The highest impact and easiest way to save energy with your home lighting is to change all your incandescent light bulbs with low power fluorescent light bulbs. In terms of energy savings and reliability, fluorescent bulbs are a much better choice than incandescent bulbs. Most of the electrical energy used to power an incandescent bulb is burned off as heat. Only a small percentage of the energy is converted to light.
As your budget allows, you can go a step further by switching to Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). LEDs are semiconductor devices and are the ultimate in low power. They are made of the same silicon material as solar cells, but perform the opposite function. Rather than converting light to electricity they convert electricity to light. And they are becoming more efficient as new LED products come out.
Incandescent bulbs work by taking a low electrical resistance wire, called a filament, and running a high electrical current through it. The result is that the filament gives off both light and heat. About 96% of the dissipation of electricity is given off as heat. The remaining 4% you can see as light. The amount of work product needed to make the incandescent bulb function is called wattage. The higher the wattage, the more energy is wasted. These kind of bulbs give off so much heat that some hotels use specialized incandescent lights as shower heaters.
Fluorescent light bulbs need a ballast because they use a gas to create light. In a fluorescent bulb, when the gas is excited by electricity, it emits invisible ultraviolet light that hits the white coating inside the fluorescent bulb. The coating changes the ultraviolet light into light you can see. Fluorescent tubes are far more energy-efficient than regular incandescent bulbs because they don't use heat to create light.
The combination of gas, electricity, and coating in a fluorescent bulb is so effective at producing light that, without something to regulate the electricity flowing into the bulb, the light will continue to gain intensity until the bulb stops working. That's where a ballast comes in. The ballast supplies the initial electricity that creates the light, and then it regulates the amount of electricity flowing through the bulb so that the right amount of light is emitted.
Infrared Light Bulbs are basically incandescent lights with a red film over the output that makes the light appear to be emitting light in the infrared spectrum. It is a very high wattage light used for heating small rooms like bathrooms.
How LEDs Work. Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are semiconductor devices that are solid state switches optimized to give off light. Silicon can be injected with impurities such as boron or phosphorous in such a way that it causes the depletion area of a P-N junction of a diode to emit light when the proper amount of electrical current is applied to the diode contacts. With silicon, it takes 0.7 volts to forward bias the diode and switch it to a current carrying device. If the diode is manufactured to produce light, the direct current (DC) is on the order of milli-amps (fractions of an ampere). Total wattage emitted is also minimal. Comparing LEDs to incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, it uses only a fraction of the energy. With reflectors, a three watt LED can emit as much light as a 60 watt incandescent light bulb.
The materials in lights can be re-used in manufacturing other products. For example, the mercury used in fluorescent tubes can be extracted and used again in the same or other applications.
DC 12v and 6v lights also come in a variety known as Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) that use semiconductor material such as silicon the same as what is used in computer circuitry. These types of lights require a special power supply circuit that converts normal 120-240 VAC house power in to a low voltage DC. LEDs are also very small and to provide equivalent lighting to conventional incandescent lamps, they must be cooled. A typical LED lamp with equivalent 60 watt output must be wrapped in heat absorbing material called a heat sink. Operating the LED lamp without a heat sink cooling device will great shorten the life of the light. On the other hand, with proper installation, LEDs draw a fraction of the power and last many time longer than traditional resister based lamps.
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