Green Lighting 101: Your Guide to Energy Efficient Interior Lighting

by , 01/31/11

sustainable design, green design, energy efficient lighting, green lighting, eco lighting, led light bulb, cfl, compact=

Compact Fluorescents or CFLs

Compact fluorescents boast many improvements over standard incandescent light bulbs, and they have now become the industry standard. Fluorescents, and more specifically compact fluorescents, use spiral glass chambers filled with gas and ballasts. Typically these bulbs use about a third or less of the energy that an incandescent uses — a 23 watt CFL can produce about 100 watts of light and runs much cooler while turned on. The bulbs also come in variety of shapes and sizes, and some even come mercury-free.

The greatest hiccup to the CFL’s popularity has been issues related to color and warm up time. However, technological improvements have given way to CFLs that emit a much more pleasing color, ranging from daylight to cool whites. Moreover, the new technology driving the starters allows the bulbs to instantaneously reach between 50-60% power at “on”, and reach 100% within a minute. Currently the biggest obstruction to complete adoption of CFLs is the fact that they are hard to dim, or rather, that the bulbs or systems that can dim are slightly more expensive than the standard ones.


LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) are vastly superior to CFLs in terms of efficiency, dimming, and lumen output. An LED is a semiconductor light source; when a light-emitting diode is switched on, electrons are able to recombine with electron holes within the device, releasing energy in the form of photons. The resulting color of the light corresponds to the energy of the photon, producing an effect called electroluminescence.

LEDs have been the go-to solution for task lighting for some time now, but they are slowly showing promise as incandescent replacements. Improved technology has given way to more ambient LEDs, and these bulbs are extremely energy-efficient — You can now replace your standard 60-watt incandescent bulb with an LED bulb that uses only 12.5 watts of energy and will last a whole lot longer. LED lights use only 10-20% of the electricity needed for the equivalent light in incandescents, and they last about 50 times longer. Due to their unique design, LEDs dim beautifully, emit hardly any heat, and are cool to the touch.

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  1. Bill486 June 23, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    Great effort for efficiency!!

  2. lkohan March 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    I find your article informative, but I would like to add a couple of comments about your information on natural day-lighting. Heliostats are a mainly a commercial “concentrator” technology used for heating as well as lighting and are usually mounted on flat roofs.

    A major, and highly affordable natural day-lighting technology which you did not mention are solar tubes (aka tubular skylights, solar pipes, sun pipes, etc.). A solar tube uses a clear dome that passes sunlight through highly a reflective tube that then diffuses the natural light into a space. They resemble round ceiling-mounted light fixtures (with no switch), and are great used in hallways, closets, bathrooms, kitchens, etc. They are inexpensive (on the order of a few hundred dollars or less), and do not alter your roof structurally, since they fit between the attic rafters. While this technology has been around for about 20 years, it only improves, and comes down in price. Solar tubes are a great way to bring in natural light to areas where windows are not feasible. It’s hard to walk by these and ignore the impulse to turn off a light switch.

  3. greenlivingguy February 2, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Hello all. My first comment on this site. Yeah!! Anyway, for further reference, please consider checking out my book Green Lighting with McGraw-Hill. As it says on the site and book:
    Flip the switch to energy-efficient lighting

    This do-it-yourself guide makes it easy to upgrade residential and commercial lighting to reduce costs and environmental impact while maintaining or even improving the quality of the lighting. Filled with step-by-step instructions, Green Lighting shows you how to save money and energy with light-emitting diodes (LEDs), compact fluorescent lighting (CFL), solar lights, windows, skylights, fixtures, controls, and other bright ideas. Methods for calculating return on investment, plus recommended sources for energy-efficient products, are included in this practical resource. Thanks!!!

  4. joppe January 24, 2011 at 3:02 am

    “a 23 watt CFL can produce about 100 watts of light”

    no, it can’t. i presume you meant to say “about the same amount of light as a 100 watt incandecent”

  5. solidapollo January 23, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    “Why do the LED bulbs I have in my light fixtures at home glow at night even with the light switch turned off? Am I wasting electricity or is there something wrong someplace?”

    The reason they still shine is the following:

    1. You have a dimmer in the wall.
    2. You have a timed switch, like timed switches in bathrooms.
    3. If the answer is NO to number 1 and 2 it is because the phosphur in the LEDs is still excited and it take a couple of minutes to loose the “excitment”.

  6. solidapollo January 23, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Hi Pierre F:

    That is because you have not seen good quality LED lightbulbs. Light is exactly like incandescent, you can even notice the difference.

  7. Pierre F. Lherisson January 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    I still prefers the 100 watts incandescent light bulbs for reading because they are much brighter

  8. AGAPETUS January 22, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Why do the LED bulbs I have in my light fixtures at home glow at night even with the light switch turned off? Am I wasting electricity or is there something wrong someplace?

  9. DORGD January 20, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    guess what you have to do if you break one in your home??? 3 pages of instructions because they contain MERCURY!!! But don’t eat fish with mercury in them but go ahead and put these all over hour home!

  10. itz4me515 January 20, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Why didn’t you cover cold cathode lighting?

  11. solidapollo January 20, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    LED Lighting has more uses than you can imagine. For example, LED are being installed in carpets.

    Look here to see what I mean:


  12. Charly January 19, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Hello! I saw this LED lamp first in a documentary called “Buy, discard, buy”, it shows how lamps and many other products are designed to fail in a determined time of use, wich is called “planned obsolence”. I let all of you here the link:

    (it’s in spanish, didn’t found it in english)

  13. kdalnation January 19, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Great article! I had no idea how much I didn’t know about green lighting. Time to get my home up to par.

  14. Andrew Michler January 19, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Living off grid lighting take up 40% of my energy budget- LEDs are going to make a huge difference.

  15. David Brodeur January 19, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    A great guide for the lighting newbies out there, I can’t wait for those OLEDs to become more commonplace!

  16. Rebecca Paul January 19, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    This article is great! I’ve definitely found myself lost from time to time when it comes to eco friendly lighting. This post is informative and easy to understand. Excellent work.

  17. Kestrel Jenkins January 19, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    brilliant post. the explanations of lighting terms help clarify some of the specifics i was a bit fuzzy about. history aspects are super interesting as well.

  18. Jessica Dailey January 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    The OLEDs look really cool — seems like they would be perfect for street lights!

  19. Diane Pham January 19, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    thanks for this post dan! this is great guide for people who are looking to change out their bulbs and don’t know what their choices are!

  20. Jasmin Malik Chua January 19, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    This is infinitely helpful—thank you!

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