This is a consumer page on lighting. For more resources related to lighting, visit the lighting topic page.
Lighting accounts for 5-10% of total energy use in the average American home and costs $50 to $150 per year in electricity. That might not sound like a huge amount, but more and more Americans today are discovering the wide range of benefits that arise from using high-efficiency lighting.
Incandescent lamps (or "bulbs") are the most common lighting type in American homes, available in all shapes and sizes. The problem with incandescent lamps is that they are a very inefficient technology; only 10% of the electricity they use actually is converted into useable light -- the rest is wasted as heat.
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are becoming increasingly popular as a highly efficient alternative to standard incandescent bulbs. A single 20-watt CFL will provide the same amount of light as a 75-watt incandescent light bulb and last up to seven times longer. Because CFLs use less energy and last longer, you will save up to several times their purchase price each year through reduced electricity bills and fewer replacement bulbs. See the table below to see how much you can save by making the switch.
Models on the market today are comparable in light quality to incandescent lamps and are easily compatible with standard screw-in lamp fixtures of several common styles. ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs ensure the highest performance and reliability. For the best compatibility with standard-size screw-in fixtures, look for the spiral-shaped mini sub-compact fluorescent lamps, which are much smaller than conventional CFLs and are available for $1-4 a piece.
Price of electricity: $0.086/kWh
Fluorescent lamps depend on trace amounts of mercury to operate. Mercury is a toxic substance and consumers should be aware of household products that contain mercury. However, it is important to note that CFLs save 2-10 times more mercury from the environment than they contain by avoiding pollution from coal-fired power plants. The amount in each bulb is not significant enough to pose a health risk in your home, but they should be disposed of properly, like batteries, to minimize their impact on landfills. For more information, see our appliance disposal page.
Halogen lighting is the lighting option of choice where high light quality or precise light focusing is required. A halogen lamp is slightly more efficient than a standard incandescent lamp, but not as efficient as a fluorescent. In situations where light is needed on a precise area, halogen lights may be a more effective choice than fluorescent lights due to this tight focusing feature.
Halogen torchiere lamps are an important exception. These standing lamp fixtures have become popular for providing bright light at a low up-front cost, but they are actually quite inefficient and costly in the long run as they consume 300-600 watts of electricity and burn dangerously hot.
Fortunately, manufacture of this type of fixture was banned as of 2006. You may still find halogen torchieres available for purchase in a few retail stores, but don’t be tempted to purchase one. If you currently have a halogen torchiere in your home, the cheapest and safest thing to do would be simply to get rid of it. Replace it with an ENERGY STAR torchiere lamp. Many of these models use CFLs and incorporate dimming or tri-level light options with comparable light quality. ENERGY STAR does publish a long product listing of qualified fixtures, including torchiere lamps, but the simplest approach is probably to visit your local lighting showroom and check their selection.
Efficient lighting goes beyond selecting the right light bulb for your existing fixtures. A wide range of indoor and outdoor fixtures that are endorsed by ENERGY STAR are available in most home improvement centers and lighting showrooms.
Many of the indoor fixtures incorporate dimmers or two-way switches, or are constructed specifically for use with compact fluorescents. Outdoor fixtures automatically shut off during the day or come equipped with motion sensors.
In general, outdoor lights should not direct light where it is not needed. In addition to ENERGY STAR, look for outdoor fixtures that are certified by the International Dark Sky Association to save energy as well as light pollution that can keep your property safe without disturbing dark hours. Solar walkway and patio lights are also widely available in hardware and department stores or through catalogs. You can install them yourself in a few minutes without having to bury electric wires or hire an electrician.
ENERGY STAR also endorses high efficiency ceiling fan/light combination units. Because the lighting component represents a greater energy savings potential than the fan, be sure that your ENERGY STAR ceiling fan is also equipped with a qualified light kit.
Several models of standing torchiere lamps fitted with compact fluorescent lamps have also earned the ENERGY STAR label. Many of these models incorporate dimming or tri-level light options and comparable light quality.
Page last updated June, 2010