Household lighting accounts for approximately 25% of the average home’s electricity bill. Simply by changing a single 75 watt bulb to an energy efficient 20-watt ENERGY STAR bulb can save as much as $60 a year, not to mention reduce pollution. Replacing a light bulb can be more efficient and environmentally friendly than not driving your car for more than 2 weeks.
The 4 most used lights are in your kitchen, living room, bathroom and outdoor lighting. With the exception of outdoor lighting, lighting in the other rooms can be classified as ambient lighting. Ambient lighting is the general illumination of a room. This includes lamps and overhead light fixtures. In addition, ambient lighting can also include task and accent lighting. Accent lighting highlights/emphasizes a room’s special features such as artwork or architectural details. Task lighting is used to concentrate lighting in a specific area for work purposes, generally reading.
Bulbs used in all lighting can be classified as incandescent, fluorescent, halogen and compact fluorescent. Incandescent light bulbs are the ones invented by Thomas Edison about 120 years ago and still function the same as they did back then. Electricity heats up a wire filament, which in turn gives off light and heat (much like an electric baseboard heater). As a result, 90% of the energy produced is actually heat, not light, making these an extremely inefficient source of light, not to mention that they work against your air-conditioning in warm weather. They typically last between 750-1,000 hours. Longer lasting versions are also available, but are less efficient and produce less light per watt.
Halogen light bulbs are a modernized and more efficient version of Edison’s incandescent light bulb. They also last longer- anywhere from 2,250 to 3,500 hours. Even though these bulbs are more efficient, many people choose to use them in a wasteful way; choosing high-wattage versions than they need in their homes. An estimated 30-40 million torchiere lamps are in the United States today, the bulk of which use either 300 or 500-watt halogen tubes, which create 4 times as much heat over regular incandescent bulbs.
Newer and more energy efficient torchieres are available using compact fluorescent bulbs. These lamps operate at much lower temperature, making them safer and more energy efficient.
Fluorescent lighting is the most efficient lighting option available to consumers and has overcome the negative stigmas of noise and headache-inducing flickers with recent advancements. Today’s fluorescent light bulbs are available in a variety of colors, types and sizes and along with new electronic ballasts. These new bulbs are much quieter, less annoying and more energy efficient than those associated with a magnetic ballast.
Fluorescent lights are glass tubes filled with an inert gas and mercury. Different gases allow manufacturers to produce different colors. The ballast activates the gas inside the tubes by altering the electric current flowing through them, causing it to glow. Fluorescent lights use about 25-33% of the energy of an incandescent bulb and last 10 to 15 times longer – up to 10,000 hours.
Compact fluorescent lighting was introduced in the early 1980s. They are a variation of the fluorescent tube in that they have been folded over to fit where incandescent bulbs are intended. Again, they use about 25% of the energy of an incandescent and last 10 times longer.
Aside from the type of lighting and light bulb you choose, there is one other energy-saving device homeowners can turn to – lighting controls. Lighting controls can include automatic timers, photosensors, motion detectors, dimmers and switches.
An automatic timer can control lighting variables such as when a light comes on and how long it stays on for. Automatic timers can be located at the switch, at the plug or in a light socket. They are useful to turn lights off if you might otherwise inadvertently leave some lights on. They can also be used as a security feature to give your home the appearance of being occupied while you are away.
Photosensors measure the level of light to determine when it gets dark. Once dark, the lights turn on. These are commonly found in nightlights, street lights and outdoor lights that are left on all night.
Motion detectors or occupancy detectors can identify the motion of a person, pet or anything else that may move in a room or outdoors. When motion is detected, the lights will turn on. After a predetermined amount of time without motion, the light will turn off. These are good for rooms that frequently have lights left on, as well as for outdoor and security lighting.
Dimmers are a great way to save energy and create mood. There is no need to pay for energy you don’t need. Dimmers allow homeowners to manually control the light intensity in a room using a knob or slider. Dimmer switches can only be used with incandescent bulb and the new-screw-based dimmable fluorescent bulbs. Regular fluorescent bulbs require a special dimmable ballast.