efficient Energy Star bulbs to save Americans more than $118 million each year in energy costs and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of 150,000 vehicles.

“EPA congratulates the many retailers, manufacturers, and utility efficiency programs who contributed to a cleaner environment by helping to reach this goal,” says Ann Bailey, Energy Star Labeling Branch director. “Together with our partners, we are excited about the potential to fundamentally change the way Americans light their homes with Energy Star LED lighting.”

Over the year between Earth Day 2013 and Earth Day 2014, retailers from across the country participated in the challenge, including Ace Hardware, Best Buy, Costco, Lowe’s, Metro Lighting,, and The Home Depot, in addition to various electrical distributors and online retailers. They educated consumers about the benefits of Energy Star-certified LEDs, promoting their attributes in circulars, online, and with in-store displays. In addition, utility rebates helped to price these bulbs competitively, making them a real option for the average consumer. While reported sales met the 20-million bulb challenge, EPA estimates that total sales of Energy Star-certified LEDs topped 45 million last year.

Figure 1. Energy Star bulbs are available in a variety of light colors, so you can find the right bulb for the way it functions in the home.

Figure 2. As more people make the switch to energy-efficient lighting, it makes a big impact on our total energy use and carbon emissions.

Promoting LED bulbs that have earned the Energy Star is a priority for retailers who want to give customers the very best LED bulb experience. Serving as a government-backed seal of approval, the Energy Star label indicates that the bulb has been independently certified, has undergone extensive testing to ensure that it performs as promised, and delivers the brightness levels and light distribution of traditional bulbs.

The rapid advancement of LED technology and competition among manufacturers and retailers has led to significant decreases in the price of LED bulbs over the last several years. At some stores you can now buy an Energy Star LED bulb for as little as $5 with in-store rebates.

Why Energy Star?

Just like early CFLs, LED technology has its challenges—in particular limitations affecting brightness and light distribution. The truth is, not all LED lighting is created equal. Bad design can lead to a wide range of problems, some immediately observable and some not. Poorly designed products often come with exaggerated claims, while failing to deliver on quality.

Energy Star LED bulbs are verified against more than 20 separate industry standards and procedures. These include rapidly cycling bulbs thousands of times to find early failures, and testing to stress bulbs in operating environments similar to those in your home. Energy Star-certified LED bulbs are put through rigorous long-term testing to simulate real-life use and carry a minimum three-year warranty. One LED bulb can last more than 20 years! All Energy Star-certified bulbs must indicate on the front of the package whether or not they are dimmable. If they are, a list of compatible dimmers must be provided.

Color quality. Energy Star-certified LED bulbs have to meet strict color performance requirements, proving they can deliver high-quality, consistent color up front and over time (see Figure 1). These requirements cover everything from color consistency and uniformity to color fidelity, and even a requirement to make sure skin tones and reds appear natural. Energy Star bulbs are available in a variety of light colors, so you can find the right mood or look for the space and for the way the bulb functions in the space.

Efficiency. LED bulbs use light-emitting diodes to produce light very efficiently. The movement of electrons through a semiconductor material illuminates the tiny light sources we call LEDs. In a well-designed product, a small amount of heat is released backward into a heat sink; LEDs are basically cool to the touch (unlike standard incandescent bulbs, which release 90% of their energy as heat).

learn more

Get more information about Energy Star-certified lightbulbs and where to find them.

Learn more about Energy Star-certified light fixtures.

To help promote Energy Star LEDs to your customers, Energy Star has developed a fun series of videos that highlight the advantages of Energy Star LED lighting. See The Gallery of Dim Bulbs.

Download an embeddable Lighting Made Easy infographic.

The author stars in a lighting "Ask the Expert" video. This link is also available on our main LED page.

Many people associate the wattage listed on the box with the brightness of the bulb. But as lightbulbs get more efficient, they use fewer watts to produce the same amount of light. To save energy and money, consumers should identify the amount of lumens they need for the fixture, and then choose the bulb with the lowest wattage. The old 100W bulbs put out about 1,600 lumens, while the latest Energy Star-certified LED bulb can do the same using only 16 watts. The old 60W watt bulbs put out 800 lumens; an Energy Star bulb can do the same with only 10 watts.

Light distribution. Incandescent and CFL bulbs emit light in all directions. LEDs are directional light sources that emit light in a specific direction, and sophisticated engineering is needed to produce an LED bulb that shines light all around like a traditional incandescent bulb.

LED bulbs that have earned the Energy Star are subject to very specific requirements designed to replicate the experience you are used to with a standard incandescent bulb, so they can be used for a wide variety of applications. A general-purpose LED bulb that does not qualify for the Energy Star may not distribute light in all directions. Light that shoots straight up and not down could prove to be a disappointment if you try to use the bulb in a table lamp.

The Simple Choice with a Big Impact

No matter what the technology, bulbs and fixtures with the Energy Star label meet strict guidelines for efficiency and performance that set them apart. Making the switch to energy-efficient lighting is a simple choice with a big impact (see Figure 2). If every household replaced just one incandescent light bulb with a CFL or LED bulb that has earned the Energy Star, we would save enough energy to light two million homes for a whole year, and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of 550,000 vehicles.

As lighting program manager for EPA's Energy Star program, Taylor Jantz-Sell works with leading manufacturers, retailers, and efficiency programs to promote and advance the adoption of Energy Star-certified lighting products.

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