As summer draws to an end and the days get shorter, that means less daylight -- which, in turn, means more electricity used to illuminate your house. Given that lighting makes up a huge percentage of a home's electricity bill (somewhere in the vicinity of a quarter of usage), looking at ways to save energy and money through your light bulbs makes good sense.
It's been a long time since 1879, when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, forever changing life for Americans. And like any invention, the ensuing 130 years have brought modifications and improvements -- many that save you resources and money. With lighting constituting up to 25 percent of the average home energy budget, it's a great place to look for reductions in energy usage.
Here's a look at some of the newest lighting options:
CFLs According to Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy program, CFLs use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer, plus they save approximately $30 in electricity costs over each bulb's lifetime. CFLs should be left on at least 15 minutes at a time in order to keep their lifespan at its peak potential.
Although CFLs used to give off harsh lighting, the color is improved and warmer now, making them a good option for everything from track lighting to porch lights to table lamps. Because they can sometimes take time to warm up to full power, they may not be the best choice for timed lighting. However, CFLs are definitely faster to light fully than in the recent past. And, you can now get ""dimmable"" CFLs at DolphinBlue.com.
One of the turnoffs to buying these bulbs is a higher initial cost than incandescents. In the long run, though, you can save money -- as an example, an 18-watt CFL used in place of a 75-watt incandescent will save about 570 kilowatt-hours over its lifetime, equating to a $45 savings (assuming 8 cents per kilowatt-hour).
Likely the biggest concern about CFLs is that they contain small amounts of mercury, which can be harmful if the bulb breaks. In case of a spill, the EPA provides guidelines for cleanup here.
More than 50 American Lighting Association showrooms across the country currently offer CFL recycling, as do many retail stories such as Home Depot and IKEA. Visit Earth911.org to find other locations near you that will take the bulbs and properly recycle them.
LEDs When the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, replaced all downtown street lights with LEDs, they reaped an estimated savings of $100,000 annually in energy costs -- or the equivalent of taking 400 cars off the road per year.
While these energy-efficient bulbs have been restricted to small usages in the past, like Christmas lights, pen lights, and in TV remote controls, more household applications are being developed every day. One barrier to their widespread adoption is that they are currently much more expensive than both incandescents and CFLs, but researchers have been working to develop less-expensive methods of producing the lights, which will bring down the price for consumers.
LEDs last about 10 times longer than CFLs, making them the most energy-efficient option out there right now. They don't get hot like incandescents, and they don't break as easily as other light bulbs. Many cities and electric companies offer rebates for LED lighting, so check with your provider to see what options you have.
According to Cree LED Lighting, the average price in the U.S. of running a 65-watt light for 50,000 hours would cost $325 in electricity. By using a 12-watt LED bulb, running the light for 50,000 hours would cost only $60, plus the lights are replaced much less frequently.
Energy Star Lighting Energy Star has long been known for its appliances, but the program has also certified lighting fixtures for more than a decade, and now has around 20,000 offerings. While screw-based CFLs (those that you substitute for an incandescent bulb) are great at conserving energy, Energy Star fixtures outfitted with CFLs are even better.
If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, save more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars, according to a segment on CBS.
Looking forward, Energy Star is working on labeling solid-state light fixtures -- those that employ LEDs as the light source -- and you can expect to see more Energy Star qualified lighting products hitting the market. They also feature a buyer's guide that can help you figure out what kind of bulb you need in different fixtures, based on what kind of light you want.
For a side-by-side comparison of incandescents, CFLs, and LEDs on issues of lighting quality and cost, read this article from financial blog The Simple Dollar.