A Bright Idea

Since early in the movement to build Eco consciously, recycle smarter, and buy cooler, more efficient toys, the light bulb’s been a icon of the movement.  Where light bulbs are surely lower on the totem pole in terms of energy waste in homes compared to heat, washer/dryers, and other electronics, it’s something addressed regularly when the client meets with us and the electrician.  “What’s efficient?”, “What’s the difference between LED and compact fluorescent?”, “Are the new lights bright enough?”, and the thing we hear most frequently: ” Why does my light  bulb cost $40?”

Well soon enough many of these questions will be moot, as the old way of illuminating your home will be illegal.  Or rather, incandescent bulbs will no longer be manufactured, left to go the way of the film camera and the telegraph.  The legislation states that between 2012-2014 all new manufacturing will have to produce lights that use 25-35% less electricity than traditional incandescents.  The good news is, the technology has already far surpassed that mark, and there are plenty of new lights on the market to fill the shoes of the old bulb.

The new options on the electric decision list is: LED or CFL?  Some people worry about the mercury in CFLs, but with proper handling, they’re no more harmful than your old thermometers.  The question of light is really a question of efficiency, lifespan, light output, and light quality.

To simplify things more, efficiency and lifespan are really one issue, it all depends on how much juice that puppy is sucking.  If the light uses less watts, it produces less excess heat, which puts less stress on the device, making it last longer (it’s actually the wasted energy that produces most of the heat in lights, the lighting device itself is usually just warmish).  Paired with fancy tech, these low watt bulbs can last decades and, in my mind, that solves the cost issue (as well as the back pain issues caused by frequent bulb changing).

You’d think using less watts that would effect how much light is actually produced, but that’s not the whole story: 70% of the electricity in a traditional incandescent light is wasted, some (more expensive) CFLs can produce as much light as a 35watt incandescent, while using only 4watts.  The amount of power used can be confusing on the box, because a LED or CFL labeled 60 watt usually means that it produces a “60 watt look” when compared to an incandescent.  There is a measure of light output called “Candles” which will usually have an associated number on the back of the box.

CFL - Incandescent comparison

Now we come to the hardest question when making any home remodel decision – style.  Most of our eyes and tastes are accustomed to the orangeish-yellow glow of the incandescent.  CFLs are closest to what we’re used to but slightly on the yellow side and much closer to a true white and cheaper CFLs can produce a flicker that can strain the eyes.   LEDs lights tend to produce a blue quality, which might be unpleasant to some, but a room that gets enough daylight can pair nicely with a well placed LED.

When it comes to making a lighting decision for your remodel there are no shortage of options, but don’t worry – you can always hire a contractor.

This video is a great comparison between different lights,  their lifespan, watt output, and light quality (though a little nerdy):

For a more detailed look at bulbs, I found this guide educational.



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