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Lighting and Energy Efficiency

Choosing the Right Bulb

With the advent of more options in energy-efficient lighting, you’re certain to find the right lighting for your specific needs, but you might also find yourself a bit overwhelmed with the growing range of choices.

Choosing the right bulb is actually fairly easy.

Like always, you start with the fixture type (recessed, small fixture, outdoor, etc.) and the features you want like 3-way or dimmable.

Then, determine the brightness level. This is where the most meaningful difference comes in, compared to years past. Don’t think in term of watts as an indicator of brightness. Now, it’s all about lumens.

Next, decide on light color. Some bulbs emit a warmer color, while others emit a cooler tone. Color is measured in degrees Kelvin (K). The lower the number, the warmer the light; the higher the number, the cooler. For home lighting tips, visit Patterns for HomesLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page..

Finally, you need to choose between CFL and LED. LEDs use the least energy and thus cost the least to operate. They also last the longest, and switch on and off very fast. However, they do initially cost more. Alternatively, CFL bulbs usually cost less than comparable LED bulbs, but do not last as long (but longer than incandescent).

So if you prefer taking baby steps, start with CFLs. If you’re inclined to go big, LEDS are for you.

Either way, you win.

Determining brightness

Now, with the more efficient CFLs and LEDs, you need to look at lumens (abbreviated: lm), a true indicator of brightness. Almost all packaging indicates the equivalency between lumens for new technology bulbs and watts for incandescents, as in this example*:

What to look for when you shop for light bulbs. 

* Source: http://lumennow.org/lumens-vs-wattsLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page.

The lumens generated by a bulb will be clearly indicated on the Lighting Facts label (nyserda.ny.gov/FTC-label), found on nearly all packaging for new bulbs.

Know what you’re buying. Check the label.

The Lighting Facts label makes it easy to compare and buy the most energy-efficient bulbs that suit your needs. The label, which appears on the packaging, includes important information such as lumens (brightness), energy used (watts), estimated energy cost, lifespan, and light appearance (warm or cool).

Lighting Facts Label

The Savings are Real

Traditional incandescent bulbs are the cheapest to buy, but they’re the most expensive to own. The reason is simple. Incandescents waste a lot of energy. The electricity used over the lifetime of a single incandescent bulb costs five to ten times the original purchase price of the bulb itself. Over time, they consume far more energy than CFLs or LEDs to create the same amount of light.

That’s why switching to either CFLS or LEDs will save you energy and money in the long run—despite their initially higher purchase price. And when you consider that electric lighting burns up to 12% of the average home energy budget, the savings are clearly worth the switch.

Save Energy and Money with CFLs and LEDs

Incandescents CFLs LEDs
Watts consumed (to achieve equivalent brightness) 75W 20W 16.5W
Avg. lifespan (hours) 1,000 hours 10,000 hours 30,000-50,000 hours
Avg. cost per bulb $0.50 $5.00 $25-$100
Annual operating cost $8.87 $2.37 $1.95
Last Updated: 07/11/2014