Americans buy about 2 billion light bulbs every year, and as of October 2007, about 85% of those were incandescent bulbs, according to the Vermont Environmental Consortium.

Of course, that percentage is going to drop a bit every year as lighting manufacturers are now producing fixtures that, for the most part, require compact fluorescent bulbs. Sea Gull Lighting, for instance, is only producing fluorescent fixtures, and energy-efficient products group director Paul Vrabel says homeowners are pleased. “Energy efficiency has become beautiful,” he says. “With the advances made in the technology in the last several years, and the wide range of fixtures available, lighting becomes an easy and low-cost upgrade that can generally pay for itself in a year or two.”

Timer-based lighting control ensures lights don't stay on longer than necessary. Dimmers and sensors save additional energy.
Timer-based lighting control ensures lights don't stay on longer than necessary. Dimmers and sensors save additional energy.

That quick ROI comes from the fact that fluorescent bulbs consume dramatically less energy than incandescent lamps. A 13-watt CFL, for example, will provide about the same illumination as a standard 60-watt bulb, according to manufacturer Thomas Lighting.

Of course, switching out your bulbs isn't the only way to lighten the energy load. “A lot of people are under the misconception that dimmers don't save energy,” says Dr. Ian Rowbottom, energy expert for Lutron. “A dimmer is like a valve on your faucet. When you close the valve, it's not like you're building up water behind it. A dimmer is the same — it lessens the electricity flow and only lets through the amount you need for the lighting level you choose.”

DIM IS IN Rowbottom says Lutron's EcoDim dimmer is designed to help homeowners save 15% of their electricity right off the bat by taking advantage of how the human eye works.

“Our eyes are adaptive, and they're not as sensitive to bright light as they are to low light,” Rowbottom says. “We know that to the human eye, a light dimmed to 85% looks the same as a light operating at 100%, so EcoDim is preprogrammed at the factory to take advantage of this. When it comes out of the box, the dimmer will run the light 15% lower than max as standard.”

Using dimmers is a smart way to make lighting energy efficient without replacing every fixture in a house with a CFL model. And Mike Piraino, lighting controls market development manager for Pass & Seymour, suggests that dimmers may help homeowners maintain a lighting “lifestyle” they've become accustomed to.

“Yes, CFLs save energy, especially when you're talking about a 100-watt incandescent versus a 32-watt CFL,” he says, “but what do you give up? CFLs often have a warm-up period before they turn on, and most CFLs that are billed as being dimmable tend to color-shift from warm white to blue as you dim.”

EFFICIENT COMBINATION Piraino and Rowbottom agree that CFLs have their place, but that a house-wide combination of CFLs, incandescents, dimmers, and timers, such as the one from Pass & Seymour pictured above, can maximize lighting efficiency. Sensors can also help. Occupancy sensors automatically turn lights on when they sense movement in a room. Alternatively, vacancy sensors require people to manually turns lights on, and will automatically turn them off after a pre-set period of no motion. “Vacancy sensors are required by Title 24, and tend to save more energy than occupancy sensors,” Piraino says. “Studies have shown that you save more if you force people to either leave lights off or manually turn them on.”

In combination, energy-efficient light fixtures, lamps, and accessories can dramatically reduce homeowners' energy use, their utility bills, and most importantly, the strain on the power grid. “Burning a 100-watt bulb for 10 hours is 1 kilowatt hour,” Rowbottom explains. “For every 1 kwh saved, you save 1.9 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Anything we can do to cut this down will have a great impact on those emissions and on energy use nationwide.”

Piraino agrees. “We're not generating any more power in our country than we were 10 or 15 years ago,” he says. “And yet we have more people, more houses, and more devices to plug in. It's not sustainable, so a lot of effort is being placed on educating consumers on how to reduce that demand.”

For more product information, visit ebuild, Hanley Wood's interactive product catalog, at or

Web Extra

CFL Math

In reading up on compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), consumers will find manufacturers and other advocates touting impressive amounts of carbon dioxide kept out of the atmosphere, or dollars in energy savings by using such lamps. But where do those figures come from? To begin, energy savings calculations are based on kilowatt hours (kWh). A 100-watt bulb that burns for 10 hours uses 1 kWh.

In addition to that, Thomas Lighting notes the following details about fluorescent lighting:

  • Compact fluorescent lamps are about four times more efficient than standard incandescent bulbs.
  • To adequately illuminate a kitchen with incandescent bulbs, allow about 3 watts per square foot.
  • Linear fluorescent lamps are about six times more efficient than incandescents in terms of lumen output. Instead of multiplying the square footage by three to determine illumination needs, divide by two to determine how much fluorescent wattage is required.
  • A 13-watt CFL will provide about the same lumination as a standard 60-watt incandescent bulb.
  • A two-lamp fluorescent fixture is generally sufficient for areas up to 100 square feet. Areas up to 260 square feet (16 feet by 16 feet) should use a four-lamp fixture.

In combination with the kilowatt-hour (kWh) as the basis for calculations, it's easy to see the energy savings add up when standard incandescents are swapped for CFLs in light fixutres. Thomas Lighting offers this quick set of equations, based on a kitchen with 6 recessed housings using 65-watt BR30 lamps:

  • 65 x 6 = 390 watts x 5 hours per day x 365 days per year / 1,000 = 711 kWh
    At $.08 per kWh, that adds up to $56.88 per year
    For the same area using a two-lamp fluorescent fixture with F32T8 lamps
  • 58 system input watts x 5 hours per day x 365 days per year / 1,000 = 106 kWh
  • At $.08 per kWh, that adds up to $8.48 per year.

If CFLs are used in other areas of the home as well, users can see an even greater impact on their electricity bills. Moreover, Dr. Ian Rowbottom, an energy expert for Lutron, says that for every 1 kWh saved, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 1.9 pounds. "Anything users can do to cut down [on energy use] will have a great impact on the co2 we emit," he says. For more information energy-efficient lighting, visit these Web sites:

Energy Star
The U.S. Department of Energy
The American Lighting Association