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New labels illuminate light bulb choices

Story source: Marsha Alexander, Housing & Environmental Design Specialist, Jackson County & West Central Region, University of Missouri Extension



All light bulbs are not created equal, but with a little understanding, homeowners can choose the right ones to improve the quality of light in their homes while saving money.


According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 11 percent of the average household’s energy costs are spent on lighting. And if you’re using conventional incandescent light bulbs, about 90 percent of that energy is producing heat rather than light.


“Incandescent lights are currently the most energy-wasting bulbs on the market,” says Marsha Alexander, a University of Missouri Extension housing and environmental design specialist. “Using new lighting options can allow homeowners to reduce lighting budgets by 25, 50 or even 75 percent.”


But picking the right bulb can be confusing.


With choices ranging from incandescents to high-efficiency compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs), consumers need to know more than just the wattage of the bulb they plan to replace.


The new labeling system that went into effect in 2011 should simplify the process and can help you select the best products for specific uses.


“By reviewing the label information, the consumer can determine the estimated yearly energy costs, wattage usage, brightness (measured in lumens) and light appearance (measured in kelvins),” Alexander said. Also look for the Energy Star label on the packaging. Products with the Energy Star label must meet specific energy efficiency requirements.


Alexander recommends newer compact fluorescents to get the best light for your buck. LEDs are even more energy efficient, but cost considerably more.


“Today, CFL bulbs’ color rendition can be very similar to what many have become accustomed to with their incandescent bulbs,” she said.


The color of the light is measured on a temperature scale in units called kelvins. For light bulbs, the scale typically ranges from 1,500 to 9,000 kelvins. Interestingly, the higher the Kelvin temperature, the “cooler” or more blue the light will appear. Alexander explains, “The lower the Kelvin, the warmer the light. To get a similar color to an incandescent, look for a bulb labeled between 2,700 and 3,000 K.”


Lumens – a measurement of brightness – is also important. A bulb with a higher lumen number will put out more light. To make sure the bulb isn’t an energy hog, consumers should look for a bulb with high lumens but low wattage. That is often indicated with an Energy Star label on packages.


“When the Energy Star label is present, a bulb will save 30 percent more energy (than an average CFL bulb) over the life of that bulb,” Alexander said. “CFLs produce 75 percent less heat than an incandescent bulb and will last six to 12 times longer.”


Replacing incandescent bulbs with the more energy-efficient lamps can be expensive, though the price of CFLs has dropped considerably in the past couple years. That means the savings on your utility bills should quickly make up for the additional cost.


The U.S. Department of Energy agrees that CFLs pay off for the consumer. Its calculations show that while 25-watt CFLs cost about $3 more per bulb than incandescents, they last an average of 10 times longer than a 100-watt incandescent of similar brightness and save about $105 over a 4.5 year lifespan.


Rather than replace all your bulbs at once, Alexander suggests that you identify the four or five most-used lamps in your home. Replace them with Energy Star-qualified bulbs. As your budget allows, replace more bulbs with energy-efficient alternatives.


A PDF file of sample labels is available at Lighting Label1.pdf.


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Last update: Friday, June 08, 2012