EcoMom Challenge Step #1: Change a light

CFLs (compact fluorescent bulbs) have been in the news for the last few years. In fact there is a good chance that you already have a few in your house or you’ve at least considered making the switch. Hopefully after reading this post you will take the time to budget and plan your way into eliminating all incandescent lights in your home and replacing them with CFLs and possibly an LED or two!

Some folks are turned off by the word fluorescent and wary of buying a light that they think will flicker, hum or give off a glaringly white light. Other folks are concerned about the upfront expense of a CFL bulb, which can cost several dollars more than an out dated incandescent. And a few are concerned about the mercury content of CFL bulbs. I will address all of these concerns below, as well as, giving you some facts and tips on energy usage, buying less expensive CFLs and even info on LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights, which use even less energy and have a longer life span than a CFL! And, lest you think that Green Me only talks the talk, but doesnt walk the walk, I finish up with a complete summary the Green Me household light bulb situation!

Decreased Energy Usage: Incandescent & CFL Facts:

  • Lighting is responsible for 5% to 10% of home energy usage.
  • 90% of the energy used by an incandescent light is lost as heat!
  • A CFL bulb uses 75% less energy than an incandescent bulb and thus saves $30 in energy costs (on average) over its lifetime. (Update: according to this post a CFL may save you much more than $30, especially if you switch out a bushel of them!)
  • The average CFL bulb lasts 10 times longer (or 10,000 hours longer) than an incandescent bulb.
  • The cost of a CFL bulb averages about $3 more than an incandescent bulb, but it lasts 10x longer, so over its lifetime you have to buy fewer lights, and it use less energy, so you pay less to operate the bulb!
  • If a CFL bulb stops working in a few months you can often return it as a faulty bulb weve done this a couple times with good results.

CFL Concerns ( the first 4 items have been gratuitously cut and pasted from US News):

  1. Ive heard that CFLs dont really last as long as they say.
    Turning a CFL on and off frequently shortens its life, which is why the governments Energy Star program says to leave them on for at least 15 minutes at a time. Also, if you have dimmable light fixtures, make sure to buy CFLs labeled dimmable. All CFLs that carry the governments Energy Star label are required to carry a two-year limited warranty, so contact the manufacturer if your bulb burns out prematurely. The Energy Star website has a good FAQ on CFLs. (Keep track of where you buy your CFLs, several of the bulbs we bought early on at Costco & Home Depot burned out in a few months, my husband was on top of this and took them in to complain, both times they gave us a replacement bulb, no questions asked.)
  2. I dont think that I like the color of the light from CFLs.
    When they first hit the market, CFLs had a limited range of tones. Now, manufacturers offer a wider variety, but there is not an agreed-upon labeling standard. The Energy Star program is working to change that. But for now, look for lower Kelvin temperatures like 2,700 to 3,000 for redder light, closer to old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, while bulbs with Kelvin temperatures of 5,000 and 6,500 provide more blue and intense light. A good photograph illustrating the difference is shown here.
  3. Ive heard that CFLs have mercury in them—isnt that bad?
    Consumers are rightly concerned about the toxic substance mercury that helps CFLs produce light. Even though the amount sealed in each bulb is small—one old-fashioned thermometer had about 100 times as much mercury—contact local trash collection for disposal instructions. Environmentalists agree that more work must be done on bulb recycling programs. Right now, you can return any CFL to any Ikea store for recycling, and the Environmental Protection Agency and Earth911 have sites you can search for other recycling programs near your home.
  4. But if you break a CFL, youll have a toxic spill in your home.
    Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection has developed the best advice on the procedures to follow if a CFL breaks. Don’t use a vacuum. Maine officials studied the issue because of a homeowner in that state who received a $2,000 light bulb clean-up bill from an environmental hazards company—a story that has circulated around the country and increased consumer concerns about CFLs. It turns out that the company’s advice was overkill, and a subsequent analysis showed no hazard in the home. But the bulbs must be handled with caution. Using a drop cloth might be a good new routine to develop when screwing in a light bulb, to make the clean-up of any breaks easier.
  5. If I cant toss it in the trash, what do I do with a used bulb? Ikea, Ace Hardware and Home Depot now accept used (not broken) CFL bulbs for recycling. Many cities either take CFLs at their drop off centers and or they have hazardous waste drop off centers that are open daily or on specific days where you can take whole and or broken CFLs. If you are concerned, collect broken bulbs in a large zip-lock bag until you have a few for recycling.
  6. They are expensive to buy, especially the dimmable kind! Check and see if your city or region has a partnership with local businesses to discount the price of CFLs. For example, in Longmont, CO where we live, the City subsidizes CFLs thus reducing their cost to a dollar or two for a two pack. They are also sold in bulk discount packs at warehouse retailers such as Costco and Sams Club. And, keep in mind that a dimmable bulb may cost you $10 today, but it may save you $30 dollars or more in future energy costs! Think of buying CFLs as an investment in your future and the planets health!

Green Me Light Bulbs

Weve lived in our home for just over two years and over time as our bulbs burn out weve replaced them with CFL lights. So far weve made the following changes:

  1. Kitchen: In our kitchen we have 7 recessed canned lights, all of which weve changed out for CFLs.
  2. Family Room: We have 4 dimmable recessed canned lights in this room and weve changed out 2 for CFLs. Note that in the pictures our regular CFLs are spiraled and the dimmables are 3 pronged.
  3. Entrance & Hallways: We have 8 recessed canned lights, of which we’ve changed out 3 for CFLs. The 3 that we’ve changed are in our laundry/garage hallway that we use on a daily basis. The other 4 are in our main hall, which gets excellent day lighting and night time lighting from other locations, so we rarely use these lights.
  4. Living & Dining Room: We have 9 light bulbs in three separate fixtures in these rooms. Our dining room chandilier takes an odd size dimmable bulb, for which we’ve been unable to find replacement CFLs, so these 5 bulbs remain energy sucking incandescents. Someday we may change out the fixture, but for now we try not to use the chandelier unless absolutely necessary. Our other two fixtures contain CFLs, which are now over 2 years old and still burning bright (these were our first CFLs, bought at our old home).
  5. Bedroom: We have two standalone lights and one ceiling fixture making up 4 lights, all of which have been changed to CFLs. Two of these lights came with us from our former home and so are also over 2 years old. The bedside table lights are also CFLs of the warmer spectrum, which makes reading in bed more cozy and less bright as day.
  6. Master bath and Closet: We have 9 lights in these two rooms, none of which are CFLs, and all of which we should really make an effort to change over. The thing is we dont run these lights very often, so they are being buggers about dying!
  7. The rest of the house: We have 24 more lights in the basement, office, my sons room and 1.5 baths 5 of these are CFLs. Most of them are recessed canned lights and about 50% of them dimmable. These other lights are not used very often, but we are currently working on switching all of our dimmables (10 of these lights) to CFLs.

Total bulbs in our house: 72 (Wow!!! Have you ever counted all of the individual light bulbs in your house!?!)

Total CFL bulbs in our house: 38

So, just over half of our bulbs are CFLs, although all of our most commonly used fixtures (kitchen, bedroom, and living room) are CFLs. Our house may have more lights than the average house as the previous owners were apparently canned lighting fiends and had finished the basement themselves.

And, remember this tip from the EcoMom Alliance if every household in the United States changed out just 5 incandescent bulbs with CFLs the energy (and pollution) saved would be the equivalent of taking 8 million cars off the road!!! Imagine if every house in the US changed out 35 bulbs for CFLs that would be equivalent to taking 35 million cars off the road!

LEDs

Last but not least, I wanted to touch on LED lights as they are 6 times more efficient than even CFLs although at present they are still quite price prohibitive and difficult to come by; however, by 2012 when the US (by government regulation) begins to phase out incandescent bulbs, I imagine that LEDs will have hit the mainstream consumer market. The best and brightest (pun intended) aspect of LED lights is that they are meant to lastas in once you buy and LED light it should (almost) never burn out! And, they dont waste energy by creating heat and they dont heat up your room with their energy either. Talk about resource efficient!

Read more about LEDs behind this wikipedia link!