Selecting Energy-Efficient Lighting

04/23/2009 by Andrea Sillah

Indoor and outdoor lighting make our lives more productive, enjoyable, and safe. But lighting doesn’t come cheaply. The following are some energy-efficient options.


One way to save money on lighting is to use compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). CFLs can replace standard incandescent light bulbs in most light fixtures. Although conventional incandescent light bulbs are less expensive than CFLs, they’re much less efficient. Only about 5% to 10% of the electricity flowing through them is converted to light; the rest is converted to heat.

CFLs, on the other hand, use about one fourth as much energy (and sometimes even less) to produce the same amount of light as an incandescent bulb—and they also produce a lot less waste heat. Their higher initial cost is easily offset by savings resulting from their much greater efficiency and much longer lifespan—which reduces replacement costs.


You may also want to consider replacing standard light bulbs with the even newer and more efficient LED lights. They’re 90% more efficient than incandescent lights and considerably more efficient than CFLs. LEDs are currently more expensive, and your options are somewhat limited, but prices are expected to come down, and more varieties should become available as they gain popularity. (Plus, they last longer than any other type of bulb.)

Energy Star-Qualified Light Fixtures

Energy Star-qualified light fixtures are available in hundreds of styles, including both hard-wired fixtures and portable fixtures—such as table, desk, and floor lamps. Some indoor models offer dimming, and many outdoor fixtures have automatic daylight shut-off and motion sensors. They’re available at home improvement centers and lighting retailers and typically carry a two-year warranty—double the industry standard.

How Much Will It Cost?

Compact fluorescent light bulbs typically cost about $2 to $8 dollars each. Many large home improvement centers and chain stores offer multi-packs at a dramatically reduced rate. If you purchase a multiple pack, expect to pay around $2 per bulb. If you purchase bulbs singly, you’ll pay closer to $8. LEDs cost as much as CFLs did when they first arrived on the scene in the 1980s, but the price is coming down.

How Much Will You Save?

CFL and LED lights can save a substantial amount of money, not to mention time, since once you install them, you’ll rarely have to change a light bulb. This is a big advantage if you have high ceiling lights.

Dan Chiras, Ph.D., author of this article, is Director of The Evergreen Institute and President of the consulting firm, Sustainable Systems Design, Inc. Dan is the author of Green Home Improvement, from which this article is excerpted, and 23 other books on green building, residential renewable energy, and sustainability.