Hate CFLs? 6 other ways to save on lighting
Here's how to make the most efficient use of the lights you already have.
The race is on to switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs. They save money, energy and carbon emissions. Environmentalists all use them. Politicians want to make them mandatory. Even big-box retailers are behind the great push. No downers here, it seems.
But what if you just don't like the darned things? They do have trace amounts of mercury that can vaporize if the bulb breaks, requiring special cleanup precautions. Or maybe you're one of the unfortunate few who suffer from extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet light, which the CFLs emit.
Well, before you let your neighbors brand you an energy hog, remember there are other ways to help save a little light in the world.
On average, lighting accounts for 10% of a home's energy bill in this country and 20% of its electric bill. Given that each home's energy use is responsible for the release of 22,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, twice that of a typical car, even a 5% or 10% reduction per home can add up, says Maria Vargas, spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program.
"It's really about getting rid of the waste in the system," Vargas says. "If you just make sure that those lights are on only when you need them on, and you have the right amount of lighting directed at the task at hand, we would make tremendous strides in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions." And that's whether or not you embrace CFLs.
Here's how to get started:
Install dimmers or three-way light fixtures
Dimmers let you carefully adjust for the amount of light you actually need -- and use correspondingly less electricity. Lower the light by half and you'll cut your electricity usage by almost half. You’ll also extend the life of the bulb by as much as 20 times. Dimmers can be fitted into wall-plate switches or plugged into outlets for use with external lamps.
Plus, they're nifty. Dimmers can be controlled with sliders, toggles, rotary dials, touch-pads or remote controls with memories of previous settings, and are available for as little as $10 with do-it-yourself installation instructions. Make sure the dimmer can handle the voltage and wattage you need.
Three-way lights do the same, except with three settings, and can also be set up with adapters that plug into the wall.
Use timers or motion sensors
Timers ensure the lights really do get turned off when you're not using them: the porch or garage light; plant lights; reading lights; or lights in areas people just tend to forget. If you're using lights for burglary protection, timers not only save electricity but also mimic real-life situations. Leaving the porch light on all day and night can actually signal that you're away.
Solar timers are available that can flip lights off at sunrise based on latitudinal coordinates that you enter into their computer.
And motion sensors? They're not just for the porch anymore. Small units that fit between the light bulb and socket are available for as little as $20 and are ideal for any room you're just walking through -- the garage, a hallway, the laundry room. Small motion-sensor and bulb combinations can also replace nightlights for hallways, bathrooms and kitchens.
Focus your light
Stop and take a look at the light you're using. Is there waste? Are you lighting the entire end of your apartment to cook when single lights over the counter and stove will do? Cutting down on wattage doesn't mean you have to live in the dark. Think about how lamps or track lighting can focus light in the areas you're using them: by the sofa, desk or work table. You might be able to ditch the energy-sucking overheads for hours a day.
Flip the switch
Yes, you've heard it since childhood: Turn the lights off when you leave a room. But do you practice it? Contrary to the old myth, it does not generate much excess electricity to power a bulb back on. And sometimes, contrary to your best intentions, you don't come right back to the room. Flipping the lights off every time you leave is a good habit that saves money.
Consider a skylight
Building or moving into a new place? Consider a skylight, or high windows, and let a little light in. Or a lot. Be sure to shop for thermal-pane windows so the energy saved on lighting doesn't go back out for heat.
Learn your LEDs
Tell your neighbors you're cashing in on the next great revolution: light-emitting diodes (LEDs). These small, focused lights -- more energy-efficient than CFLs -- are used in electrical panels and headlamps, and are finding new applications: traffic and bridge lights, Christmas lights (read more here), even home lighting.
LEDs are durable and long-lasting and can pay for themselves in energy and replacement costs. At present, the cost of a single bulb can be high -- up to $40 compared with a $3 CFL -- and the focused light is best left for task lighting, but LED bulbs last about 10 times longer than CFL bulbs and more than 100 times longer than incandescents. And with the technology improving, some say LEDs will be the standard -- and green -- bulb of the future.