With new federal regulations in place, now is the time to look at your lighting options
During the winter it seems the lights are on at home way more than they are switched off. It’s just a byproduct of our gloomy, cold-weather climate. Ultimately, this results in higher electricity consumption because we depend on artificial lighting more than in other seasons.
Until not long ago, our best bet to light our homes were CFLs, a.k.a. compact fluorescent lamps, the “energy saver” white ones that became popular in the past few years. However, the promise of a “greener” way of lighting wasn’t completely true.
CFLs contain mercury, and disposing of these bulbs incorrectly can ultimately hurt the environment and our health, says Dr. Charles T. Driscoll, director of the Center for Environmental Systems Engineering at Syracuse University. So, while these bulbs solve a problem by consuming less electricity, they cause another problem by releasing mercury to the atmosphere.
So now what can you do? The first thing you need to do is make sure you are disposing of your CFLs correctly; do not throw these bulbs into your regular trashcan. Driscoll says the best way to go is to set them aside and take them to the nearest disposal center that accepts CFLs.
Earth911.com is a great website to find the right recycling centers for the specific product you want to dispose of according to your zip code. If one of your compact fluorescent lamps breaks, don’t panic. According to Driscoll, the mercury concentration in a CFL doesn’t present a hazard in a random household situation. However, it’s a good idea to open your windows for a few minutes, collect the debris and recycle it.
The next step you can take is to embrace new technologies. The federal government has forced consumers’ hands when it comes to light bulbs, but fortunately it’s not difficult to make the switch. Before you begin considering your options, here’s a quick review of how the new regulations will work:
• As of the new year, incandescent, or traditional, 100-watt light bulbs for general purpose, household shape lamps are no longer available in stores. Retailers will be able to sell off any existing inventory, but the traditional 100-watt incandescent bulbs will not be replaced on the shelf.
• Incandescent 75-watt light bulbs will be unavailable in 2013.
• Incandescent 40-watt and 60-watt light bulbs will be phased out in 2014.
As these rules phase in gradually, it’s a great time to educate yourself on the different types of energy-efficient light bulbs available. As we transition away from incandescent bulbs, the lingo used to describe the brightness of the bulbs is changing. We’ve become accustomed to identifying the brightness of a light bulb by the amount of power—watts—it uses. However, more efficient light bulbs emit the same amount of light—measured in lumens—while using less electricity.
For example, the following light bulbs all produce roughly the same amount of light (450 lumens): 40-watt incandescent, 29-watt halogen, 11-watt compact fluorescent (CFL) and 9-watt LED (light-emitting diode). It’s still important to pay attention to wattage to make sure you don’t exceed the recommended level for your lamp, but it’s increasingly unlikely that you’ll exceed that level as you purchase more efficient bulbs.
In addition to the aforementioned CFLs, you can consider transitioning to two other types of bulbs.
Halogen: These bulbs use the same technology as incandescent bulbs but last up to three times longer and are about 50 percent more efficient. Halogens are known for producing the highest-quality light but aren’t as efficient as CFLs. When changing halogens, you’ll want to make sure you use a cloth because oil from your skin can reduce the bulb’s longevity.
LED: The industry’s first Energy Star-qualified LED bulb has been available since last year, the GE Energy Smart 9-watt LED light bulb. LED bulbs take the efficiency and durability of CFLs even further, as this bulb is rated to last more than 22 years and uses slightly less energy than a CFL bulb that also produces 450 lumens.
LEDs promise the longest durability with the lowest electricity consumption, according to Paul Mahaney, president of the Syracuse chapter of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. However, what it doesn’t promise just yet is a competitive price. A first generation of LED bulbs can already be found in some stores for approximately $40.
The good thing is that these bulbs can potentially last forever, according to Mahaney. “The useful light out of them is around 40,000 to 50,000 hours,” he says, “for the standard screw-in type CFL is approximately 10,000 hours.”
While LEDs are expensive now, both Mahaney and Driscoll believe that in a few years this will change. “As they get more and more used,” Driscoll predicts, “the idea is that the price will come down the same way it did with compact fluorescents as they manufacture them more and more.”
So, you can start incorporating LED bulbs as your current ones burn out (don’t forget to recycle them) and work your way to a greener, cheaper—in the long run—and safer lighting at home.
—ARA Content contributed to this article.