NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Which Bulb for Where?

Which Bulb for Where?


Here’s an interesting energy fact: Only about 10 percent of the energy used by a regular incandescent light bulb goes toward producing light. The other 90 percent of the power is wasted as heat. As lighting typically consumes about 25 percent of home’s base load electricity use, lighting represents a big area for savings.

Compact Fluorescent Lights or CFLs can be a part of that potential for energy savings. They use one-quarter to one-third the energy of incandescent bulbs and produce the same amount of light. They last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs and screw into a standard light socket. Their long life makes them a great option to use in hard-to-reach fixtures to save yourself some precarious trips up a ladder. CFLs can save you 60 percent or more on lighting costs, so they are most cost effective when used in the light fixtures used most often and for the longest time.

Though you may not notice a resemblance at first, they use the same technology as the long, white tube lights you’re used to seeing in offices and schools. Manufacturers developed multiple ways to shrink the energy benefits of fluorescent lighting into products that fit into conventional light sockets, hence the name “compact fluorescents.”

You do need to keep in mind that CFLs are not appropriate for all home lighting needs. Some bulbs are sensitive to temperature and humidity and should not be used in some environments, and not all CFLs can be used with dimmer or three-way switches. Carefully read all of the characteristics of the bulb listed on the package prior to purchase.

Standard tube fluorescent lights have also dramatically improved in the past 10 years. The newer, more efficient tubes have a smaller diameter than the old ones and produce a warmer, more natural color of light, in addition to being more efficient. The skinnier T-8 tubes fit in standard fixtures and can improve fluorescent lighting efficiency by about 15 percent. New T-8 tube-type fluorescent fixtures feature electronic ballasts, which eliminate flicker and increase efficiency beyond what a T-8 tube with a standard ballast will produce. Some electronic ballasts even allow dimming.

LED lighting uses light-emitting diodes as their source for illumination. The LEDs are a semiconductor device that converts electricity to light by using the movement of electrons. LED bulbs are available that can be screwed into traditional lamps and light fixtures and consume much less energy than incandescent (80-90%) and CFL lamps (15-25%) They have a very long life of about 50,000 hours, which equates to over 17 years with 8 hours of use a day.

LED lighting contains no mercury or other toxins, emits no UV light, doesn’t attract bugs, and doesn’t generate much heat. But they do have some disadvantages: Currently, they are more expensive than the other technologies, and they can be sensitive to heat and unsteady electrical current, which can reduce their lifespan.

Halogen bulbs are actually incandescent bulbs with halogen gas inside the glass. The added gas results in about 30 percent more light for the same amount of electricity, and the light quality is brighter and whiter. These bulbs last 2,000 to 4,000 hours. Be aware though of safety concerns with halogen lamps. Tests conducted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that some halogen bulbs can start fires if they come in contact with or are too close to combustible materials.

No matter what type of light bulbs you choose, you’ll be guaranteed to save energy if you put into practice these common sense tips:

  • Turn lights off when you’re not using them.
  • Take advantage of natural light from windows whenever possible.
  • Don’t use more light than you need.
  • Focus the light on where it is needed most.
  • Regularly dust your light bulbs and fixtures to prevent dirt build-up.

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