Rating the real payoff from 50 green home projects

| by Eric Corey Freed
Rating the real payoff from 50 green home projects

How many environmentalists does it take to change a light bulb? There are several answers to this joke (none of them that funny), but the real answer is: "all of them." Everyone should be swapping their burnt out incandescent bulbs with energy efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) ones. Upgrading your bulbs is one of the simplest, but one of the most important, things you can do to save energy in your home.

In your home, lighting accounts for nearly 30 percent of all of your electricity use. (At work, that goes up to almost 40 percent.) If you take a moment to add up four of your monthly electricity bills, you can get a sense of the amount spent just on lighting each year. All of this electricity accounts for a vast amount of energy use and most of it could be saved simply by changing your bulbs to smarter, more energy efficient bulbs.

As a nation, we spend more than $37 billion annually just on lighting. By using compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, you can cut lighting costs by 30 to 60 percent, while improving the quality of the light and reducing environmental impact at the same time.

A CFL uses a quarter of the energy of an equivalent incandescent bulb. Plus, the CFL bulbs last over ten times as long as traditional bulbs, meaning less waste and less changing out bulbs.

CFLs last ten times longer than traditional bulbs. The life of a CFL is up to 10,000 hours per bulb, compared to less than 1,000 for a typical incandescent. Changing bulbs is a hassle, especially those hard to reach bulbs in tall ceilings. Switching to a long lasting CFL cuts the number of bulb changes drastically. Think how grateful your sore back will be!

If every household replaced the most often-used incandescent bulbs with CFLs, electricity use for lighting in the US would be cut in half.

Traditional incandescent bulbs waste energy, give off a lot of heat, and continually burn out — all of which adds up to more global warming, higher air-conditioning costs and more waste. Over 5.5 million light bulbs are thrown away every day.

Burning coal produces more than half of the electricity in the US, and is the single largest contributor to global warming. The more you can do to reduce these carbon emissions, the greater the impact you can have fighting global warming. By switching your bulbs to CFLs, less electricity is used, so less coal is burned.

If every American home replaced just one light bulb with a CFL bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 1,200,000 cars.

Compact fluorescents are more expensive (about $2-$6 per bulb), but last ten times longer. They are now available anywhere light bulbs are sold. Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, is determined to sell 100 million of the bulbs every year. Doing so would save enough energy to power nearly half a million homes.

CFLs are available in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, so you should have no problems finding bulbs to fit any fixture in your home. If you have a unique lamp or fixture, take the existing bulb along to the store to compare sizes.

When buying CFL bulbs, select a wattage about one-third of what you usually buy:

  • 25-watt incandescent = 7-watt compact fluorescent
  • 40-watt incandescent = 11-watt compact fluorescent
  • 60-watt incandescent = 15-watt compact fluorescent
  • 75+-watt incandescent = 18-watt compact fluorescent

All light bulbs have a "color temperature" indicating the warmth of the light. Some are warmer (more yellow in color) and others are cooler (more blue in color). Mixing and matching bulbs from different manufacturers might show off different the colors are between bulbs. One bulb might be yellowish, while the one right next to it might be more bluish. This presents a challenge if you're slowly upgrading the bulbs one at a time as they burn out.

If you're worried about the buzzing and flickering problems commonly associated with fluorescent tube lights, don't be. The small, modern compact fluorescent bulbs use special electronic ballasts to eliminate those issues.

Some people are concerned about the small amount of mercury trapped inside the compact fluorescent bulb. Mercury is a toxin and linked to numerous health problems. The small amount of mercury in a CFL, less than 2 milligrams, is much less than the 10 milligrams of mercury released into the air by using an incandescent bulb. Burning coal releases mercury into the air, and the incandescent bulbs cause more coal to be burned.

The average amount of mercury content in CFLs has dropped 20 percent in the past year. Bulb manufacturers will continue to produce bulbs with less mercury in them.

Because of the mercury content of a CFL bulb, you must recycle them instead of throwing them in the trash. Never throw a CFL bulb into the trash!

Many states prohibit disposing of any type of fluorescent lamp in the solid waste stream. Recycling the lamps is simple: Call 800 CLEAN-UP (253-2687) or visit the Earth 911 website, click on "Fluorescent Light Bulb Disposal", and enter your zip code to find the nearest recycling center.

Topics: Lighting

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