Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Energy-wise lighting tips

California’s recent energy crisis has made conserving electricity a hot topic nationwide. No wonder. The energy emergency is not just a California phenomenon. The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) predicts New England, New York City and Texas could experience electricity shortages as well.

The result? Double-digit price increases for most of the nation and higher than expected demand for electricity.

Fortunately, homeowners can slice their electric bill without being left in the dark. “Today, lighting technology permits you to enjoy a comfortable, pleasing and elegant lifestyle without wasting precious natural resources,” said Dan Blitzer, consulting technical lighting expert for the American Lighting Association, a nonprofit organization of leading manufacturers, retail lighting showrooms and sales representatives in the United States and Canada dedicated to expanding public knowledge about lighting.

“Energy conservation is not simply a pocketbook issue,” added Blitzer. “It’s socially responsible to not use more than your share.”

According to the American Lighting Association, lights account for 25 percent of a homeowner’s electric bill. “There are a lot of other energy guzzlers in the house besides lighting,” said Monty Gilbertson, CLC, manager and buyer for Lighting Design by Wettsteins in Lacrosse, Wis. “But everyone thinks of lighting first because that is what you see.”

In addition to trimming your lighting bill, Gilbertson suggests checking the energy efficiency of other appliances as well. “Put your electric water heater on timer,” he said. “Look at your washer and dryer, freezer, refrigerator, heat pump. All these compressor-driven devices push the electric bill up.”

Your home itself can also run up the bill. “Older homes built prior to 1990 are not nearly as energy efficient as newer models,” said Linda Pavletich, owner of Premier Lighting, in Bakersfield, Calif.

In addition to simply turning off lights when not using them, the ALA offers the following suggestions:

• Consider fluorescents. Consumers can cut costs quickly by switching from incandescent bulbs or fixtures to compact fluorescents.

“This is a good idea for lights in closets, workrooms, home offices, kids’ rooms, security areas, and kitchens,” said Blitzer. “Plus it’s very easy to replace a bulb or even a fixture that is not fluorescent compatible — it doesn’t require electrical rework of wires.”

While incandescent bulbs are inexpensive to buy, they consume more energy than any other type of bulb and have a relatively short life, making operating costs high. Fluorescent lighting is now available in over 200 colors, ranging from the warm white tones of incandescent light to cool white tones similar to daylight. Energy-efficient fluorescents use one-fifth to one-third the electricity of a comparably bright incandescent bulb and last 10 to 20 times longer.

The dollar amount saved depends on how long a light operates. According to Blitzer, if you operate a security light from dusk to dawn or 4,000 hours/year and replace the 100-watt incandescent light bulb with a 32-watt compact fluorescent lamp the savings is about $26 per year per fixture.

“If I operate a 100 watt incandescent bulb 12 hours a day, on average, that bulb will have to be replaced six times per year,” he said. “Fluorescents usually last 2.5 years, so you save time and avoid the inconvenience of having to regularly change bulbs, particularly if they are in hard-to-reach places.”

Pavletich decided to experiment in her own home. She added frosted glass globes to her outside fixtures and switched to fluorescent bulbs.

“I watched my electric bill for four months and averaged a savings of $20 per month,” she said. “Visually, there was no difference in the light quality.”

Pavletich agrees that time is money, too. “Consider what it costs to change those bulbs,” she said. “You have to buy them, go outside, get a ladder, put them in the fixture. I was changing incandescent bulbs four times a year. Those fluorescents have been in place for two years so far.”

• Switch your switches. Dimmers allow you to reduce lighting when you don’t need it, which saves both energy and light bulbs. Occupancy sensors turn lights off after you leave the room or shut the closet door — even if you forget.

“It’s easy to replace regular light switches with dimmers or occupancy sensor switches,” said Blitzer. “These cost more than standard switches to buy, but there is no difference in cost of installation.”

Gilbertson is also a fan of dimmer switches. “These are often overlooked, but will save energy,” he said. “If you reduce your voltage 10 percent on a dimmer, you will double the bulb’s life and save energy and money.

“I have customers who are always burning out bulbs,” added the lighting expert. “The three nemesis of bulbs — voltage fluctuation, vibration and heat buildup — create wear and tear on light bulbs. But you can protect against all three with a dimmer control. I have 14 dimmer controls in my own house and my electric bill is moderate now.”

To dim fluorescents, use a special dimming ballast, as well as a dimmer that is compatible with fluorescents.

• Move to motion detectors. Motion detectors offer another bright idea for snipping the electric bill. “These are great for outside lighting,” said Gilbertson. “You have security, but the light shuts off when not needed.”

• Light in layers. Those lighting new homes for the first time might consider a “less is more” approach. “Think of lighting in layers,” said Blitzer. “Start with the spots where lights are most important — where tasks are performed, like reading. Don’t accent everything in the living room, just the important stuff. This allows a thinning of lights without the house looking dark and will save energy.”

• Add ceiling fans. “Ceiling fans are a great way to conserve electricity year-round,” said John Pearson, vice president of marketing for Casablanca Fans in Pomona, Calif. “They are economical and energy efficient, utilizing about the same energy as a 100-watt light bulb.”

Ceiling fans don’t actually lower the temperature of a room like an air conditioner. But by spinning the air, they create a wind chill effect that makes you feel up to eight degrees cooler.

According to Pearson, running a ceiling fan costs about one cent per hour, or pennies per day, versus the several dollars per day to run an air conditioner. Fans can be used alone or in conjunction with an air conditioner. “When used with an air conditioner, the thermostat setting can then be raised, resulting in reduced cooling costs of 40 percent or more,” said Pearson.

Simply raising a thermostat setting two degrees will save about 14 percent on energy consumption. Studies show that setting ceiling fans to spin in a counter-clockwise pattern, will save as much as 40 percent off summer cooling bills — without sweltering. Simply set the thermostat a few degrees higher and flip on the fan.

In the winter, ceiling fans move warm air back to the center of the room, pushing it down from the ceiling and helping homeowners save as much as 10 percent on their heating bills. Simply switch the direction of the blades to spin clockwise and turn on the fan.

• Get expert advice. The lighting specialists at your local ALA showroom can help you compare light sources, choose bulbs and cut your energy costs. While there, be sure to ask for a demonstration on how lighting controls can help create a scheme with multiple uses and effects.

Consumers can request lighting tips brochures and find the name of the nearest lighting/fan showroom at or by calling the association’s hotline at (800) BRIGHT IDEAS (274-4484) for more information.


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