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Home Lighting

Evaluating Your Home Lighting

How many of your light fixtures use old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs? Replacing incandescents with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) usually has a payback of less than two years.

If you have fixtures that provide more light than you need, you can easily install smaller lamps and save energy. This is especially true if lights are left on all night, such as night lights or outdoor security lights.

Localizing light to your work area rather than a ceiling fixture for the entire room saves a lot of electricity.

Do you have lights that tend to be left on after you're long gone? You want to make sure to turn these lights off when you leave the room. However, inexpensive lighting controls can be installed that will turn them off using either a timer or motion sensors or both.

Lighting Basics

The first step towards improving your lighting efficiency is to learn how to compare various types of lamps. In lighting vocabulary, a lamp is the tube or bulb that emits light. A fixture holds the lamps or bulbs. The output of those lamps is measured in lumen, which we perceive as brightness.

Lighting efficiency is described as "efficacy". Efficacy is the measure of lumen emitted per watt of electricity consumed. A higher efficacy is better.

  • A 100-watt incandescent lamp that emits 1200 lumen of light has an efficacy of 12. This is 1200/100 = 12.
  • A comparable 28-watt CFL that emits 1200 lumen has an efficacy of 43. As in 1200/28 = 43.

The compact fluorescent lamp has an efficacy more than three times higher than the incandescent, and so uses less than one-third the electricity while emitting the same amount of light. When shopping for lamps, choose those with the highest efficacy possible to save energy.

Types of Lighting

To craft a plan for improving your lighting efficiency, first inspect your light fixtures to see what sort of lamps you currently have installed. Your lighting upgrades will likely focus on lamp replacement though replacing fixtures is also a good upgrade.

  • Incandescent

    We have to pay our respects to Thomas Edison for inventing these kind of light bulbs, because they took us of the candle and kerosene burning era. Incandescent light bulbs are the oldest style of lamp. They are also the least efficient, and so are increasingly prohibited by both building codes and government bodies. Standard incandescent lamps have efficiencies of 10 to 17 lumen per watt. Incandescent lamps have the shortest service life of the common lighting types, lasting only 750 to 2000 hours. They are the cheapest of the lamps at less than $1 for most types. But they are a poor value because of their short life and poor performance.

    With all the disadvantages of incandescent light bulbs, one application still remains valid. If you install a home lighting control system that includes dimmers, incandescent light lamps work better. With the lamps turned turn, they use much less electricity and last much longer. Here's an example home control system that uses incandescent lighting.

  • Halogen

    Halogen lamps are a specialized type of incandescent bulb. They are filled with halogen gas that allows them to burn hotter and somewhat more efficiently. But they still run at an efficacy that is scarcely higher than standard incandescent lamps.

    Halogen lamps produce a whiter light than is emitted by standard incandescents. They are always installed in dedicated fixtures, and are mounted under cabinets, as wall scones, and as ceiling fixtures.

    Halogens have an efficacy of 12 to 22 lumens per watt, and their lifespan varies from 2000 to 4000 hours.

  • Fluorescent Tubes

    Fluorescent tube lamps are among the most efficient lamps available, with efficacies that run as high as 100 lumen per watt. They are often installed in kitchens, laundry rooms, and other utility areas. Fluorescent lamps have a service life of 7000 to 24,000 hours.

    The quality of fluorescent tube lights has dramatically improved in recent years. Early fluorescent lamps cast a blue pall over a room,and were prone to flicker and hum. Modern fluorescents are quiet, and are available in models that produce natural colours of light.

    Older tube fluorescents were known by the designation of T-12 (12/8 or 1-1/2 inches in diameter). The most efficient new fluorescent lamps are slim T-8 tubes (1 inch). They fit into standard fixtures, and are 10 to 15 percent more efficient than the old T-12s.

    Many new T-8 fixtures are equipped with high-efficiency electronic ballasts, which increase the fixture's efficiency by 30-40 percent compared with the older fixtures. These efficient T-8 fixtures provide a great replacement option for the inefficient multi-bulb fixtures found above many bathroom mirrors. Fluorescent fixtures also work well for indirect lighting when installed in a well-mounted valance, which bounces light off the ceiling. Four-tube ceiling mounted fixtures are a common choice in kitchens, where they produce handsome savings in this most frequently used location.

    Fluorescent tube fixtures vary in price from $100 to $200. In most cases, installation will take about an hour if wiring is already in place.

  • Compact Fluorescent Lamps

    Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) range in efficacy from 50 to 70 lumen per watt. They consume only one-quarter to one-third the energy of incandescent lamps. They are somewhat less efficient than fluorescent tube lamps, but can be fitted directly into standard light fixtures.

    CFLs have a service life of up to 10,000 hours. However, some cheaper CFLs have poor service record and may fail after only a few thousand hours. It is best to only purchase CFLs from major manufacturers that assure high quality.

    The most common CFLs have threaded bases that allow you to retrofit them to existing fixtures. Most homes have many incandescent lamps that are on four hours a day or more, such as those in your kitchen, bathrooms, and living room.

    If you plan to replace an entire light fixture, or are choosing fixtures for a new home, select fixtures that are designed for CFLs. CFL fixtures have plug-in replaceable CFL bulbs rather than screw-in bases. They include improved reflectors that distribute light more efficiently, and they come in a wide range of designs. Many energy codes require dedicated fluorescent fixtures in high-use areas such as the family room.

    Dedicated CFL fixtures cost $50 to $125. Installation will take about an hour if wiring is already in place.

  • LEDs

    Light emitting diodes work the opposite of solar cells. Rather than collecting sunlight and converting it into electrical current, they convert electricity into light using the same semiconductor material. LEDs are extremely thrifty with electricity, using fractions of the amount of energy used by incandescent lamps.

Outdoor Lights

Many use outdoor lights for safety and security. However, leaving outdoor lights on all night uses a lot energy, and there are several ways to reduce your outdoor lighting expenses.

The first step is to change any incandescent bulbs to fluorescent lamps. If you live in a cold climate,check the minimum service temperature of the CFL, since some operate poorly in temperatures below 15° F. Choose fluorescent "Wall Racks" that are designed for outdoor use. They cost $25 to $75 each, and are installed in a half hour or less if they replace an existing fixture.

Photocells and occupancy sensors can reduce the operating hours of outdoor lights.

Solar-powered lights are another good option for reducing outdoor energy consumption. These stand-alone units are simply pushed into the ground or fastened to a fence where you need light. They utilize a small solar panel to charge a built-in battery during the day. Though not as bright as line-powered lights, solar-powered yard lights provide enough light for outdoor entertaining, or for safe night-time navigation around your yard.

The cost of solar lighting for the yard ranges from $50 for single units to $200 for groups of fixtures that are powered by a single solar panel.

Lighting Controls

Adding additional controls to your lighting can save both energy and effort. Making the change is also fairly simple. The most common residential lighting controls are occupancy sensors and photocells that turn lights on and off, and dimmers that allow you to operate lamps at a lower wattage.

  • Occupancy Sensors

    Occupancy sensors sense heat or motion and activate lights when a person enters the area and shut off the lights after detecting no people or animals present for a period of time. Outdoor occupancy sensors offer security advantages over continuous lighting, the abruptly switched lights startle intruders and alert residents and neighbours to activity in the area. The savings can total $20 to $40 per year if these are installed where lights would otherwise operate all night. Most hardware stores sell exterior fixtures with built-in occupancy sensors. Outdoor fixtures with built-in motion detectors cost $50 to $100. Installation is simple if you are familiar with electrical wiring. An electrician should be able to install one in less than an hour.
  • Photocells

    Photocells can switch on outdoor lights at dusk and switch them off at dawn. This often results in increased consumption if the lights were not previously on through the night, and so these controls should be used only where outdoor lights absolutely must be on all night. Most outdoor fixtures that utilize motion detectors also have integrated photocells so the operate only at night and when someone is present.
  • Timers

    Timers are used to automatically control lights that might otherwise be left on. Timers might be appropriate in children's rooms or rarely used rooms such as basements. Timers come in two general types: the simple wind-up timer that you twist to a selected period of time, and digital timers that allow you to select a fixed period of time such as 10 or 20 minutes. Most timers cost lass than $50, and they can be installed in a half an hour or less.
  • Dimmers

    Dimmers save energy by reducing the consumption of fixtures when a low output of light is acceptable. They allow you to use the same fixture to illuminate activities that require high light levels, such as cleaning and cooking, and those that require only minimal illumination such as night-time navigation.

    The best choice of lamps for fixtures with dimmers is CFLs. Buy CFLs that are designed to be dimmed; read the fine print on the box.

    Dimmable CFLs cost $8 to $15 each. Their additional cost over standard CFLs will be returned in savings if you regularly dim them.

    Dimming incandescent lamps, on the other hand, reduces their light output more than their wattage, making them less efficient when dimmed. For this reason, dimmers are not an effective energy-saving technique for incandescent lamps.

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