Sunday, February 24, 2008

How to Pick a Better Bulb

Though we call them "lights," traditional incandescent bulbs are actually small heaters that produce a little light — and waste a lot of energy making heat. (You know this if you've touched one that's been on for a while!) In the 1880s, they revolutionized the world. But today, we can do better.

Better alternatives use more efficient technology

Once dismissed as buzzing tubes in offices, fluorescent lights have gone compact and upscale. Energy-saving compact fluorescents (CFs) now rival the cozy, warm light of traditional bulbs. They use a fraction of the electricity, which means lower electricity bills and millions of tons less global warming pollution. And in the summer, because they don't burn as hot as incandescent bulbs, they'll lower your cooling bills.

If every household replaced just three 60-watt incandescent bulbs with CF bulbs, the pollution savings would be like taking 3.5 million cars off the road!

If you were disappointed by CF bulbs in the past, it's time to try again. Today's energy-saving bulbs can be used just about anywhere—as reading lights, in vanities and wall sconces. Some are dimmable; others work in three-way lamps. All are cheaper and more attractive than earlier models. It's easy to start saving money and electricity today. Here's how to make the switch:

1. Start with one bulb.
There are lots of choices, so before switching all the bulbs in a room, try just one to make sure it gives the kind of light you want. Look for bulbs with a color temperature between 2650 and 2850 degrees or labeled "warm white."

2. Know your watts.
Incandescent bulbs are known by how much power it takes to light them—a 40-watt bulb is on the dim side and uses less power; a 100-watt bulb is bright and uses a lot of juice. Energy-saving CFs provide much more light per watt.

Look for a CF bulb whose wattage is about one-quarter of the incandescent you're replacing. For example, a CF bulb in the 15-watt range replaces around a 60-watt incandescent.

3. Check the shape and size.
Both the CF bulb and its ballast (the bulb's "engine" in between the glass and the screw-in part) can be bigger than standard incandescent bulbs. Inspect your lamp shade, the harp and the socket to ensure that your lamp can accommodate the CF bulb.

4. Be careful choosing CF bulbs to use with dimmers.
In order for a CF bulb to work in a dimmer, it must be specially designed to do so.

5. Look for Energy Star.
The most energy-efficient CF bulbs carry the Energy Star label, the imprimatur of the government-backed energy efficiency program.

6. Dispose of burned-out bulbs properly.
All fluorescent lights contain trace amounts of mercury. But don't worry — there is far less mercury in CFs than in thermometers or old thermostats. Plus, using these bulbs helps prevent mercury from being released into the air from coal-powered power plants. When they burn out years down the road, recycle them.

7. See if your utility offers rebates.
Energy-efficient bulbs help utility companies lessen their load at peak times, so sometimes they run special programs or rebates to encourage you to make the switch.

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