I Need...Lighting (Beyond CFLs)

>> Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Compared to heating and cooling, lighting accounts for a small portion of electrical usage, yet it seems to be the aspect of home energy use that gets the most attention.

Watch Saturday morning cartoons and what will you learn about taking care of the planet? Recycle, turn off the water when brushing your teeth, and turn off the lights when you leave the room. Then there's the "Change a light bulb, save the world," campaign. At Raleigh's Earth Day Festival last Saturday, there was even a representative from Progress Energy dressed up like a compact fluorescent light bulb.

You know how Grist has been saying "Screw Earth Day"? Well, I love Earth Day, but I often feel like saying, "Screw CFLs."

I think compact fluorescent light bulbs are great. They're awesome, in fact. Just take a look at the results of my online home energy audit - I seem to be spending about 6% of my electric bill on lighting instead of the average 20%. (And that has to be due to using CFLs because Progress Energy didn't ask me anything about whether or not I turn off the lights when I leave the room.)

If you haven't changed your light bulbs yet, do it now. You have no excuse. By now, we all know better. But don't think that switching to compact fluorescents is going to save the earth.

I think maybe the designers of that campaign were hoping CFLs would be like a starter drug - people would change their light bulbs and then get hooked on saving energy. So as you're changing your light bulbs, think of it as a starting point and ask yourself, "Okay, what can I do now?"

And as you're pondering that question, here are some other ways to green your lighting:



  • LED fixtures last more than 20 years.
  • The lighting color from an LED is similar to an incandescent bulb, yet it doesn't get hot like an incandescent and uses 85% less energy.
  • Unlike compact fluorescents, LEDs do not contain mercury.
  • Affordability hasn't caught up with LED technology. LEDs are ex-pen-sive!
  • Currently, good affordable LED lights will not screw into a standard light fixture, but you can get recessed LED lighting.
Consider trying...LED Christmas lights

Motion-Sensor Lighting

  • Since these lights only come on when they detect motion, you save energy.
  • Motion-sensor lights are perfect for outdoors. Outdoor lighting contributes to light pollution and disrupts nocturnal wildlife. Also, motion-sensor lighting increases home security.
  • Motion-sensor lights can also be used in place of nightlights in hallways leading to bathrooms.
  • We tried motion-sensor lights in our old house on our front porch and in the stairwell, and it didn't work for us in either spot. Outside, the light worked if someone was approaching our front porch, but turned off as soon as they stepped onto the porch (so we were always fumbling to unlock the door in the dark). And the motion sensors were installed too high on the stairwells to detect our young children. But I consider these more as "lessons learned" than "reasons not to try."
Consider trying...motion sensors outdoors and as nightlights.

Solar Powered Lighting

  • Used to illuminate driveways and walkways, solar powered lights contain built-in photovoltaic cells that store energy from sunlight in rechargeable batteries so they can come on at night.
  • They require no wiring and are easy to move around.
  • They must have direct sunlight to work.
  • As I mentioned above, outdoor lighting contributes to night pollution and disrupts nocturnal wildlife.
  • I've read that the solar-powered lights don't last as long as conventional outdoor lighting, so they have to replaced more often, which doesn't sound like a good thing.
Consider trying...garden solar lights

Tips for the Budget Conscious
You should absolutely without a doubt switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. They are more expensive at the start, but you will recoup your money from savings on your energy bill within a year, and they should last up to six years. Where practical, you should also consider LEDs, and keep an eye on LED technology. I don't think it will be very long before compact fluorescents will be a thing of the past as we all switch to LEDs.

Where I'm At
Soon after we moved in, we replaced all of the light bulbs in our apartment with CFLs. But a funny thing about our apartment...None of the bedrooms have overhead lighting. They all have outlets that are wired to a light switch so you can plug a lamp into it, but we don't have any lamps so our bedrooms are always dark. That makes it really easy to remember to turn off the lights when we leave the room. :)

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