Green Interiors

Green lights are in at home
by Pamela Portwood

Who hasn't been in rooms that were so dark they felt like caves or in rooms that felt like hospitals because the florescent light was bouncing off bright, white walls? Good lighting is essential to every home design, and using green lighting can save energy, reduce carbon emissions and drop your electricity bills.

With incandescent bulbs, compact florescent lights (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs) all on the lighting scene with different technical specifications - it's getting a bit confusing. Actually, that's an understatement. It's very confusing.

If you're tempted to jump in and decide what type of bulb you want for your new lighting fixture, stop right now. The first step is to decide what type of lighting you need.

There are four types of lighting: ambient, task, accent and decorative. Ambient lighting provides the general illumination for a room. Daylighting (with skylights and windows), ceiling lights and torchieres (standing lamps that illuminate upwards) are ambient options.

Task lighting provides a bright, localized light for work activities like reading and chopping vegetables. Table lamps that direct light downwards and under-cabinet lighting are popular task lighting choices.

Accent lighting, including track lighting and recessed lighting, is directional to illuminate artwork and other objects. Decorative lighting adds sparkle to a space, and it can help establish the style of a room. Chandeliers and wall fixtures with candle-shaped (candelabra) bulbs are examples of decorative lighting.

Ideally, the lighting in a room should be layered and use multiple types of lighting.

When you've figured out the type of lighting you need, you can think about the fixtures and the bulbs. There are three types of bulbs for home use: incandescents, CFLs and LEDs. (Halogen bulbs are energy-efficient incandescents).

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (the "Energy Bill") requires that light bulbs use 25% less energy than today's incandescent bulbs starting in 2012. The phase-out will begin with 100-watt bulbs sold starting in January 2012 and end with 40-watt bulbs sold starting in January 2014. By 2020, all bulbs will have to be at least 70% more efficient than today's standard incandescent bulbs.

Many types of incandescent bulbs are exempt from the Energy Bill, including specialty lights, 3-way bulbs, candelabras and more. Halogen bulbs will meet the 25% criteria, and the lighting industry is working on creating other efficient incandescents. Both CFLs and LEDs already meet the 70% efficiency requirement.

Since lighting is approximately 10% of the average household's energy bill, the Department of Energy estimates that these new requirements could cut our nation's electric bill by nearly $6 billion in 2015 alone. The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is a good source for information about the Energy Bill and energy-efficient lighting.

The average lamp life for an incandescent bulb is 1,200 hours while the average life of a compact florescent is 10,000 hours. The average life of an LED is 50,000 hours. Although LEDs are much more expensive than incandescents and fluorescents, the LED lifetime savings is tremendous.

There are pros and cons for all three types of bulbs, and these are only a few of them. Typically, 90% of an incandescent's energy is wasted as heat, yet incandescents remain popular because of their low cost and warm color.

LEDs are not available in higher wattages (above the incandescent equivalent of 100 watts). LEDs generate very little heat. Because they typically are directional, LEDs may not provide the wide lighting spread needed for ambient lighting.

Compact fluorescents have overcome many of their initial problems and are now available in warm colors, dimmable bulbs and shapes other than that curly bulb. The big problem with CFLS is that they contain mercury, which is poisonous, so they need to be disposed of as a toxic material rather than thrown in the household trash.

What bulbs should you buy? I recommend using LEDs when possible. If LEDs don't fit your lighting needs or budget, then buy lighting fixtures with a medium-sized, screw-in base (like a standard incandescent bulb's base) rather than a specialty base and bulb. For now, you can use a CFL in the screw-in base, and you can upgrade to an LED when the price and lighting characteristics fit your needs.

I recently upgraded my patio and backyard landscaping. The low-voltage, landscape lighting that I installed includes a 20-year warranty on the LED bulbs. That's pretty irresistible.

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Article is reprinted courtesy of The New Southwest (formerly Tucson Green Times).


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