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Monday, July 30, 2012

Shedding Light on Energy Savings

     The lightbulb has undergone relatively few changes since it was introduced in the late 1870s. But new technology that can drastically reduce the amount of energy and money used to light our homes (accounting for roughly 13 percent of the average household’s electric bill) has arrived.
     Consumers have several options when choosing lights: traditional incandescent lightbulbs, halogen incandescent lightbulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), regular halogen bulbs, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Most consumers are well aware of the energy savings of CFLs, but some are turned off by their curlicue shape and color of the light they produce. In response, manufacturers are making CFLs that look like traditional lightbulbs. CFLs can be as much as 75 percent more efficient than basic incandescent bulbs.
      LEDs are beginning to find their way onto store shelves as well. They can last up to 25 times longer than a classic incandescent bulb but are much more expensive. (Some LEDs are yellow in color even though the light they produce is white.) The key to buying an LED: Find one that has fins beneath the actual bulb to help cool it. LEDs make sense in fixtures like a yard or porch light that stays on eight to 12 hours a day.
      Halogen lamps (reflector-based, incandescent hybrids, and advanced lamps) are another option. They provide excellent color quality and can be dimmed. In fact, the dimming properties of halogens are the hardest for other light sources to mimic.
      When halogen lamps are dimmed, filament temperature decreases. This causes the light to change from white to yellow or red-orange. In many environments, such as homes and restaurants, people have come to expect and appreciate this “warmness”  from dimmed lights.
      However, after traditional incandescent lightbulbs, halogen lamps are also the least-efficient and offer the shortest life (only three times longer than a traditional incandescent bulb). Recent federal efficiency standards will eliminate most reflector-based halogen lamps from the market beginning in 2012.
      Advanced halogen lamps, on the other hand, use IR technology. These products provide a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in efficiency but cost two to three times more than standard halogen products. Halogen incandescents also remain a good alternative for consumers not ready to make the leap to CFLs or LEDs.
     You can also try other simple measures for trimming lighting expenses. Add occupancy sensors to wall switches in bathrooms, basements, or laundry rooms. These devices will automatically turn lights off when no one is in the room.
     Dusk-to-dawn fixtures come with a photo sensor that shuts off a light when the sun comes up. However, if the sensor is positioned in such a way that it is covered by a shadow, or if the sensor breaks, the light will operate during the day. Replacing can be a fairly simple task, but pay careful attention to all of the safety warnings and precautions that come with the new sensor.
      Understanding how much energy different bulbs consume and replacing broken equipment can be easy ways to save energy while maintaining a home that provides ample light. 
Brian Sloboda is a senior program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Additional content provided by ESource.

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