Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audits, Part 4: Lighting


Conducting a four-part do-it-yourself home energy audit can help you find ways to cut cooling costs and save money off your electricity bill this summer. Once you've completed the first three parts of a DIY home energy audit — detecting and sealing air leaks, checking your home's insulation and inspecting your HVAC equipment — you're ready to move on to the final step: lighting.

Evaluate the Type of Lighting You Use

Since lighting your home accounts for up to 10 percent of your monthly electricity bill, it's important to take a closer look at the type of lighting you use.

Incandescent Bulbs

Incandescent bulbs are cheapest, but you're going to go through a lot more of them. Additionally, incandescent bulbs are incredibly inefficient and do a far better job of producing heat than making light.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)

CFLs can be four or five times the price of equivalent incandescent bulbs, but they can last eight times longer and use 75 percent less electricity to produce the same brightness. Drawbacks include environmental concerns — CFLs contain mercury — and shorter lifespans when turned on and off frequently and used in humid parts of the home, such as bathrooms. CFLs are also knocked by some for taking a short time to reach full brightness. Check out these tips for getting the most out of CFL bulbs.

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

LED lights are clearly the future champ of home lighting. While they're the most expensive to buy, they consume 20 percent or less of the electricity used by incandescent bulbs and last up to 25 times longer — without any of the drawbacks associated with CFLs.

For more information, check out our post comparing the money-saving benefits of CFLs and LEDs.

Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Lighting Where You Can

Where you can, you should upgrade to energy efficient lighting. Not only will the bulbs pay for themselves in a short time — because you'll save electricity every time you turn on an energy-efficient bulb — but once the bulbs are paid for you'll start saving real money on your electricity bill. To make upgrading even more attractive, some utilities even offer retail discounts on energy-efficient bulbs to customers in their area.

When Shopping for Energy-Efficient Bulbs, Use Lumens, Not Watts

It's important to note that watts are not a measure of a light bulb's brightness. Instead, brightness is determined by something called lumens. When shopping for an equivalent CFL or LED, use the bulb's lumens rating – printed on the packaging – to find a similarly bright bulb.

Develop an Overall Lighting Strategy

There are certain things you can do to increase the lighting efficiency of your home that go beyond upgrading your light bulbs, like using more task lighting or using a brighter-colored paint for walls and ceilings.

For these and other additional lighting tips, check out our post on energy-efficient home lighting.

You can also browse our glossary of energy-efficient lighting terms to help you navigate your options when it comes to lighting and bulbs.

Review the Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audit

There are four steps to a fairly comprehensive do-it-yourself home energy audit. Here are the other three parts, in case you need to review them or if you missed one earlier:

Part 1: Detect Air Leaks

Part 2: Check Insulation

Part 3: Inspect HVAC Equipment

Part 4: Lighting


U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, "Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Assessments."

Top 7 Tips for Energy-Efficient Home Lighting

Tips for Energy-Efficient Home LightingThere are countless ways to reduce energy costs, but few are as easy as changing your home’s lighting. In fact, lighting consumes about 10 percent of the average home’s electricity use, and using energy-efficient lighting strategies can reduce the average home’s lighting costs by up to 75 percent. To help you get started, here are seven tips for saving money by making your home lighting more energy efficient.

1. Use more direct “task” lighting

Task lighting is direct, overhead lighting for desks, kitchen cooking areas, tool benches, craft tables and other areas. In cases like this, you don’t need to light the whole room to accomplish your task. You can just light the area you need illuminated, thereby preventing waste and cutting lighting costs.

2. Install energy-efficient light bulbs

Energy-efficient light bulbs are designed to provide the same amount of light while using less electricity:

 --Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) will provide the same quantity of light as incandescent light bulbs while using about 75 percent less electricity. They also last from about 8 to 10 times longer. And don’t forget to check out the special CFLs that are compatible with dimmer switches.

 --High-efficiency halogen lighting is a good option if you don’t like the look of CFLs. You can replace a 100-watt incandescent bulb with a 72-watt or 70-watt halogen bulb or replace a 60-watt incandescent bulb with a 42-watt or 40-watt halogen bulb and still get the same amount of light.

 --Light emitting diode (LEDs) bulbs are the most energy-efficient and long-lasting types of light bulbs. You can replace a 60-watt incandescent bulb with a 12-watt LED that will last more than 20,000 hours, or about 10 years.

3. Shop for lumens, not watts

Remember to shop for light bulbs using lumens, not watts. Lumens describes the amount of light a bulb produces, while watts determines the amount of electricity the bulb uses. Energy-efficient light bulbs will produce the same lumens but use fewer watts (which is how a 12-watt LED, for example, can produce as much light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb).

3. Consider changing the surface color of your room

The way interior surfaces reflect light can be a major player in lighting efficiency. Since lighter colors reflect more light than darker surfaces, you should consider repainting your walls and ceilings with lighter colors and choose lighter colors for your floors and furniture. Conversely, darker colors will absorb more light and require you to use higher wattage bulbs to create the same level of illumination.

4. Use fewer, higher-wattage bulbs

If your home has lamps and light fixtures with multiple sockets for two or more incandescent bulbs, you should consider using fewer, higher-wattage bulbs instead of filling all the sockets with lower-wattage bulbs. Doing so will actually allow you to produce more light. A 100-watt bulb, for instance, produces 50 percent more light than four 25-watt bulbs but uses the same amount of energy. And that’s just for incandescent bulbs. If you use CFLs or LEDs in a similar fashion, your electricity use will be dramatically lower.

5. Locate lamps in corners of rooms

When possible, you should place or install floor, table and hanging lamps in the corners of rooms rather than against a flat wall. Doing so will allow the light from the lamp to reflect off of two wall surfaces instead of one, providing you with greater illumination from the same bulb(s).

6. Clean your lighting fixtures regularly

Make sure to dust and otherwise clean your lighting fixtures regularly. Any dirt or grime that gets on bulbs or reflectors will decrease lighting efficiency.

7. Use multiple circuits for large areas

In the case of large areas that use high levels of lighting some of the time but not all of the time, such as family or living rooms, consider installing fixtures on two or three circuits. That way, you can control the lighting of separate areas of the room (similar to the way that task lighting works, but on a larger scale) without having to light the entire area.

How have you managed to cut you home lighting costs? Let us know what you’ve done and how it’s worked for you.


Edison Electric Institute, “More Than 100 Ways to Improve Your Electric Bill.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Lighting.”

How to Choose the Right Outdoor Lighting for Your Home’s Main Entryway

Select Outdoor Lighting for Front Door

When shopping for outdoor lighting fixtures for your home’s main entryway, it’s important to choose a fixture style and finish that complements the design of your home. However, the size and location of the fixtures you choose are just as important as the style you settle on. While aesthetic tastes can vary greatly, there are a few general tips for picking the right sized fixtures and installing them in the best location near your entryway or front door:

  • Avoid choosing fixtures that are too small for your entryway or door. Keep in mind that the fixtures, when viewed from 50 feet away, will appear about half as large as they really are.
  • When using a single side lantern to light your main entryway, the fixture should be about one-third the height of your door.
  • When using two lanterns to light your main entryway, one on each side of your door, the fixtures can be slightly smaller, about one-quarter the height of the door.
  • When mounting the fixtures, make sure they are slightly above eye-level. Typically, this means the filament should be situated about 66 inches above the bottom of your door’s threshold.

Before you buy lighting fixtures for your main entryway, grab a tape measure and take some measurements of your door. No matter which lighting fixture you end up choosing, at least you’ll know it’s the right proportion for your home’s main entryway.


Lamps Plus, “Quick Guide: Choosing the Right Sized Exterior Lighting.”

A Lighting Upgrade Success Story from the Folks Who Put Americans on the Moon

As a building owner or commercial energy manager, you’re probably more than interested in figuring out a way to make a lighting upgrade work for your building or portfolio of buildings. Not only will you save money in the long-term, but upgrading to more efficient lighting will save on energy costs right now. If you want hard data that might make your decision easier, just check out what Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas — the folks behind the lunar landings — was able to accomplish with its lighting upgrade.

In 2011, JSC decided to install HID high bay lighting in 24 buildings and re-retrofit over 18,000 office lighting fixtures (that were originally retrofit in 1999) with 28-watt T8 lamps and high-efficiency ballasts. Overall, the high bay lighting upgrade cut electricity costs by 50 percent and the office lighting upgrade cut costs by and additional 25 percent:

  • Total Facility Size all areas retrofit: 1,250,000 square feet
  • Facility Type: Manufacturing, Warehouse & Office
  • Location: Houston, TX
  • Annual Savings: $216,911
  • Demand Savings: 359 kW
  • Energy Savings: 2,078,504 kWh
  • Project Size: $925,456
  • EPACT Tax Deductions: NA
  • Utility Rebates: $121,039
  • Return on Investment: 27%
  • Environmental Benefits: CO2 reduction: 3,117,756 lbs. annually


Maneri-Agraz, “Johnson Space Center Case Study.”

Illinois Public Facilities Get Help With Energy-Efficient Lighting Upgrades


Public facilities in Illinois are eligible for financial incentives that can help them upgrade to more energy-efficient lighting prior to a planned phase out of certain types of commercial fluorescent lamps beginning in 2012.

The state’s Illinois Energy Now (IEN) program is run by the State Energy Office of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). It offers incentives for lighting upgrades to local, state and federal government facilities, public schools, community colleges, public colleges and universities that can help the facilities decrease energy costs. The incentives are available to government customers served by Ameren Illinois and ComEd.

“By offering incentives to make lighting upgrades more affordable, we are helping to ensure our public facilities can spend more resources on direct service instead of keeping the lights on,” said DCEO Director Warren Ribley.

The incentives help offset costs associated with the planned phase out of older, less efficient T12 fluorescent lamps, which will be replaced with more efficient T8 and T5 fluorescent lamps. The fate of T12 lamps was sealed by a 2010 U.S. Department of Energy mandate that requires the phase out of magnetic ballasts used in the operation of T12 lamps. The older lamps will be out of production by July 2012.

According to Illinois Energy Now, the new T8 and T5 lamps will bring immediate energy savings of up to 50 percent in addition to improved lighting performance and simpler maintenance. The incentives, which are provided as grants or rebates, help cover the costs of changing or retrofitting lighting systems, including lamps and fixtures.

The types of public facilities that are considered to be highest priorities for the IEN lighting upgrade program include those with older lighting systems still in place, those with the highest energy costs and those with lighting systems that stay on continuously, referred to as uncontrolled lighting, as opposed to newer systems that are controlled with motion sensors.

The DCEO, with its partners, including SEDAC (Smart Energy Design Assistance Center) and the Trade Ally Network, will provide resources and technical assistance to help determine the right course of action when it comes to planning energy-efficient lighting improvements at existing facilities or enhancing the design of new facilities.

More Information on the Public Facilities Lighting Upgrade Program

To learn more about the Illinois Energy Now lighting upgrade incentives, visit

For more information about the T12 lamp phase out, visit

The incentive program has specific contacts for the incentive program based on public facility type:


State Offers Program for Public Facilities to Upgrade Lighting,” East Peoria Times-Courier, Dec. 20, 2011.

Illinois Department of Commerce and Opportunity, Illinois Energy Office, “Office of Energy and Recycling Programs November 2010.”

8 Tips for Adopting Energy-Efficient Lighting in Hotels and Motels of Any Size

Wednesday January 4, 2012
Posted at 14:27


Whether you’re an energy manager for a large hotel or you run a small, independent motel, energy costs are one of the largest parts of your operating budget. However, your facility can realize enormous energy savings by adopting an energy-efficient lighting strategy. Many leaders in the hotel management industry may already be familiar with such a strategy, but for those who need some advice on how to save money on electric bills, here are eight tips for equipping your facility with energy-efficient lighting.

1. Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)

CFL bulbs use about two-thirds less energy than standard incandescent light bulbs and can be the easiest, most direct way to adopt energy-efficient lighting. Although CFLs had an early reputation for being limited in style and producing less light than their incandescent counterparts, those limitations have all but disappeared. Now CFLs come in a wide variety of styles and sizes and are just as bright. CFLs are more expensive than incandescent bulbs but they can last six to 10 times longer and save you about $25 to $30 in electricity costs over the lifetime of a single bulb. Make sure to compare lumens, not watts, when shopping for replacement bulbs. Watts represent the amount of energy used while lumen indicate brightness.

2. Replace “conventional” fluorescent lamps with energy-efficient fluorescent lamps

Many lodging facilities use fluorescent lighting in high traffic areas such as the lobby or office area. Consider swapping out your old fluorescent lamps with energy-efficient lamps that use 30 percent to 40 percent less electricity. These models are marked “T-12,” “T-8,” or “T-5,” which represents the diameter of the bulb in eighth-inches (for example, a T-12 lamp is 12/8 inch, or 1 1/2 inches, in diameter). Be sure to pair your new bulbs with the correct corresponding ballast, a device necessary for fluorescent lamp operation that regulates the bulb’s starting and operating characteristics.

3. Automate the regulation of electric power in a room

Consider installing a key tag system at the entrance of each guest room. The system uses a room key-card to activate and deactivate a master switch that turns on power to the room when guests are present and turns it off when guests leave. This technique ensures that only occupied rooms consume energy. Lighting, heating, air conditioning, radio and television can all be connected to the master switch.

4. Install occupancy or motion sensors

Use passive infrared or ultrasonic sensors to control lighting according to occupancy. These devices turn lights on when motion is detected and turn lights off when motion is no longer detected. Passive infrared sensors detect changes in heat and are best suited for large, unobstructed areas. An ultrasonic sensor emits sounds waves above the range of human hearing and detects differences in the time the waves take to return to the device. Ultrasonic sensors can detect motion around obstructions and are ideal for areas with cabinets and shelving, restrooms and places requiring 360-degree coverage.

5. Install nightlights that use light-emitting diodes (LEDs)

Many guests opt to leave a light on for themselves or their children while they sleep. While this may help them navigate an unfamiliar room at night, it wastes electricity. Instead of having guests turn on the bathroom light and crack the door, as is often the case, offer a nightlight to help them get around. One model uses six LEDs installed in the panel of a light switch.

6. Install EXIT signs that use LEDs

One of the advantages of LEDs is that they produce bright light while using about 95 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs and 75 percent less than CFLs. Another advantage is that they last for about 20 years. Installing EXIT signs that use LEDs for illumination will not only save money, it will virtually eliminate the need to replace bulbs in the signs.

7. Add lighting controls

Installing lighting controls that use photo sensors to monitor daylight conditions is a great way to ensure that lights work only when needed. While a common solution is to turn on outdoor lighting fixtures at dusk and turn them off at dawn, lights using photo sensors are also a good choice for interior lighting in common areas with many windows that may not need lighting during much of the day. While on/off switches work well, there are also options for stepped controls and for continuous dimming controls, which are aesthetically appealing and offer the greatest energy savings.

8. Use high intensity discharge (HID) exterior lighting

Finally, make sure the exterior of your hotel or motel takes advantage of HID lighting. HID technology is much more efficient than incandescent, quartz-halogen and most fluorescent fixtures.

Have you adopted energy-efficient lighting for your hotel or motel? Share your story and let us know if you have other useful lighting tips for fellow professionals.


The State of Michigan, “Energy Efficient Lighting.”

Energy-Efficiency Glossary: Lighting

Tuesday January 3, 2012
Posted at 11:19

Accent Lighting — Indoor and outdoor illumination that draws attention to special features or enhances aesthetic qualities.

Ambient Lighting — General, everyday indoor illumination and outdoor illumination for safety and security purposes. For illumination required to preform specific tasks, see Task Lighting.

Color Temperature — The color produced by a light bulb. Bulbs that produce yellow-red colors, like incandescent bulbs, are considered to be warm, while blue-green colors are considered cool. Cool light is typically preferred for performing visual tasks since it produces higher contrasts. Warm light is usually preferred for living spaces since its lower contrast is more flattering to skin tones and clothing. Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (K), with cool colors producing higher temperatures (3600–5500 K) and warm colors producing lower temperatures (2700–3000 K). Color temperatures between 2700–3600 K are usually recommended for most indoor and task lighting.

Color Rendition — How colors appear when illuminated by a light bulb. The Color Rendition Index (CRI) is a 1–100 scale that measures a light bulb’s ability to make colors appear naturally, the same way that sunlight does. Color rendition is generally considered more important than color temperature. A CRI of 100 is based on the illumination of a 100-watt incandescent light bulb. A bulb with a CRI of 80 or greater is considered adequate for using indoors at home.

Efficacy — The ratio of light produced (lumens) to energy consumed (watts); a general measurement of the energy efficiency of a light bulb. Efficacy is determined by dividing the number of lumens a bulb produces by the amount of electricity used to operate the bulb (lumens per watt).

Footcandle — The intensity of light emitted by a light bulb. A footcandle describes the intensity of illumination produced by one lumen over a 1-square-foot area. For most home and office lighting, 30–50 footcandles of illumination is adequate. For more detailed work requiring more accuracy and less eyestrain, 200 footcandles of illumination or greater is ideal. For nightlights, 5–20 footcandles may be sufficient.

Glare — The excessive brightness from a direct light source that can make it difficult to see clearly; for example, sunlight shining on a TV or an incandescent light bulb shining on a computer monitor. Incandescent light bulbs generally produce more glare than other kinds of bulbs, but glare is primarily the result of where lighting is placed relative to where objects are being viewed.

Illumination — The distribution of light on a horizontal surface; the basic purpose of all lighting. Not to be confused with the intensity or brightness of light (see Footcandle, Lumen).

Lumen — The brightness of light emitted by a light bulb. For example, a 100-watt incandescent light bulb emits about 1600 lumens, while a 60-watt incandescent light bulb emits about 800 lumens. Not to be confused with the amount of electricity used to power a light bulb (see Watt). An energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulb will use fewer watts to produce comparable lumens. For example, an energy-efficient 13- watt light bulb that emits 870 lumens might use only 13 watts of electricity, roughly the equivalent of a 60-watt incandescent light bulb(see Efficacy).

Task Lighting — Illumination provided for specific tasks that require more illumination than ambient lighting can provide, such as computer desk lamps and bathroom mirror lights.

Watt — A measurement of the amount of electricity used to power a light bulb. Not to be confused with the brightness of a light bulb (see Lumen). Shoppers often make the mistake of purchasing light blubs based on wattage rather than lumens. However, an energy-efficient light bulb typically uses far fewer watts to produce the same lumens as an incandescent bulb. Consumers should instead compare the lumens of light bulbs when shopping for replacement bulbs. The energy efficiency of a light bulb is measured by its ratio of lumens to watts (see Efficacy).


U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Lighting Principals and Terms.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Lumens and the Lighting Facts Label.”

How to Upgrade Your Home’s Incandescent Light Bulbs Using Lumens


Upgrading your home’s lighting by replacing old, inefficient incandescent light bulbs with new, energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) can help you save money on monthly electric bills. However, shopping for CFLs and LEDs might be a little confusing at first because you’re probably used to shopping for light bulbs based on watts, or the amount of power light bulbs use. Since CFLs and LEDs use fewer watts than incandescent bulbs to produce the same amount of light, you’ll instead need to shop for replacement bulbs based on brightness, or lumens.

Lumens are a measure of visible light emitted by a light bulb, while watts measure the amount of electricity it takes to produce those lumens. A 100-watt incandescent light bulb might produce 1,600 lumens, but a common CFL that produces 1,600 lumens might only use 25 watts and a common LED might use only 18 watts. After all, being able to use fewer watts to produce the same amount of light is what makes CFL and LED bulbs so energy efficient.

To help you find the right type of replacement CFLs or LEDs for your incandescent bulbs, here’s a handy chart to help you match lumens when you shop so that you get the brightness you’re looking for out of your new, energy-efficient light bulbs.

Incandescent Bulbs
Common CFL Bulbs
Common LED Bulbs






























Eartheasy, “LED Light Bulbs: Comparison Charts.”

ENERGY STAR, “Learn About Light Output.”

4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of CFL Bulbs

Energy savings for CFL bulbs may be overstated

Although switching from incandescent light bulbs to modern, energy-efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs is a bright idea that can save money on monthly electric bills, CFL bulbs have taken it on the chin lately for failing to live up to expectations regarding lifespan and energy savings. But while benefits like 75 percent energy savings and lifespans of 10,000 hours are being debated, there are four simple things you can do to make sure you get your money’s worth when using CFL bulbs.

1. Avoid enclosed light fixtures for best performance

The lifespan of CFL bulbs is shortened by heat. If you use them in enclosed light fixtures or recessed lighting, the heat that gets trapped around the bulbs will cause them to operate at higher-than-normal temperatures and burn out faster, according to Roberts Research and Consulting, a lighting technology and consulting firm. If you need to use CFLs in enclosed fixtures, your best bet is to shoot for low-wattage bulbs and use them in cooler parts of your home.

2. CFLs will last longer if you leave them on longer

Although it sounds like exactly the opposite of what you need to do, in order for CFLs to achieve their advertised lifespans, they need to be switched on for a minimum of four hours at a time, says architect and builder Bob Formisano. According to Formisano, if you turn on CFLs for only an hour at a time you can expect a 20 percent to 50 percent reduction in bulb lifespan. And if the CFL bulb is only used for 5 minutes to 30 minutes at a time, you can expect it to last 70 percent to 85 percent less than advertised. Natural Resources Canada suggests leaving CLFs on if you’re returning to the room in 20 minutes or so and recommends considering incandescent bulbs for lights activated by motion sensors.

3. Avoid using CFLs with ceiling fans

Another drawback of normal CFL bulbs is that they’re vulnerable to vibrations and jolts, which means using them in ceiling fans isn’t a good way to extend a bulb’s lifespan. According to Popular Mechanics, even using a CFL bulb in the foyer is a bad idea because its lifespan will be shortened every time your kids slam the front door. There are, however, heavy-duty CFL bulbs that are more resistant to vibration and could make good choices for installing in ceiling fans and near doors.

4. Tape the receipt to the box and keep it

Find out what the return policy is for the CFL bulbs you buy, either from the retailer or manufacturer or both. Consider taping the receipt for the bulbs to their packaging and storing it out of the way somewhere so that you can return the bulbs if they burn out early.


Get Your Money's Worth from Energy-Saving Bulbs,” The Globe and Mail, Aug. 19, 2011.

Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs Affected by Uncertainty in Washington and at Home

Thursday August 11, 2011
Posted at 08:13

The debate over energy-efficient light bulbs is heating upThe debate over energy-efficient light bulbs is heating up.

When compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs hit mainstream America several years ago, consumers responded favorably. Incandescent light bulbs, one of the world’s great inventions, had undergone few changes since being patented by Thomas Edison 131 years ago and consumers seemed to like the idea having the option of spending more in the short-term for significantly longer-lasting light bulbs that could help save money off electric bills. Energy-efficient light bulbs were on the rise.

Then, when the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 was passed during the George W. Bush administration in order to promote, among other things, national energy savings through energy-efficient lighting, incandescent light bulbs really seemed like they were headed out the door. The act required a 25 percent increase in energy efficiency for most standard consumer light bulbs beginning in 2012 and phased out traditional incandescent bulbs over two years until they were removed from store shelves in 2014. The fate of incandescent light bulbs was assured.

But earlier this year, U.S. House Republicans suddenly had a change of heart about the death of the incandescent light bulb. In January, Rep. Joe Barton sponsored legislation that sought to repeal EISA, claiming the act to be a case of “government overreach.” When Barton’s proposed Better Use of Light Bulbs Act failed to pass the House on July 14, Rep. Michael Burgess, a Republican from Lewisville, introduced an amendment the following day to the Energy and Water Appropriations Act of 2012 that denies funding for the implementation of EISA. Burgess’ amendment passed the House, leaving the future of incandescent bulbs somewhat in limbo as the political debate over them continues.

5 Tips for Choosing the Right Energy-Efficient Light Bulb

Not only is the fate of incandescent bulbs undecided in Washington, it’s also seemingly undecided in U.S. homes. Some consumers still prefer incandescent bulbs because of performance issues or up-front costs, while other consumers who want to switch to energy-efficient light bulbs may be confused by the choice they have between CFL bulbs, light emitting diodes (LEDs) and halogen incandescent bulbs.

Rachel Rothman, a consumer electronics and engineering senior test engineer at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, says that the first thing consumers need to understand about energy-efficient light bulbs is that many of the old concerns surrounding those manufactured before 2008, including performance issues such as off-lighting or light patterns, are no longer problems. To help consumers decide on which energy-efficient light bulb to use, Rothman offers up these five tips:

1. CFL bulbs might be the best all-around option.

New compact fluorescent light bulbs use about 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and they last about 10 times as long. The result is that they can pay for themselves in less than a year. The old spiral shape of the bulb is mostly gone now, replaced by CFLs made in the familiar “bulb” shape. CFLs are available in a wide range of colors, from whites to yellows. But there are some drawbacks. Not all work with dimmer switches and the bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, which requires significant caution in case of breakage.

2. LEDs save the most energy but cost the most, too.

Light-emitting diodes use up to 80 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs but can cost significantly more — up to $50 in some cases — although prices are continuing to fall. However, if estimates are correct, LEDs can last about 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs and about 2.5 times longer than CFL bulbs.

3. Halogen incandescent bulbs cost the least but save the least amount of energy.

Traditional incandescent bulbs are filled with an inert gas but halogen incandescent bulbs are filled with halogen gas, which allows them to operate at higher temperatures and with brighter light and allows them to last three times longer. Although halogen incandescents use only about 25 percent less energy than traditional incandescents, they have the lowest upfront cost, widest variety of shapes and colors and work with dimmer switches.

4. Don’t be confused by watts.

When looking at energy-efficient light bulbs, pay attention to the lumens, not the watts. Watts tell you how much energy a bulb uses, not how bright it is. For brightness, look at lumens. A 60-watt incandescent bulb produces about 800 lumens, a brightness that can be matched by a 15-watt CFL bulb.

5. Read labels carefully.

Labels on energy-efficient light bulbs are important. They’ll tell you everything you need to know, including if the bulb is Energy Star–certified, how bright it is (rated in lumens), how much energy it uses (rated in watts), the appearance of the light (from cool blue to white to warm yellow), the lifespan of the bulb and its estimated annual energy cost (both based on using the bulb for three hours a day) and disposal instructions for bulbs containing mercury.


Thomas Edison’s Bulb Set to Disappear by Next Year,” Anderson Independent Mail, Jan. 17, 2011.

Can Energy-Efficient CFL Bulbs Walk The Green Walk?Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jan. 19, 2011.

Will the House Turn Out the Lights on Rep. Joe Barton’s Light Bulb Bill?The Houston Chronicle, July 12, 2011.

Rep. Michael Burgess Gives New Light to Joe Barton’s Bulb Bill,” The Houston Chronicle, July 14, 2011.

Light Years Ahead,” The Houston Chronicle, July 23, 2011.