It’s been more than 120 years since we first flicked the switch on a commercially available incandescent light globe, and in that time, the electric light has reinvented the way we live and work. Today, however, “incandescent” is becoming an increasingly dirty word in the energy-conscious lighting sector.
Heat, that’s why.
Only about 5% of all the energy passed through a conventional lightbulb is actually emitted as light. The other 95% is released as heat, and that’s an expensive waste of electricity and a big drain on electricity resources, especially if you’re in the habit of leaving lights on for hours. So what are your options when it comes to choosing more a sustainable means of lighting your home?
Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)
These are what you probably think of first up when you consider energy-saving lightbulbs. They work along similar lines to the fluoro bulbs in your office, but are fitted with screw-in or bayonet bases, and come in different heights and profiles, so they simply slot into your standard light sockets. They are available in a range of shapes and colors – from warm to cool – for both ambient or task-lighting applications, and all use a fraction of the energy taken up by an incandescent bulb. What’s more, as the market continues to demand increased choice in CFLs, the range of lamps, fittings and specifications will also grow.
The key issue to bear in mind when you’re buying your energy-saving bulbs is quality. In terms of longevity and light output, spending a few extra dollars at the outset will deliver you a far more satisfactory product and you will more than recoup that extra cost over the life of the bulb.
This might seem a long view, but bear in mind that energy-saving bulbs can last for anywhere between 5000 and 10,000 hours, as opposed to around 1000 hours for their conventional counterparts. You’ve also been used to spending more than 5-10 times the original cost of your incandescent bulb just in terms of the power it takes to to run it over its life.
And don’t be fooled by the output ratings on the bulbs either. A 20-watt energy-saving bulb will give you around as much light as a 100-watt incandescent, or more if you go for quality. That’s a saving of about 20% on your power usage for the same result.
One issue to capture media attention when it comes to CFLs has been the fact that they contain mercury – as all fluorescent bulbs do. Mercury is a toxin that occurs naturally in the environment, and the average energy-saving bulb contains approximately 4mg of this element. The mercury is contained inside the glass, so can only be released into the home if the bulb is broken. Even then – and in a closed room with no ventilation – its levels will reach nowhere near the quantities enough to be dangerous to human health.
Bear in mind that your watch battery contains 25mg of mercury, your amalgam fillings 500mg, and an old-thermometer 1000-2000mg. Also, the amount of mercury in a CFL is a miniscule fraction of the sheer amount released into the environment by coal-fired and geothermal electricity generation – another reason to adopt energy-saving bulbs!
When is my CFL dying?
All symptoms are normal and not hazardous!
Its light output is reduced.
There is blackening in the tube.
The bulb takes longer to warm up.
The fire-retardant plastic base is discoloured, deformed or opening slightly, or emitting smoke or smells.
It is making a loud buzzing.
Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs)
LEDs are likely to be the next major advance in energy-efficient residential lighting, after CFLs. They are available for home use already, but are a young technology, so remain expensive and are currently only really useful as downlights and spotlights.
Why LEDs? Lasting power is one big factor to their advantage. An LED will shed light for between 50,000 to 100,000 hours. And at just 1-2 watts, an LED spotlight is more than four times more energy-efficient than a CFL, and 10 times more sustainable than a standard incandescent bulb. They also burn very cool and are mercury-free.
Another consideration, if you’re planning a more integrated energy-saving home, is that LEDs draw so little power, they are ideal for off-grid use. Unlike your other lighting options, they will run dependably and efficiently off a solar panel array.
There is a wide range of energy efficient bulbs available and it’s important to choose the right light for the right situation. Experiment with quality brands and decide which ones you trust, and know too that you are doing your bit towards supporting more sustainable power generation and use.
Green Lighting Design Tip
Simply replacing one standard incandescent bulb with one equivalent CFL can – over the life of the bulb – keep half a tonne of CO2 out of the atmosphere.
Green Lighting Design Tip – The Right Lighting
Whether you’re choosing incandescent or energy-saving bulbs, remember to select the right product for the right location. For work areas such as the kitchen or a desk space, opt for task lighting or spotlights. Cool white, in an energy-saver, will give you the best contrast.
And when it comes to background lighting, don’t overdo it. Too little light can result in eye strain and a moody ambiance, but too much causes glare… and wastes energy. Dimmers provide offer good flexibility in this case, but just check that your new energy-saver is customized for a dimming system.
Finally, always remember to make the most of your natural light during the day. Locate work areas near windows – but out of direct sunlight –if possible, and choose light-colored paints for their reflective properties.
Further Green Lighting Reading
Read about Ecospiral® the quality CFL that is causing major energy savings around the world. Interiordezine.com is committed to help spread the word about how this small light bulb can make such a huge positive impact on our environment, whist still enabling quality light for interior designers to work with. A win, win for everyone.
Find out more about the company that is responsible for Ecospiral® – Energy Mad.
An interview with Tom Mackenzie of Energy Mad.
Lee Brown is the co founder of interiordezine.com, she has worked in the Interior Design Industry for over 23 years, specializing in commercial, hospitality, high end architectural homes and retail design. Over the past 13 years Lee and Chris Brown have been collating their wealth of design knowledge to provide free interior decorating education to the world. Make sure you register for your free ecourse today. Free Interior Decorating eCourse