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Frequently Asked Questions: Lighting Choices to Save You Money

November 2, 2014 - 9:20am

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Frequently Asked Questions: Lighting Choices to Save You Money

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions and answers about the new lighting efficiency standards. Learn more about your lighting choices and find out how to shop for lights by lumens, not watts.

Download our Lighting Myths and Facts fact sheet to learn more about your lighting choices and the new lighting standards.


Q: Why are my lighting choices changing?

A: For many years, researchers have been working on new lighting options that produce the same light, with less energy. Many of those designs are now on the market. ENERGY STAR-qualified compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs), as well as halogen incandescent bulbs provide the range of choices consumers expect from more traditional bulbs, including a variety of colors, bulb types, and light levels -- all while using less energy and reducing electricity costs.

Technology continually evolves -- such as the change from VCRs to DVDs, or analog to digital TV -- and the new, higher efficiency standards set by the bipartisan Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007) reflects the innovation in lighting.

Q. What is the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007)?

A: In 2007, Congress passed the bi-partisan Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which included new, higher efficiency standards for the basic lightbulbs we use today (think of the Edison lightbulb). Beginning in January 2012, these new standards will require these bulbs to be roughly 25 percent more efficient. That is, they will be required to consume less electricity (measured in watts) for the amount of light produced (measured in lumens).

Using lightbulbs that comply to EISA's standards could save consumers nearly $6 billion in 2015. In your own home, replacing your five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with models that have earned the ENERGY STAR can save $75 each year.

The part of EISA 2007 that pertains to the most common lightbulbs -- general service lamps -- is here:

GENERAL SERVICE INCANDESCENT LAMPS

Rated Lumen Ranges

Maximum Rate Wattage

Minimum Rate Lifetime

Effective Date

1490-2600

72

1,000 hrs

1/1/2012

1050-1489

53

1,000 hrs

1/1/2013

750-1049

43

1,000 hrs

1/1/2014

310-749

29

1,000 hrs

1/1/2014

The table above, directly from the EISA 2007 legislation, generally corresponds from top to bottom, to 100, 75, 60 and 40 watt (W) traditional incandescent bulbs.  Many of these bulbs will not meet the efficiency standards set by EISA 2007 when they take effect from 2012 to 2014, and therefore will no longer be available for sale. Newer lighting choices will be available to save you money.

Q: When will the new bulbs be phased in?

A: Newer energy-saving lightbulb choices that save about 25% to 75% in energy costs are on the market today. These bulbs provide the range of choices in colors, styles, and light levels you've come to expect.

Beginning January 1, 2012, the most common lightbulbs we use will be required to be about 25% more energy efficient to meet the new standards.  The more traditional inefficient 100W bulbs -- typically incandescent bulbs -- will give way to choices that use only 72W to provide you a comparable amount of light (lumens). Traditional, inefficient 100 watt incandescent lightbulbs will not meet the standards and will no longer be available at most stores.*

Similar standards will phase in for other types of lightbulbs over the next three years. Traditional 75W incandescent lightbulbs will no longer be available as of January 1, 2013. Traditional 40 and 60W incandescent lightbulbs will no longer be available as of January 1, 2014.**

* The EISA 2007 act specifically limits the import or manufacture of inefficient bulbs. Stores will be able to sell remaining inventory.

** In California, the new lighting standards will take effect on January 1, 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively.

Q: What will the lighting standards mandated by EISA 2007 mean to consumers?

A: Consumers who switch to the energy-saving bulbs will immediately spend less money on their monthly energy bills for the same amount of light. Replacing your home's five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with models that have earned the ENERGY STAR can save $75 each year.

Consumers will have the choice to continue using traditional incandescent bulbs for as long as they last, or switch to more efficient bulbs. These new standards apply specifically to lighting manufacturers and wholesalers, who will not be permitted to sell bulbs that do not meet the minimum efficiency standards. As a result, consumers will see fewer incandescent bulbs on the store shelves as the applicable dates approach.

Q: Does this affect all lightbulbs? What about specialty bulbs?

A: No, the new standards do not affect all bulbs. Various specialty bulbs are exempt, including appliance bulbs, heavy-duty bulbs, colored lights, three-way bulbs, and others.

The new energy efficiency standards will affect conventional, pear-shaped medium size screw-in, lightbulbs, and some reflector bulbs like the ones we use in traditional lighting fixtures in our homes.

Exemptions: There are 22 types of traditional incandescent lamps that are exempt. DOE will monitor sales of these exempted lamp types after the legislation is implemented. If it is determined that of any one of these exempted lamp types doubles in sales, EISA requires DOE to establish an energy conservation standard for the particular lamp type. This provision will prohibit any one of these exempted lamp types from taking market share from the general service lamps that are affected by the EISA efficiency standards.

  • Appliance lamp
  • Black light lamp
  • Bug lamp
  • Colored lamp
  • Infrared lamp
  • Left-hand thread lamp
  • Marine lamp
  • Marine's signal service lamp
  • Mine service lamp
  • Plant light lamp
  • Reflector lamp
  • Rough service lamp
  • Shatter-resistant lamp (including shatter-proof & shatter-protected)
  • Sign service lamp
  • Silver bowl lamp
  • Showcase lamp
  • 3-way incandescent lamp
  • Traffic signal lamp
  • Vibration service lamp
  • G shape lamp (as defined in ANSI C78.20-2003 and C79.1-2002) with a diameter of 5" or more
  • T shape lamp (as defined in ANSI C78.20-2003 and C79.1-2002) and that uses no more than 40W or has a length of more than 10"
  • B, BA, CA, F, G16-1/2, G-25, G-30, S, or M-14 lamp (as defined in ANSI C78.20-2003 and C79.1-2002) of 40W or less

Q: What is a lumen? How does it relate to watts?

A: Learn about lumens in our section on Shopping for Lights.

Q: How do I choose which lights to buy? What are my options today to replace 100, 75, 60, and 40-watt bulbs?

A: Please see our advice in our section on Shopping for Lights.

Q: Will all older lighting fixtures accept the newer, more efficient bulbs? What if my lampshade connects right to the bulb?

A: Most older lighting fixtures accept the newer bulbs. The newer energy-saving bulbs will work with conventional, medium screw-based sockets. Manufacturers have worked to build products that are about the same size as the bulbs they are replacing to make it easy on consumers. If in doubt, take the bulb you are replacing to the store and ask for assistance.

If your lampshade connects directly to the bulb, look for a replacement with a similar "bulb" shape. Even CFLs, with their now familiar curly shape come packaged in "bulb" shapes for that purpose.

Q: How exactly are these new bulbs better than traditional incandescent bulbs?

A: Traditional incandescent bulbs use a lot of energy to produce light. 90% of the energy is wasted as heat. That lost energy is money we are throwing away.

Newer energy-saving bulbs such as ENERGY STAR-qualified CFLs and LEDs, as well as halogen incandescent technologies, can produce the same amount of light (lumens) as a traditional incandescent bulb while using significantly less energy.  So when you replace your traditional incandescent bulbs with the energy-savers, you will pay less to get the same amount of light. By replacing your home's five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with models that have earned the ENERGY STAR, you can save $75 each year.

Many of the newer bulbs also last significantly longer than traditional bulbs, so you won't need to replace them as often, and will keep saving into the future. ENERGY STAR LEDs use about 25% of the energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs they replace. An ENERGY STAR CFL uses about 25% of the energy and lasts 10 times longer than a comparable traditional incandescent bulb.

Switching to energy-saving bulbs will reduce the growth of U.S. energy demand and avoid carbon emissions. Nationwide, lighting accounts for about 14% of all building electricity use (about 10% of home electricity). With the EISA standards, U.S. households could save nearly $6 billion dollars in 2015 alone.

Q: What is the cost difference between the new lights and my incandescent bulbs? How much money will I save when I switch to these new bulbs?

A: Replacing your home's five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with models that have earned the ENERGY STAR can save you $75 each year.

While the initial price of the newer lightbulbs is typically higher than the inefficient incandescent bulbs you are replacing, you'll spend less each year to operate them. Most CFLs pay for themselves with the energy they save in less than 9 months.

Average consumers will spend about $4.80 to operate a traditional incandescent bulb for a year (electricity cost). By comparison, average consumers will spend about $1.00 to operate an ENERGY STAR LED bulb, about $3.50 on a halogen incandescent bulb, and about $1.20 on an ENERGY STAR CFL bulb -- each that produces about the same amount of light.

Approximate Operating Cost Per Year*

Traditional Incandescent

Halogen Incandescent

ENERGY STAR CFL

ENERGY STAR LED

$4.80

$3.50

$1.20

$1.00

* For 60 W replacement bulbs, based on 2 hrs/day of usage, shown in U.S. dollars.

Also, an ENERGY STAR CFL bulb will typically last up to 10 times longer and an ENERGY STAR qualified LED bulb will last as much as 25 times longer than an incandescent bulb with the same light output (or lumens). Since the newer bulbs typically last longer, you have to replace them less frequently. Even with higher upfront purchase price added in, energy-saving (halogen) incandescents, LEDs, and CFLs remain less expensive to consumers over the life of the individual bulb.  Learn more about lighting choices that save you money.

Q. How many times longer does a CFL or LED last vs. an incandescent?

A. An ENERGY STAR-qualified CFL lasts ten times longer than a traditional incandescent bulb that puts out the same amount of light. An ENERGY STAR-qualified LED bulb will last as much as 25 times longer than a comparable traditional incandescent bulb.

Q: I understand CFLs contain mercury. What should I do if a CFL breaks?

A: One of the types of replacement bulbs is the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL). CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury (4 milligrams on average), which is sealed within the glass tubing. By comparison, an older thermometer contains about 500 milligrams of mercury, an amount equal to 125 CFLs. Mercury is also in the common straight fluorescent tubes used in many kitchens, garages, and offices. 

No mercury is released when the bulb is intact or in use. Please see the following suggestions from EPA for cleaning up and recycling a CFL. If you aren't comfortable with CFLs, you do have other lighting choices.

CFLs actually reduce the total amount of lighting-related mercury entering the environment. They use about 75% less energy than traditional incandescents, so electric utilities can burn less coal and thus emit less mercury.

Energy-saving incandescent (halogen incandescent) bulbs and LEDs do not contain mercury.

Q: What is the recommended proper disposal of CFLs?

A: Virtually all components of a fluorescent bulb can be recycled. CFLs and other fluorescent lightbulbs also contain a very small amount of mercury, so it is important to recycle them at the end of their lifespan. Since an ENERGY STAR CFL lasts 10 times longer than a comparable traditional incandescent bulb, CFLs have to be recycled less frequently than most people are used to disposing traditional incandescent bulbs. Many retailers recycle CFLs for free, and some municipalities have special recycling programs for CFLs. Please see the following suggestions from the EPA for recycling a CFL.

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