Advanced Energy Efficiency & Environmental Quality


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Energy Efficient Lighting

I. Overview: How many people does it take to switch a bulb? One. (You).

Incandescents are the bulbs we have always known. They are the "I have an idea" shaped bulbs from cartoons, and they are cartoonishly wasteful. Incandescents use most of the electricity they draw to produce heat (perfect for warming up lampshades). And they are short-lived, requiring constant replacement and generating trash. Once upon a time, homeowners could argue that efficient bulbs cost too much, and it was worth clinging to incandescents. If that was ever true, however, it isn't any longer. Energy efficient light bulbs are less expensive than ever, provide superior light quality, and quickly pay for themselves in energy savings and reduced replacement. And think on this:

If every home in America replaced just one incandescent bulb with an energy star qualified CFL, in one year it would save enough electricity to light 3 million homes. That would prevent the emission of greenhouse gas emissions equal to that of 800,00 cars.

One bulb. The only question is, which bulb is for you?

II: The Basics: What are your options?

The good news is that moving to efficient bulbs has never been easier. LED lights (Light Emitting Diodes) are increasingly affordable and flexible. We firmly believe that these incredibly efficient and technologically superior lights will be the lighting choice of the future. In the meantime, CFL (compact florescent lights) are meeting an immediate need for energy effiicent lighting in a wide variety of settings. CFLs are designed to fit into the same light sockets as incandescent bulbs, and they have come a long way from the slow-building, flickering, then blinding CFLs of the past. Many emit the warm light we prefer in our homes. In fact, some experts compare the soft warm light of CFLs to morning sunlight. (The warmest light is that of a candle, which matches sunrise or sunset). And with the benefit of dimmable technology, we can use them anywhere we used to use incandescents. We love them because they last a long time, and they're a very easy way to save money on your utility bill. In addition to indoor spiral bulbs, CFLs are available in a traditional bulb shape, and in reflectors.

Here's the low down on the lights currently within reach:

1. Compact Florescent Lights (CFLs) - Cool, efficient, and increasingly soft, light.

How they work: The base of a CFL is a ballast that generates an electric charge that flows through the gas filled tube. Those gases emit UV, which excites a coating of phosphor (a substance that glows when exposed to UV) inside the tube, which emits visible light. This chemical process creates lots of light but very little heat. Mercury is one of the substances needed to make CFLs work, and it is present in the tube in vapor form. Manufacturers have been working to lower the amount of mercury needed, and today, many bulbs contain a fraction the amount of mercury found just a few years ago. When buying CFLs, make sure always to look for the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to ensure that the ballast has been properly fireproofed.

2. Dimmable CFLs - energy efficiency in mood lighting, with some limits, and lots of benefits.

How they work: Dimmable CFLs have continued to evolve. The technology used to dim incandescents doesn't have a flawless application to CFL bulbs, but recent changes to the circuitry in the ballast has enabled dimmable CFLs to operate in the range of 20-80% brightness. You will find that dimmable bulbs work best when paired with switches specifically designed for CFLs. At full power, dimmable CFL bulbs burn as brightly as non-dimming bulbs.

3. LED Lights - the promise of the future. Incredible lifespan, steadily improving light.

LED stands for "light emitting diode." LED bulbs don't have a filament to burn out and don't create much heat, which accounts for lifespans many times that of other bulbs. They also use a fraction of the electricity. For a long time, the only LED light most of us were familiar with was the little red light on the front of TV sets. But we think that LEDs may well be the future of energy efficient lighting. Already, LEDs are the most efficient lighting on the market. Prices for LED lights have been dropping over the past decade as the cost of their materials has dropped. The demand for high efficiency lighting has also spurred development of newer, cheaper materials and manufacturing processes.

The future of better, safer, more environmentally sound lighting is developing before our eyes. Already, the ROI (return on investment) for LEDs is gaining ground, in part because they last so long, seldom needing replacement, and in part because they burn cool, so that they do not create other problems in the house. Happily LED lights are increasingly available for a wide range of applications, including dimmables and recessed lighting. This is a category to watch. Check back with us for updates.

In the mean time, the Cree LR6 Downlight Module is available, ready to use now, and the most practical LED fixture we've found.

III: Taking it on: Bringing the light of efficiency home.

Whether you are starting from scratch or retrofitting existing lighting, we cannot emphasize enough the benefits of doing it right the first time. Bear in mind that what seems expensive today (for example, installing LED potlights) is likely to save you money in the long run. If you're not sure, please take a minute and watch our inter-connected house video.

If you are simply replacing existing incandescent bulbs, know that you are making the right choice when you buy energy efficient bulbs. They will (and this is a promise) save you money, time, and aggravation. Surely we are not alone in our distate for hauling home bags of fragile light bulbs or standing on chairs to screw them in. Incandescents simply cannot match CFLs, and the gap in light quality is closing rapidly. As technology improves and develops, we will keep you up to speed.

In the meantime, check out our environmentally packaged bulbs, order a bunch, and look at our lighting fixtures, too. As efficient lighting improves, we are finding that this is one sphere where we really can have it all: Camera (-ready savings), light (the way we want it), and action (that saves the environment).