How many MBAs and Ph.D.s does it take to change a light bulb? Ed Crawford scratches his head and ponders the question every day. For chief executive of the North American lighting division of Philips Electronics, the world's largest lighting company, the punch line is elusive.
While most people still rely on Thomas Edison's traditional incandescent light bulb to illuminate their lives, businesses and governments are slowly replacing the 130-year-old technology with more energy-efficient bulbs. Not only does Crawford want to make sure his company creates the best and cheapest products, he also needs to change the minds of consumers wary of the new technology [source: Glader].
Pushing the changeover is the Energy Independence Act of 2007, which mandates that 100-watt incandescent lights be phased out by January 2012 and the plug pulled on all remaining incandescent bulbs by 2014 [source: Glader].
Why the change? Ninety percent of the energy used by an incandescent bulb is wasted, while only 10 percent is converted into light [source: EnergySavers.gov]. The new light bulbs save energy by turning more electricity into light. The Natural Resource Defense Council says by 2020 the law will reduce energy costs by $100 to $200 per household each year. That's enough energy savings to eliminate 30 power plants [source: Glader].
Energy-efficient bulbs are one way to reduce your energy bill, but there are others. Go to the next page and find out how we can all save money on household lighting.
Turn the Lights Out
You would think that the simplest and easiest way to save money on your home lighting bill is to turn the lights out when you leave a room. Well, it's a bit more complicated than that. Did you know every time you turn a light on and off, it shortens the bulb's operating life? While you might be saving money on your electric bill, you will also be spending more on new bulbs [source: EnergySavers.gov].
At the end of the day, however, it's still more cost effective to turn the lights off even if you're constantly replacing them. In the summer, turning off the lights will keep a room cooler, allowing you to save money on air conditioning [source: EnergySavers.gov].
Fluorescent bulbs are a bit more complicated. According the U.S. Department of Energy, if you're leaving a room for more than 15 minutes, turn out the lights. If not, keep the lights on. Why? Fluorescent lights are more expensive, and like other bulbs, switching them on and off limits their life. It's better to eat the additional energy cost than to continually buy new fluorescent bulbs [source: EnergySavers.gov].
Replace Incandescent Lights with Energy-Efficient Bulbs
Traditional incandescent lights are not energy efficient and they only last about 750 to 1,000 hours in normal use. You can replace these bulbs with three energy-efficient choices: energy-saving incandescent bulbs; compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs); and LEDs, or light emitting diodes. Each will save you money, although some will save you more than others [source: EnergySavers.gov].
For example, energy-efficient incandescent lights will save you about 25 percent compared with traditional incandescent bulbs. That's because there is a small capsule of halogen gas that surrounds the bulb's tungsten filament. When the filament gets super hot, the halogen latches on to the tungsten's evaporating atoms. The gas then redeposits the atoms back on the filament. As a result, the bulb lasts about three times longer than traditional incandescent lights [source: EnergySavers.gov].
CFLs are those expensive twisted bulbs some of us now use. Yes, they are more expensive than traditional bulbs, but CFLs are long-lasting and usually pay for themselves in less than nine months. An ENERGY STAR-CFL uses a quarter of the electricity of a traditional bulb, saving you 75 percent [source: EnergySavers.gov].
When it comes to saving energy, LEDs are the gold standard of home lighting. Instead of using a gas to emit light -- as CFLs and incandescent bulbs do -- LEDs light up when electrons move around a semiconductor. It's the same technology as the lights on a cell phone, microwave and cable box. LEDs last 25 percent longer than Thomas Edison's invention, and generate between 75 and 80 percent in savings [source: EnergySavers.gov].
A burning light bulb uses a certain amount of electricity, which is measured in watts. By lowering the wattage with a special switch, consumers can manage the bulb's electrical consumption. Dimmers come with a dial or a slide bar, which allows homeowners to adjust the wattage and thus the amount of illumination. Just how much energy dimmer switches save depends on many factors, including how much and how long a person dims the light, and the type of light bulbs in the fixture. Dimmers save the most money in rooms where wattage is high, such as the bathroom, kitchen and dining room [source: Oldroyed].
Many homeowners use outdoor lighting as part of their landscape decoration and for security. To save money, it's best to shop for lights that need a motion detector. If you're trying to illuminate a pathway, then buy low-voltage lighting. If you really want to save some cash, install CFLs and LED lights. They are very durable and perform well in cold climates [source: EnergySavers.gov].
Installing solar powered lights is also a good way to save some cash. The lights use sunlight for power and charge during the day. Since they don't require wiring, the lights can go anywhere on your property. Some solar powered lights also come with motion detectors.
Think Beyond the Bulb
All of the ideas we've discussed provide great ideas to save money and conserve electricity, but they are not the only measures you can take. Although changing light bulbs with more energy-efficient bulbs and installing dimmer switchers will go a long way to reducing your electric bill, it's still important to think beyond the bulb. Installing motion sensors in each room is a great idea, especially if you have kids that forget to turn off the lights. Door-jamb switches, which automatically turn on the light when you open a door, are also convenient energy savers. And here's something that won't cost you a cent -- let the sun shine in. Natural light is a great way to brighten up your day. Clean those windows and open those drapes.
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More Great Links
- EnergySavers.gov. "Energy Savers Booklet: Tips on Saving Energy & Money at Home." (Oct. 26, 2011). http://www.energysavers.gov/pdfs/energy_savers.pdf
- Outdoor Lighting Guide. "Outdoor Solar Lights Can Help You Save Money." (Oct. 26, 2011). http://www.outdoorlightingguide.net/outdoor-solar-lights.html
- EnergySavers.gov. "Lighting Choices Save You Money." (Oct. 26, 2011). http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/lighting_daylighting/index.cfm/mytopic=11975
- EnergySavers.gov. "When to Turn off Your Lights." (Oct. 26, 2011). http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/lighting_daylighting/index.cfm/mytopic=12280
- Glader, Paul. "Companies strive to build a better (more expensive) light bulb." Washington Post. Oct. 15, 2011. (Oct. 26, 2011). http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/companies-strive-to-build-a-better-more-expensive-light-bulb/2011/10/12/gIQAThBDkL_story.html
- Oldroyd, Carole. "Dimmer Switches for Energy Efficiency." National Geographic. (Oct. 26, 2011). http://greenliving.nationalgeographic.com/dimmer-switches-energy-efficiency-2245.html
- Pacific Gas & Electric. "Residential Lighting Information." (Oct. 26, 2011). http://www.pge.com/myhome/saveenergymoney/rebates/light/products/