"Fall Back" into Energy-Saving Light Bulbs

Thumbnail image for 39_light_bulbs.jpgThis Sunday (Nov. 3) most Americans will go through the annual ritual of changing clocks back an hour in preparation for winter’s gradually decreasing daylight, a period also referred to as “lighting season” because the shorter days mean we’ll be using more lights in our homes and businesses.

This time of year also provides a great opportunity to take another look at our lighting and to switch to some of the new and improved light bulbs that have recently entered the market. With more than 4 billion screw-based light bulb sockets in the United States, getting an efficient bulb into each one of them is really important because the potential energy savings are massive:

  • Once all sockets have a CFL (compact fluorescent) or LED (light-emitting diode) bulb in them, consumers will pay $13 billion less per year in their electric bills, and
  • We will save 30 large (and polluting) coal-burning power plants worth of electricity annually.

NRDC Lighting Buying Guide

U.S. lighting options have significantly improved in the past few years, thanks to the phase-out of old, inefficient incandescent bulbs and the introduction of lots of new energy-saving, innovative products. Here are some tips on how to take advantage of these improved options:

  • Take a look at NRDC’s updated Light Bulb Buying Guide, which provides information on the three main types of bulbs available today: new and improved incandescents (also called halogen incandescent or halogen), CFLs, and LEDs. The CFLs and LEDs are almost always your best bet because they use 75% less energy and last 10 and 25 times longer, respectively. That eliminates the hassle of frequent trips up the ladder to change bulbs, too.
  • The days of simply choosing between a 60- or 100-watt bulb are over! It’s more important today to make selections based on the amount of light bulbs provide (expressed in lumens), instead of just the amount of power they use. It might seem counter-intuitive but as the chart below illustrates, a 19-watt LED bulb shines as much light as a 72-watt halogen incandescent, while also saving you more than $10 per year compared to the old 100-watt bulb it replaces.

LEDs are really coming on fast

While CFLs continue to have the lowest purchase cost of the energy efficient light bulb options, they have a few remaining challenges that LED bulbs have overcome.  Most notably, LED bulbs do not have the 1- to 3-minute run-up time to meet full brightness and many of the models are dimmable.  LEDs come in all shapes and flavors. Also a 60W replacement LED bulb now costs around $10 today compared to $25 to $40 just a couple of years ago. To ensure you have a good experience, we recommend:

a) Only buy LED bulbs with the ENERGY STAR® label – These bulbs will meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements for lifetime, efficiency, and other key performance criteria.

b) Buy the light color you prefer – If you want a bulb to have the same yellowish white color as your old incandescent, buy a bulb marketed as “warm white.” The Lighting Facts box on the back of the bulb packaging will list a color temperature of 2700K. If you prefer “cooler,” more bluish white-looking light, purchase a bulb marketed as “Daylight” with a higher color temperature of 4000K or even 5600K. Hint: Because this is a personal preference, consider trying one of each before switching out all your bulbs.

c) Put the right bulb in the right socket – Most new LED bulbs now look more like the old incandescent versions and can distribute light in all directions. But some designs, like the ones with a half dome on top that resemble a sno-cone, may not deliver enough light in the downward direction and would not be suitable in reading lamps. But you should choose a LED reflector bulb for recessed can or down lighting because it’s designed to produce a beam of downward light where you need it.


Want to learn more?

EPA has released a highly informative two-part podcast about lighting that includes the lighting buyer from Home Depot, a lighting designer, an expert from EPA, and me. In it, Mark from Home Depot provides perhaps the most practical advice of all:

Bring your old burnt-out bulb to the store so the clerk can help you find the new replacement bulb that will deliver the same amount and type of light – and is roughly the same size to fit your existing fixture.

So as you’re preparing to move the clock hands back an hour, consider that the end of “daylight savings time” doesn’t mean your savings have to end: today’s lighting options offer numerous ways to save energy and money, too.

About the Authors

Noah Horowitz

Senior Scientist and Director, Center for Energy Efficiency, Energy & Transportation program

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