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The future’s so bright: A guide to the new efficient light bulbs

From Green Right Now Reports With the stricter light bulb standards beginning their phase-in this month, consumers will find many illuminating ways to cut their electricity use. LEDs (Photo: DOE)use....

From Green Right Now Reports

With the stricter light bulb standards beginning their phase-in this month, consumers will find many illuminating ways to cut their electricity use.

LEDs (Photo: DOE)use.

The new, energy-saving bulbs are the result of a 2007 mandate passed by Congress and signed by George W. Bush that light bulbs be made 25 percent more efficient. That has resulted in a renaissance of new bulbs that meet and exceed this threshold, a technology change that was already underway in 2007 and welcomed by the lighting industry and energy conservationists.

It means that old-style incandescents, starting with the 100-Watt bulb this month, will be withdrawn from the market over the next three years. Consumers will have a choice of three main types of more efficient bulbs to replace outgoing models. They are:

  • Efficient incandescents. These have been re-made with halogen technology to meet the new federal standards. These bulbs look a lot like your old familiar Edison-era light bulb, produce similar light and cost just a bit more. But few lighting experts are recommending that consumers dive in, unless keeping up-front costs down is paramount. That’s because other bulbs – CFLs and LEDs – are far better at conserving electricity.
  • CFLs or Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs meet the new requirements, and have been improved in the last few years to produce warmer-spectrum light. They use about 75 percent less electricity than the old-guard incandescent bulb, and the mercury they contain has been greatly reduced from when they first appeared on the market. They still require recycling, however, because of that small amount of mercury, which facilitates their function.
  • LEDs. The experts agree that LEDs are the future, and a solid way to go even now, if you can handle the $30-$45 per bulb cost. These bulbs represent a virtual lifetime purchase that will keep your lamp or chandelier lit for decades, or 18 to 46 years, depending on the bulb, according to Consumer Reports. (That’s based on operating the bulb for 3 hours a day.)

Consumer Reports recently tested 10 LED lights and 26 types of CFLs. It looked at 60-watt equivalent bulbs, because that is the type most commonly used, finding that the majority of these bulbs performed well.

And all of the new types of bulbs represent long-term electricity savings. The cost of CFLs can be recouped in about a year, on average, after which they save a user about $52 in electricity costs over the life of each 60-watt/equivalent bulb.

LEDs take longer to pay for themselves – four to 10 years — because they cost between $20 and $60 per bulb. But after that, that they will save a consumer $65 to $400 over the bulb’s lifetime, Consumer Reports found.

It’s too soon to confirm that the new LEDs will last as long as promised, but two Cree LEDs that were flipped on more than a year ago have been burning for 9,000 hours continuously, which represents more than 8 years of  the consumer watchdog group reports.

CR staffers who tested six varieties of LEDs (of 10 types reviewed by CR) at home were pleased with the light produced, but said they wouldn’t buy them until prices dropped.

Testing of the CFLs confirmed that the mercury they contain has dropped by 60-75 percent, and they still worked well.

After the testing, Consumer Reports concluded:

“Contrary to what you might have heard, you can still buy most incandescent light bulbs. But we’ve found few reasons you should. Our tests of 26 compact fluorescents and 10 light-emitting diodes [LEDs] found that though the newest bulbs might not be perfect, they last longer and use less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs, and many of the problems of earlier versions have been overcome.”

So the path forward for consumers will be exceedingly well-lit. Still, running to the store for a replacement bulb will never be the same.

 

Light bulb shoppers will need to keep up with the technology and matters like the Kelvin scale, which defines the quality of light output.

Fail to understand the Kelvin scale and you could end up aging your dining guests with “natural” light or making your kitchen so cozy that stir-fry night becomes a nightmare of chopping accidents.

A short course:

  • “Natural” or “daylight” bulbs are rated 5000 to 6000 Kelvin. This can be good for reading, but it can be clinically bright in a lamp that used to host a warm, incandescent bulb.
  • “Cool” or bright light falls in the middle of the spectrum, from 3500 to 4100 Kelvin. This is recommended for kitchen and work areas.
  • “Warm” or “soft” light falls at the other end of the Kelvin scale. Look for bulbs rated 2700 to 3000 range if you want to keep it friendly and flattering in living areas.

As for getting the intensity of the bulb right, you’ll be looking at bulb’s watts and watt-equivalency, and the federal government has required clear labeling.

Sylvania Oshram recommends that you:

  • Replace a 100 Watt A19 bulb with either a 72 Watt Halogen or a 23 Watt micro mini CFL.
  • Replace a 60 Watt A19 bulb with either a 43 Watt Halogen, or a 13 Watt micro mini CFL or a 12 Watt LED. (60 Watt bulbs will fall under the new federal standards starting in 2014.)
  • Replace a 50W PAR20 Flood lamp or “directional bulb” – also known as a ceiling “can light” – with a 40Watt PAR20 or a 14 Watt compact fluorescent or an 8 Watt LED.


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