Monday, October 15, 2012

A Bright Idea

Doing your part for the environment can be as simple as changing a light bulb.

by Jeana Malcolm

Lighting represents twenty percent of energy costs in a typical home, so choosing the right kind of lighting can make a big impact  for both the environment and your pocketbook.   If your home is full of traditional incandescent bulbs, consider switching all of them out for some of the newer, more energy efficient types of light bulbs, such as compact fluorescent, light emitting diode and halogen bulbs.  Here's a comparison of each type of bulb to help you choose which types of bulbs you want to use in yor home, and where:

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs):   These are great general-purpose bulbs for your home, and they come in a variety of strengths and colors; some can even be used for 3-way or dimmable lighting (just be sure these usages are specified on the package).  These bulbs use a smaller wattage to produce equivalent brightness, measured in lumens, to incandescent bulbs.  For example, a 13-watt CFL bulb produces 800 lumens, the same as a 60-watt incandescent.  In addition to using much less energy to produce the same light, CFLs also have a significantly longer lifespan, some of them lasting up to 15,000 hours compared to a mere thousand hours in an incandescent bulb.  To ensure that your CFLs last as long as possible, be sure to install them only in open fixtures and in locations where lights will be turned on fairly often and for longer chunks of time (hall  and closet lights, for example, are not the best places for CFLs as they are used for infrequent, short bursts, which diminishes a CFL's lifespan).  And finally, when your CFL finally does burn out, it is important to recycle it, as these bulbs contain small amounts of mercury and should not be disposed of in landfills.  Visit this link to find your nearest CFL recycling drop-off.

Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs):  Another great general-use bulb, a well-designed LED can be significantly better in both efficiency and lifespan than even a CFL.  An LED producing 800 lumens would use only 6-8 watts and can last up to 25,000 hours, or about 12 years!  As with CFLs, you can purchase LEDs to be compatible with 3-way and dimmable lighting.  Additionally, these bulbs are not affected by short on-off bursts as CFLs are, so they can be used just about anywhere, and do not contain any mercury.  Not all LEDs are created equal, however, so look for an Energy Star label on the packaging to ensure the maximum efficiency and lifespan of your bulbs.  The only real downside to these bulbs is the up-front cost, ranging from $20-$50 per bulb.  But the long-term energy savings are significant.

Halogen Bulbs:  If you're looking for a relatively inexpensive bulb that's more efficient than an incandescent but you don't want to use a CFL for whatever reason (such as for use in a closet or if you simply want to avoid mercury), then halogens may be the right choice for you.  An 800-lumen halogen bulb will use about 40 watts and will last around 3000 hours, or 3 times as long as a traditional incandescent bulb.  

In sum, here's a handy chart comparing energy usage, lifespan, and cost of all of these different bulbs, based on 800 lumens, or a standard 60-watt incandescent bulb:

Lifespan (Hours)
Up to 1,000
Up to 15,000
Up to 25,000
Up to 3,000
Cost per Bulb


1 comment:

  1. While compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are more efficient than incandescents, it’s important to remember that they also contain mercury. To prevent mercury vapor exposure, used fluorescent tube-style lamps and CFLs should be safely recycled, as exposure to mercury vapors can lead to significant health risks, including neurological damage. Despite the potential health issues, fluorescent lamps and CFLs are growing steadily in the industrial, commercial and residential markets. They are four to six times more efficient than incandescent bulbs, offer energy cost savings and deliver a longer working life. In order to safely dispose of and recycle used fluorescent lamps and CFLs, they must be properly packaged in an effective mercury-safe storage or shipping container that includes an adsorbent technology.

    A study by Nucon International, Inc., a world-wide leader in providing gas, vapor and liquid phase adsorption solutions for mercury and other contaminants to the nuclear and other industries, found that within mercury-specific packaging with broken lamps inside, vapor levels can reach over 150 to 300 times OSHA’s 8-hour permissible exposure limit. A new, patent-pending adsorbent technology, recently announced at the Air & Waste Management Association’s Conference & Exhibition, can significantly reduce the mercury vapor levels in these storage and recycling packages. Levels were reduced by nearly 60 percent in only 15 minutes and over 95 percent after 12 hours, according to the study. The adsorbent pad is impregnated with powdered, activated carbon and reacted with proprietary inert chemicals, allowing it to effectively capture and reduce the mercury vapor from shattered lamps to a safe level within the shipping and storage package. In addition, the adsorbent can accommodate the high volume of mercury vapor that is released when several or all bulbs in a full package are broken. This provides an added layer of protection against incidental mercury exposure, offering consumers and other handlers a safer way to recycle their used fluorescent lamps and CFLs. A small consumer-size recycling bag, now available, also features this technology and allows people to safely store three to four used CFLs at home before taking them to a retailer or municipality that accepts CFLs for recycling. This bag can also be used to help clean up broken CFLs following EPA instructions printed on the bag.
    View a short animated depiction of the adsorption process at

    Download a detailed White Paper on this technology at

    Purchase consumer CFL recycling bags at