The light bulb aisle at home improvement stores is an overwhelming display of options - CFLs, LEDs, incandescents, lumens and watts, warm light and cool light. That's not even getting into price variation.
Sure, we're getting accustomed to the CFLs (compact fluorescent lighting), which are everywhere.
Meanwhile, with little fanfare, higher-efficiency light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are available for almost every application.
LED is changing so fast that it's a full-time job just keeping up, says Preston Gomez, a certified lighting consultant and electrician at Sun Lighting, 4545 E. Broadway.
Products are here and more are coming all the time that have advantages over old lighting technology, he says. And, because of longer bulb life and LEDs' significantly greater efficiency - much more light per watt than incandescent or even fluorescent - he says the savings overcome the initial higher price.
"If it fits your needs now, get it," Gomez says he tells customers.
Investing in LEDs
It's easy to take one look at the price of the LED bulb and move on. With a cost of $15-$30 and higher for a quality LED bulb, they're an investment.
Danny Levkowitz, owner of Sun Lighting, suggests using LEDs in these common household applications where the cost is well worth it:
• Porch, patio and garage outdoor lights. With lifespans up to 25,000 and 30,000 hours, these are guaranteed to last for years. If that's not a big enough plus, LEDs don't attract bugs so you can open the door without being bombarded by the swarming masses. Finally, they work well with motion and/or light sensors.
• Landscape lights. Levkowitz says he saved $800 in a year on electricity with this addition.
• Recessed lights in prime-use rooms. In addition to the heat and energy savings, the long-life may be an added bonus for lights in high or other hard-to-reach places.
• Under kitchen cabinets and in display cases and cabinets. The quality of light and low heat make these ideal options.
Tip from the expert
Use "dimmers for every room in the house. We don't just have one volume on a car stereo," recommends Gomez. Besides exactly matching the lighting needs of each room, he said dimmers save energy.
What's with incandescents
Although LEDs and CFLs are readily available to fit into standard lamps and lighting fixtures, the incandescent - despite some buzz to the contrary - will still be available.
But the way you shop for bulbs changes.
We've always shopped for bulbs in terms of watts which are "a function of power, not a function of light," says Levkowitz. Lumens are a measure of light and that's what consumers should be looking at no matter their choice of bulbs, he says.
According to www.energysavers.gov, the Department of Energy's website, "the (new) lighting standards, which phase in from 2012-2014, do not ban incandescent or any specific bulb type; they say that bulbs need to use about 25 percent less energy."
Check out www.energysavers.gov for more details on lighting standards and other useful consumer information.
A bulb primer
• Incandescent - The oldest form of electric bulb is still the best for rendering colors accurately, though experts say LED is gaining ground. These are the bulb of choice for bathroom lighting where Preston Gomez suggests using light on the side of the mirror as well as over it. The best source of light for color rendering make them the go-to choice for applying makeup.
• Fluorescent - The energy efficient, long-lived successor to incandescent bulbs morphed from the familiar glowing tube into the now ubiquitous coiled Compact Fluorescent Light - CFL.
Color-corrected fluorescent is good for overall lighting, and when using reflectorized fixtures can do a good job of providing efficient intense light for reading and detail work.
They are not as efficient as LED and because they contain mercury, they must be disposed of properly.
• Halogen - Popularized in the home market in the 1970s, halogen is a type of incandescent lighting, but smaller, more powerful than traditional incandescent bulbs, and sometimes dangerously hot. Halogen may still be recommended for detail lighting, making a feature - figurines or decorative objects - stand out. LED is gaining ground here, as it is also a compact light source, but much more efficient and without that insect scorching heat.
• LED - High-efficiency light-emitting diode (LED) is gaining ground for more and more applications. Its long life, high lumens per watt and relatively low heat emission make it highly efficient. Its cost and difficulty producing true white light are drawbacks.
Replace new LED bulb every 23 years or so
At an LED lighting exposition in Las Vegas in early May, GE unveiled a new LED bulb - the Energy Smart LED bulb - aimed at replacing the icon of residential lighting, the 100-watt "A-style" incandescent bulb.
The standard socket screw-in bulb is said to produce as much light as the 100-watt incandescent for just 27 watts and is designed to last nearly 23 years (at 3 hours use per day.) It's expected to be on the market in early 2013.
GE, Philips and others already have A-style bulbs to replace the incandescent 40- and 60-watt bulbs (using 9 and 13 watts respectively), but dissipating the heat produced by the LED replacement for the 100-watt incandescent was an obstacle. LEDs run cool, compared to incandescent bulbs, but they produce concentrated heat in a small internal area and engineers had to find a way to release that heat so it didn't damage the LED circuitry, reduce the efficiency and shorten the bulb's lifespan.
Why lighting energy efficiency is important
The federal government estimates that roughly one-fourth of U.S. electric power consumption is for lighting. Lighting is the largest single use of electricity in many homes. And, as electric rates rise, higher-efficiency products will have an even faster payback.