On December 24, 2014

Light-bulb Q&A with the Efficiency Vermont Home Team

Q: I keep hearing that I should put LED light bulbs in my home, but they always seem to be the more expensive option. Why should I pay more for an LED?

A: It is true that LEDs do tend to have a higher up-front cost, but there are many things that make them a more worthwhile investment and a better choice than some of the cheaper bulbs you’re seeing in stores.

Energy Star® LEDs, which are performance tested and certified by a third party laboratory, last up to 25 times longer than incandescent light bulbs and three times longer than CFLs, so when you opt for LED you’ll find you’re replacing your bulbs less often and spending less time in the store selecting and buying new bulbs.

They use 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, meaning you’ll spend less energy and money on powering your LED household bulbs.

They also provide a great quality of light that is crisp and natural, which will make your home feel more comfortable. And lastly, more than 95 percent of an LED bulb is recyclable, so they have a comparatively low environmental impact when you dispose of them properly.

Right now you can get a standard LED bulb for as little as $4.99 in Vermont. In some other states the same LED bulb can cost up to $40.00. Efficiency Vermont has partnered with manufacturers of Energy Star® certified bulbs and participating retail locations in order to buy down the cost of LEDs before they hit store shelves, making them more affordable for all Vermonters.

Q: I went to the hardware store to buy a few new light bulbs for my house and I was totally overwhelmed by the options–how do I know which one is right for me? I used to always just go by watts but this doesn’t seem to translate to some of the new options.

A: Picking the right bulb can definitely be confusing–with rapid advancements in lighting technology it is hard to keep up with all of the product options out there. When choosing a bulb that is right for you, here are a few key things to consider:

Brightness. You mention selecting bulbs by the number of watts–that was the best way to pick the right incandescent bulbs, but with new, efficient bulb options it is all about lumens. Watts describe the power used, but lumens (lm) are a measure of a bulb’s brightness. The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the bulb. If you’re looking to replace a general 60-watt bulb, look for a CFL or LED with 800 lumens. For a 75-watt go for 1100 lumens. And for a 100-watt choose a bulb with 1700 lumens. Keep in mind that the bulb needs to be right for the fixture you are using–what’s right for a floor lamp may not be the correct choice for your ceiling fan.

Color. This choice is entirely based on your preference. Depending on where you plan to put your new bulb, you may decide you’d like it to have a warm or cool glow. The “light appearance” of the bulb is measured in kelvins (K). The higher the number of kelvins, the cooler the light. For something that looks like your old incandescent you should look for a bulb in the 2700K to 3000K range, and for cooler light go for a bulb in the 4100K to 5000K range. 

Cost. In Vermont you can get an efficient bulb that requires a small amount of electricity to power, for a relatively low price. Energy Star® CFLs start at $0.99 and Energy Star® LEDs start at $4.99. In addition to the point-of-purchase price you’re willing to pay for the bulb, you should also keep in mind the length of the bulb’s life and the cost of powering it over time. Generally speaking LEDs cost the least to power over time and they last the longest, making them a worthwhile investment.

If you forget the exact number of kelvins you want, or if you aren’t sure how to determine how long the bulb will last, check for an energy information label on the light bulb box–you’ll find most of these facts there.

You can also visit the Efficiency Vermont website, www.efficiencyvermont.com, or call our customer support center at 888-921-5990, for more information on lighting and interactive tools for choosing the right bulb.

Q: I bought an LED bulb for a dimmable ceiling fixture in my dining room a while ago but I was disappointed to find that it didn’t last as long as it was supposed to. Is there a reason why it burned out so quickly?

A: Without seeing the bulb and the fixture it’s hard to be sure, but it sounds to me like you didn’t buy a dimmable bulb. While you may have selected a bulb with the correct number of lumens, if it wasn’t made to operate in a dimmable fixture it wouldn’t perform correctly and therefore it would burn out much faster. Dimmable LED bulbs do exist and should be clearly labeled in your local hardware store–don’t hesitate to ask for assistance the next time you’re scanning the store shelves to insure you make the right pick.

Q: I’ve heard that CFLs have mercury in them. Should I be concerned about using CFLs in my home?

A: What you’ve heard is true. CFLs do have trace amounts of mercury in them (less than 5 milligrams) and it is something that you should be aware of. Mercury is only released if the bulb is broken so the risks are relatively low when the bulb is in use. When it comes time to dispose of the bulb you should treat it in the same way you handle other household items containing mercury, such as batteries and thermometers, which have specific disposal requirements.

You can recycle CFLs at many local hardware stores and waste facilities for free–visit www.merc.org for details on how to dispose of mercury-containing materials correctly and for a complete list of Vermont disposal sites.

Visit www.efficiencyvermont.com/bulbs for more information on lighting your home, and to find out about available incentives and rebates.

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed or just want some more information on how to light your home efficiently, visit www.efficiencyvermont.com, or call us at (888)921-5990 and we can help you figure out what is the best choice is for you.

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