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Energy Efficient Lighting 101

One hundred and thirty-two years after its invention, new energy-saving standards for the light bulb have finally arrived!

In mid-July, the GOP failed in its attempts to repeal legislation passed in 2007 that will require all new bulbs to use at least 27 percent less energy than standard incandescent light bulbs. Thanks to the 233-193 vote, the bill will still go into effect next year and will gradually phase out 100-, 75-, 60- and 40-watt incandescent bulbs by 2014. In 2020, a second, more stringent set of standards will require all bulbs to be at least 60 percent more efficient.

Supporters say that when the bill goes into full effect, it will save Americans over $12 billion in energy costs every year. Rather than forcing consumers to purchase a certain type of bulb, as many Republican opponents claimed, the bill will instead give shoppers a choice between compact fluorescent bulbs, LED bulbs and other energy-efficient incandescent options such as halogens.

In anticipation of this market change, it's helpful to become better acquainted with each of these lighting options so you can choose the one that makes the most sense for your living space and your budget.

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs: Affectionately referred to as the CFL, this light bulb eliminates the filament and tungsten that make incandescent bulbs so inefficient and unpredictable. CFLs produce very little heat and have a projected lifespan of 10,000 hours, compared to the traditional bulb's 1,200 hours. Most CFL's can be identified by their curly spiral design, but as the industry matures, new designs are hitting the shelves. Instead of only offering the harsh light of a fluorescent bulb, new shapes and wattages have become available, including a warm, white light option and dimmable varieties that are more desirable for interior lighting. The only drawback of the CFL is that it does contain traces of mercury (as do incandescent) making them hard to dispose of properly. Average cost per bulb: $3.40

LED Bulbs: With no filament and a low burning temperature, many consider the Light Emitting Diode to be the bulb of the future. Although early LEDs didn't have a high enough light output (lumen) to replace incandescent bulbs, the technology is advancing rapidly. While perfect for outdoor lighting, LEDs are also great for down lighting in large spaces, like a living room or office. And with burning time of 50,000 hours, LEDs can cost over $500 less than an incandescent bulb over its lifespan. Average cost per bulb: $20

Halogen Bulbs: Like its distant cousin the incandescent bulb, the halogen also uses tungsten and a filament. The difference is the halogen contains a gas that removes the tungsten from the walls of the bulb and deposits it back onto the filament, thus extending the life of the bulb. Although the halogen is more efficient than an incandescent bulb, the smaller bulb design means that it becomes extremely hot while switched on and can be a fire hazard. The average halogen bulb has a projected lifespan of 3,500 hours. Average price per bulb: $10 - $25

Flipping the Switch

If you're planning a remodel project in your home and want to increase efficiency, it's a good idea to discuss energy efficient lighting options with your designer and contractor. Think about the size of the room and the type of activities that are conducted there.

If a completely new lighting system isn't in your budget, simply wait for an incandescent bulb to burn out, and then replace it with a CFL. Replacing bulbs one at a time will be easier on your wallet but will allow you to experiment with brands and wattages so that you achieve the best lighting for your home.

Beth Buczynski is a freelance copy writer and environmental blogger. She holds a Master's in Public Communication and Technology with specialization in Environmental Communication from Colorado State University, and is passionate about leaving this planet in better shape than she found it.


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