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Newer lighting technologies save a lot of energy

November 2, 2011
By Richard Gast , Franklin County Cornell Cooperative Extension

You may not realize it, but lighting can account for a significant portion of your overall home energy consumption, as much as 25 percent if you are still using incandescent light bulbs. And in places of business, where lights are often on constantly during the day, that figure can be significantly higher.

Allow me to (ahem) shed some light on the subject.

When we light our homes and workplaces with inefficient incandescent light bulbs, we are using the very same technology that Thomas Edison used. Electrical current flows through a filament, causing it to become so hot that light is produced, essentially as a byproduct.

The United States Department of Energy lists the efficiency of a typical incandescent light bulb at less than 10 percent. In other words, less than 10 percent of the energy being used is actually illuminating the room. The other more than 90 percent is being used to create tremendous amounts of heat. That's a lot of wasted energy.

I remember when I was a boy, my younger sister used to bake cookies in a toy oven that used an incandescent light bulb as its heat source. As a young man, I used incandescent light bulbs to keep water pipes from freezing in winter. I still know people who use incandescent bulbs to hatch chicken eggs and keep hatchling chicks warm.

The point I'm trying to make is this: Incandescent bulbs are dinosaurs, and unless we are trying to heat our homes with light bulbs, when we use them we throw away hard-earned money. And we pollute unnecessarily, an action which carries potentially grave consequences for our world and our health. There are better options, and although they may cost more initially, they will pay for themselves in the long run by reducing the amount of electricity consumed and the related energy costs associated with lighting.


Highly efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)

While the up-front cost of a CFL is two or three times that of an incandescent light bulb, CFLs are, on average, 75 percent more efficient than incandescents. So switching over completely can reduce home lighting costs by 75 percent. For example, you could immediately reduce annual home lighting costs of $300 to just $75. What's more, one CFL will last as long as 10 incandescents, 10,000 hours vs. 1,000 hours, which means that over time, the CFL is less expensive and produces less waste. Lots of households have made the switch to CFLs. All are saving energy and dollars.


Light emitting diodes (LEDs)

LED lighting technology has been around for nearly 50 years, and no other lighting source puts out as many lumens per watt. LEDs are common in flashlights, digital clocks and cell phones, but replacement bulbs, the kind you just screw into a lamp or ceiling fixture, have not been widely accepted. I believe there are two reasons for this.

Until recently, LED bulbs produced an observably focused beam of light, which is undesirable when illuminating rooms and living areas. Then there's sticker shock. Until recently, a typical 60-watt-equivalent LED light bulb cost about $100.

Recent breakthroughs in LED technology have resulted in products with better light distribution. And the price has come down considerably. Nonetheless, a 60-watt-equivalent LED light bulb still costs upwards of $40. And for that reason, and the fact that information about LED lighting is surprisingly inconsistent (depending on the source of information, a typical 60-watt equivalent LED light bulb may use as little as 6 watts or as much as 12 watts of electricity and last as few as 25,000 hours or as many as 60,000 hours), I do not see LED light bulbs replacing CFL or incandescent use in most homes any time in the very near future.

What cannot be disputed is that using strands of LED Christmas lights this year to replace old strands of standard Christmas lights will allow you to save big! LED Christmas lights cost more to purchase, but they are between 80 percent and 99 percent more efficient and they are rated to last 10 times as long as incandescent Christmas lights. What's more, the individual bulbs do not contain the fragile filament that so often breaks in incandescent Christmas light bulbs.

They are considerably safer, too. Unlike incandescent bulbs, which can become a fire hazard when they heat up, LEDs produce almost no heat. And there is less risk of overloading circuits because they use so little power.

There are several additional things we can all do to reduce our individual home lighting energy consumption. First, we can get into the habit of shutting off lights when they are not in use. We can install and use dimmer switches and other lighting controls that allow us to lower or raise light levels so that they're appropriate to our needs. We can employ task lighting instead of overhead lighting, and we can utilize natural light wherever and whenever possible.


"Save Energy, Save Dollars" workshop offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension

Changing over to more energy-efficient lighting is just one way to save energy and dollars. If you would like to learn how you can quickly cut your energy bills by up to 25 percent, attend a "Save Energy, Save Dollars" workshop, offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension throughout the state. Our next workshop is scheduled as follows:

Date: Nov. 17

Time: 6 p.m.

Cost: Free

Location: Franklin County Courthouse, 355 West Main St., Malone

Registration and information (or if you have a group that would like to have us present this workshop at your location): Please call or email: 518-483-7403 or



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