Green Lighting Guide: Light Bulbs 101
Gold Medal Service loves to share green tips and St. Patrick’s Day seems like the perfect time to share our green lighting guide. With a little luck of the Irish, the only pinching will come from penny pinching.
What is green lighting?
Lighting is important for every home and business. Not only does it provide comfort and aesthetics, it can also make us safer and more secure.
If you are interested in creating a more energy-efficient home, the perfect place to start is with your lighting. And we're not just talking about LEDs (light emitting diodes). There are a variety of energy-efficient lighting styles and functionalities available.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy [pdf], if every U.S. home replaced their 5 most used lights with ENERGY STAR-qualified bulbs, we could save around 8 billion dollars every year in energy costs and prevent the amount of greenhouse gases produced by ten millions cars on the road each year. At the individual level, changing 5 bulbs to ENERGY STAR saves around $150 every year.
By replacing your lighting with green lighting, not only will you save energy and money, these products are also designed to last around 6-20 times as long as traditional lighting.
If you are still using 60-watt incandescent bulbs, we don't blame you. Walking down the lighting aisle can overwhelm even an the most well-informed consumer. We're here to help relieve any confusion you may have so you can walk down the lighting aisle with confidence.
Always ask these questions before purchasing a new light fixture:
- Is it ENERGY STAR qualified?
- Will it accommodate different bulbs and beam spreads?
- Does it fit with the surrounding lighting and architecture?
- What is the main goal of the light (aesthetics, task, security, etc.) and does it solve the problem?
- Is the fixture available? Can it be ordered?
- Is it easy to find replacement bulbs?
If you are purchasing new fixtures, keep the main goal in mind. Is the main purpose to increase security, ambient lighting, task lighting, aesthetics, or something else?
We highly recommend speaking with a professional electrician about the different options available to you. You may not even realize what your options are.
Green Lighting - Light Bulbs 101
We're starting with the most popular and well-known type of light bulb. If you have incandescent lights around, you'll notice a tungsten filament inside the bulb that heats up to produce the desired light. The heated filament (around 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit) produces a warm, yellowish light.
Standard incandescent lights are very similar to the ones invented by Thomas Edison in the 1800s. Unfortunately, they are far from efficient, only converting around 5-10% of the energy they consume into light. The remaining 90% of the energy gets lost to heat. This may feel like an OK trade-off in the winter when you want heat in your home, but in the summer, your air conditioner will have work harder to dissipate the extra heat.
Halogen lights still use a tungsten filament, but it is surrounded by a small amount of halogen gas (contained in a quartz capsule). This allows the heat to be used more efficiently, producing a more whitish glow than standard incandescent bulbs. If you like the glow of incandescent lights but want a more energy-efficient bulb, consider halogen lights. They work great for task and accent lighting. If you really want to produce more light with less energy, ask us about halogen IR (infrared) lights. They use around 30% less energy than regular halogen lights since an infrared-reflective coating helps redirect heat back into the filament.
If you have any fluorescent lights in your home, they are probably in the garage or laundry room. You can recognize them easily by the long glass tube that houses the electric current and the distinctive buzzing sound they make when switched on.
While older fluorescent lights are known for humming and flickering, modern fluorescent lights can get rid of these unwanted inconsistencies. Depending on which type of fluorescent light you have and how it was installed, they can last anywhere from 5,000 to 25,000 hours and output 2-10 times as much light per watt as an incandescent light.
While fluorescent lights can create nice, warm color tones, keep in mind that they contain small amounts of mercury and should NEVER be thrown away in the trash. They are also very fragile and have been known to break easily.
There are multiple types of fluorescent lights available to you, so make sure you speak with a professional electrician first. They'll be able to tell you which bulb (T12, T8, T5, etc.) is best for your lightness and brightness needs.
You may have heard of CFLs in the past couple of years when referring to more energy-efficient light bulbs. CFL stands for compact fluorescent lamp (or light).
They were designed to replace standard incandescent lights due to their improved performance, lower costs, longer lifespans, and smaller sizes. Usually, when homeowners and businesses are looking for ways to reduce energy costs and improve the lighting in their indoor spaces, they turn to either CFLs or LEDs. The two most attractive factors being longevity and energy savings.
When CFLs first came out, consumers were confused about which CFL to buy since you had to find one that fit the wattage and pin configurations. Recently, however, light bulb manufacturers have improved their designs to give customers more choice and knowledge in selecting CFL replacements.
The major drawback is still incompatibility with existing fixtures, dimmers, motion sensors, and other lighting controls. If you are selecting CFL replacements for any fixture that has a lighting control, such as a dimmer, speak with an electrician to make sure you are selecting the proper replacement. There are specific dimmable CFLs that should be used for dimmer lights, however, many times they may not dim as much and the color will be different.
You should also keep in mind that CFLs take slightly longer to reach full brightness (up to 30 seconds). This is actually a feature that makes them more energy-efficient. While CFLs may seem to be more trouble than they are worth, consider the fact that they last 6-10 times as long as traditional incandescent and use a lot less energy. Speak with an electrician first to avoid all of the potential troubles when selecting replacement bulbs.
Light Emitting Diode (LED)
When people normally talk about improving the energy efficiency of their lighting, they are thinking of LEDs. For many years, LEDs were used for exit signs, appliances, and digital displays. Now, they can be used for anything from flashlights to Christmas lights.
LEDs are preferred by homeowners and business owners alike for their durable, energy efficient, and nontoxic qualities. Many LED lights can last for over 50,000 hours, sometimes over 20 years!
So if you don't like replacing your light bulbs, replace them with energy-efficient LEDs. And if you don't like the whitish color temperature of LEDs, look for warm white LEDs for a warmer glow. LEDs now come in a wide variety of colors, so it shouldn't be too hard to find one that fits your needs. Phillips Hue is a popular LED option because you can change the color range easily with the same bulb.
Keep in mind that when shopping for LEDs, the wattage will be completely different from what you may be used to with incandescent. Since wattage measures how much energy the light bulb draws and not "brightness," the replacement LED will have a much lower wattage for an equivalent brightness. Look for lumens and degrees Kelvin to determine light output.
Lumens measure light output.
Kelvin measures the color of the light, or color temperature. The higher the Kelvin number, the cooler the color; a lower Kelvin numbers translates to a warmer color.
Watts are standard units of power of electrical power.
Don't worry about doing any math though. Here is a useful chart showing the wattage-lumen conversion for LEDs:
LEDs are very versatile and can fit nearly any design. In order to earn the ENERGY STAR label, “light bulbs must provide at least three times more lumens per watt than standard incandescent bulbs” (energystar.gov).
Dimming the lights isn't just a romantic move. It's an energy-efficient one as well.
For instance, did you know that when you dim the lights by just 10% or so, you can double the lifespan of the bulb?
Luckily, most ENERGY STAR bulbs are dimmable, but check the package to make sure.
Which Bulb Where?
To know which light bulb you should use, it's a good idea to become familiar with color temperature (measured in in Kelvin or "K").
To make it easy for you, take a look at the infographic below:
As you can see, the higher the Kelvin number, the "cooler" (more blue) the light source appears. The lower the Kelvin number, the "warmer" (more yellow-orange) the light source appears.
For areas around your bed or other "warm" areas, you may still want to use incandescent or CFLs for a warmer, more inviting glow.
If you have a work space and need task lighting, LEDs are recommended. Whiter light is better for tasks. For cool white light, choose a CFL or LED that indicates "cool white" or "daylight."
Watch this video for more information on choosing the right light:
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
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