When it comes to energy efficiency, the easiest way to start cutting down your monthly bill is through your home’s lighting. By making simple changes to the types of bulbs you’re using, you can be more eco-friendly while saving yourself a pretty penny. Due to all the changes the green lighting industry has undergone in just the last few years, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with all the options that are available. But fear not – if you’re looking for some insight into the wealth of green lighting alternatives available today, this handy guide will give you the basic foundation you need to upgrade your bulbs and reap the financial and environmental benefits of energy-efficient lighting!
SOME IMPORTANT LIGHTING TERMS
Watt: This unit measures the power that is needed for a certain application – for instance you need 100 watts to run a 100 watt light bulb. Technically, this is defined as the amount of Joules per second.
Volts: A unit of measure that expresses how many electrons flow through a given circuit. For example, if you compare this concept to the water in pipes, it is equal to the water pressure, or more specifically, how fast or slow the water is flowing. Generally speaking, the US standard for homes is 110 Volts but in Europe it is 220 volts.
Lumens: These units are used to measure the power of light that is perceived by the human eye. These measurements are intended to gauge the varying sensitivity of the human eye to different wavelengths of light,
Kelvin: This unit is used to measure temperature. In relation to lighting it is the most important number to look at to determine the color of fluorescents and LEDs. The lower the Kelvin temperature the warmer the color of the light, and the higher the temperature the more blue and cool the light is.
THE MOST COMMON TYPES OF INDOOR LIGHTING
The Incandescent: A fading standard.
Although we all love Thomas Edison, his original tungsten-based light bulb was never known for its efficiency. Although they were the lighting standard for decades, the lighting industry is finally moving away from incandescent bulbs at a quickening pace — even making some bulbs illegal, such as any flood lamp greater than 65 watts. Thankfully, there are lots of better, more efficient, and longer-lasting options out there.
Halogen and Zenon
A halogen lamp is an incandescent lamp that houses a tungsten filament contained with an inert gas and a small amount of a halogen such as iodine or bromine. Halogen and Zenon technologies allow you to get more light from fewer watts, but they are still rather energy-inefficient. Although a 100-watt Halogen provides about 250 watts of incandescent equivalent light, the bulb still requires 100 Watts — whereas a fluorescent would only need to be about 60 -75 Watts (although such a high wattage CFL is not made.) The benefit to Halogens and Zenons are that they are small in size compared to incandescents or fluorescents. Zenon bulbs are also significantly more efficient than halogens, as they operate at a lower temperature and maintain a better quality of light. Halogen Energy Savers (from Philips) are uniquely designed to provide the same crisp, white halogen light as standard halogen bulbs, but they use much less energy. When using Halogen or Zenon bulbs, the best option is usually to choose low-voltage systems that operate at 12 volts as opposed to the standard 120 volts seen in regular incandescent light bulbs.
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 bulbthat 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.
OLEDs, or Organic Light Emitting Diodes, are made from flexible organic materials that can be placed in almost anything. However, this technology is still in the early stages of development. Currently OLEDs are more prevalent in technological applications, such as flexible screens and TVs, but goes comes without question the future is bright for this technology.
For obvious reasons, natural daylight is the greenest way to illuminate any space. For most people this can be achieved through strategically placed windows and skylights, but not every space has the same direct access to the sun. Fortunately, there are several different technologies that do not require direct sunlight to function, but still remove electricity from the picture. Light transmitting systems place a light gathering receptacle on your roof which uses fiber optics to redirect the natural sunlight into your home or other spaces.
Increased natural daylight can also be achieved with mirrored devices (also known as heliostats) that redirect the sun’s rays from your lawn or garden into your home. A single heliostat directed through a window or skylight can deliver the equivalent of 40 100-watt incandescent bulbs. Both of these options are a great way to add light to any dark room, but as you can imagine, neither option works after the sun goes down.