Are you confused about CFL’s and LED’s? Don’t know a kilowatt from a Kelvin? When did buying a simple light bulb become such a complicated ordeal, anyway? Once you know the basics, it’s really not so confusing. After reading this article, you’ll have a basic understanding of your different lighting options, and what makes one light bulb more eco-friendly than another. The next time you replace your bulbs, you’ll be able to make a wiser choice – one that will save you some money and help the environment at the same time. In order to sort this all out, you first need to know why your traditional (incandescent) light bulbs are not the best choice for you or for the environment.
What’s Wrong With Traditional Incandescent Light Bulbs?
The traditional bulbs many of us grew up with are incandescent bulbs. Let’s keep this simple. An incandescent bulb has a filament inside. You’ve probably seen this; it looks like a very thin squiggly wire inside the bulb (“Squiggly” is as technical as it gets here). When electricity goes through the filament, it heats up until it’s white-hot, and produces the light that you see.
The problem with incandescent bulbs is that they’re extremely inefficient. They use up a lot of electricity (compared to other bulbs), and most of that electricity (as much as 90%) is wasted through generating heat instead of light. They also don’t last as long as the newer, more eco-friendly bulbs.
What’s a CFL and Why is it Better Than an Incandescent Bulb?
A CFL is a “Compact Fluorescent Light.” Many of these bulbs (like the one pictured above) look like a small fluorescent tube that’s been twisted around into a spiral shape. However, the newer “A-shaped” CFL’s are a lot more like the shape of a traditional light bulb, and can be used with lamp shades that are designed to clip onto the bulb. CFL’s are much more energy-efficient than incandescent lights because they don’t have to convert the energy to heat in order to produce light. Here are a few points that make a CFL a better choice than an incandescent bulb:
- CFL’s use about 1/4 of the energy used by incandescent bulbs
- A CFL will last 6 – 15 times longer than an incandescent bulb
- CFL’s give off less heat (which means more efficient cooling in the warmer months)
If every household in the US replaced one incandescent light bulb with a CFL, the energy saved could light 2.5 million homes for a year
Why CFL’s May NOT Be Your Best Option
While CFL’s are a major improvement over traditional incandescent bulbs, there are a few drawbacks and concerns you should be aware of.
- CFL’s shouldn’t be thrown away with your regular household trash. They contain a small amount of mercury, and should be treated as “hazardous waste.” So how do you dispose of a CFL? Fortunately, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding somewhere to recycle your light bulbs. Just go to Earth 911 and type in “CFL” and your zip code, and you’re all set.
- Some CFL’s will not work with a dimmer switch. If your light has a dimmer switch, make sure you read the CFL packaging before you buy, to make sure it’s dimmable.
- Although more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs, CFL’s also waste some energy as heat (as much as 80%).
- Some CFL’s give off an “ugly” light. This is a complaint many people have had when making the switch to CFL’s, but not all bulbs are created equal! Bulbs have a color rating measured in Kelvin (K). The standard incandescent bulbs you’re used to are typically 2,500 – 3,000K. Fluorescent tubes are usually 3,500K, which gives them that “bluish” tint.
TIP: If you want the color of your CFL lighting to look more like your incandescent lights, make sure you look for CFL’s in the 2,500 – 3,000K range. The lower the number, the warmer the light (toward orange). Higher numbers are cooler (toward blue).
LED Lighting: A Better Choice for Your Eco-Friendly Lifestyle
LED stands for Light-Emitting Diode. You might also see this technology referred to as Solid State Lighting (SSL). While incandescent lights and CFL’s emit light (and heat) in all directions, the light from an LED light is directional. It’s also much more energy efficient. LED’s stay cool to the touch; evidence that they’re not wasting your lighting dollars by creating extra heat. Another benefit with LED lighting is that there are no toxic chemicals inside the bulb. LED’s also save you money over the life of the bulb, because they last a lot longer. How much longer? Here are some averages:
- Incandescent Bulb – about 1,000-2,000 hours
- CFL – about 6,000-25,000 hours
- LED – 40,000-80,000 hours
This is newer technology, but it’s advancing quickly. Already, it’s pretty common to see flashlights and other small lights made with LED lights.
Changing the type of light bulbs you use is one of the quickest and easiest ways to make your home more eco friendly. And whatever light bulbs you use, get in the habit of turning lights off when you leave the room. No need to keep lights on for the invisible people!