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Energy-efficient lighting

Energy-efficient lighting

This January the rest of the country catches up with California’s ban on the production of the energy inefficient 40-watt and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs. In 2011, all manufacturers were required to add a new lighting label that provides easy-to-understand information for consumers about lumens, cost to operate, and other light bulb characteristics.

A lumen is a measurement of a bulb’s brightness. Simply, more lumens mean a brighter bulb; fewer lumens mean a dimmer bulb. This is very different from the term watts, which is a measurement of how fast a bulb consumes energy. When you buy a bulb, you are looking for a particular brightness depending on whether the bulb is for a desk lamp, ceiling fan, or other use. Lumens are the best way to determine whether a bulb will be bright enough to meet your needs.

Incandescent light bulbs are not outlawed, but those produced must be more energy efficient. Alternatives to incandescent bulbs include compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), halogen, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Among the commonly available types of bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs provide economical and energy-efficient lighting. They use about one-fourth the power to produce the same amount of light as traditional incandescents. The early generations of CFLs were expensive, not dimmable, and took a while to reach full brightness. CFLs on the market today have come down in price drastically and warm-up time is not noticeable. In addition, there are dimmable CFLs readily available.

It’s important to remember that CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury and therefore must be recycled and not thrown in the regular trash. Many retailers in the City accept spent CFLs for recycling.

The halogen lighting design is a somewhat more energy-efficient variation on incandescent technology. The sealed bulb contains a tightly coiled tungsten filament surrounded by halogen gas. During use, halogen combines with evaporating tungsten, redepositing tungsten on the filament, thus slowing down the rate at which the filament breaks down. Light output levels over the life of the bulb do not diminish as noticeably as with standard incandescent bulbs. The light produced by halogen bulbs is whiter than standard incandescent, making colors appear brighter and more intense. Halogen bulbs are commonly used in the home environment for track lighting, accents, torchiere lamps, and recessed lighting.

They appear to be bulbs, but light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are actually tiny semiconductors. When power is applied, they are stimulated by the movement of electrons, thus creating photons, or light, that is visible to the human eye. Because LEDs do not use filaments, like incandescent bulbs, they emit much less heat and are more efficient in consumption and output. Today consumers can find a plethora of LEDs, with newer models mimicking the look of more conventional bulbs.

High energy costs and concern over our carbon footprints have made solar lighting a much more attractive alternative to standard electrical lighting. Some of the most popular forms of solar lighting are for highlighting gardens and patios. Stairways and walkways can also be illuminated for safety. Outdoor solar lights are simple to install and virtually maintenance free. Best of all, they provide free electricity.

Outdoor solar lighting systems use solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. Electricity is stored in batteries for use at night. The most commonly used batteries are nickel cadmium, sealed lead acid, and lead acid batteries.

These systems will work in most areas of the United States. However, it is important to consider geographic- and site-specific variables when choosing a product. A solar lighting system will work well only as long as the solar cells receive the manufacturer’s recommended hours of sunlight.

The “nightly run time” listings on solar lighting products are based on specific sunlight conditions. Outdoor solar lights located in places that receive less sunlight than the solar cells require will operate for fewer hours per night than expected. Nightly run times may also vary depending on how clear the sky is on any given day. Operating times in the winter months may vary as much as 30–50 percent. Unless the solar lighting system has been specifically sized for winter operation, it will not operate for the specified number of hours per night in a given location. Shading of the solar cells by landscape features (vegetation, buildings, and so forth) will also affect battery charging and performance. Watch for bird droppings, too. Insufficient battery charging will not only affect performance, it also may reduce the life of the battery.

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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator for Cole Hardware and can be reached at