Thoughts on Home Lighting

I have always tried to find ways of keeping down our household expenses. With parental pleas of, “Turn off the goddamn lights,” still ringing in my ears I have been in the habit of leaving rooms in the dark when not being used. Heating thermostats are set low, sweaters are worn when necessary, whole sections of the house remain cooler when not being used.

Recent advances in lighting technology have provided new, much more efficient varieties of light bulbs. Twenty years ago I began changing out all our light bulbs to compact florescent lamps (CFL.) Like all new products, the first CFLs cost about 4 times the status quo incandescent bulbs. Over the past 20 years the price has come down to a reasonable level although they are still more expensive than incandescent bulbs. CFLs produce roughly 50 lumens (a measure of light that is perceived by the human eye) per watt of energy used and can last up to 10,000 hours.

It’s amazing how many light bulbs there are in the average house. The 3600 square foot house we live in today has about 90 light bulbs of various kinds and size. Almost all of these were changed to CFL just after we moved in. Now, as they need replacing again we are beginning to use LED lamps.

Recently, LED lights have hit the market for household use.  Prices for LED lamps are still very expensive, $7 to $35 and up per bulb. These lamps use less energy than CFLs and far less than comparable lumen producing incandescent bulbs however the quality of the visible light produced can be less than expected. An important part of determining energy efficiency is determining the actual requirement. With lighting, there is ambient light and specific need lighting. For example, the outdoor floodlamps on our house are motion activated and provide light to the front area and safety for our concrete stairway. There used to be a total of six 150 watt bulbs. I have now replaced those with six LED floodlamps for an energy savings of 840 watts when they are all on. In other places throughout the house, where only ambient light is required I am grandfathering out the CFLs and replacing them with LEDs. The energy used by a single LED lamp is so little ($.60 per month) that they may be left on 24/7 if needed.

Using the chart below (courtesy of Wikipedia) we see that it would cost $6.60 PER YEAR, 24/7  to run an LED bulb with an average lifespan of 25,000 hours that produces 900 lumens and uses 78 kilowatts.  A similar CFL lamp would cost $9.50 but would give only 660 lumens, use 134 kilowatts and would last an average of 8000 hours. A 60 watt incandescent bulb running continuously for a year would produce 860 lumens but cost $44.25 and use 525 kilowatts of energy. Obviously very few folks leave their lights burning 24/7 but there are some lights that stay on part or most of the time. Purchasing a high quality LED bulb for those purposes will set you back around $15-35 initially but will begin to save you money after the first year and should continue to do so for at least an additional two years.

Incandescent Halogen CFL (GE # 74198) LED (Generic) LED (Philips) LED (Philips L-Prize)
Electricity usage 60 W 42 W 13 W 9 W 12.5 W 10 W
Lumens 860 570 660[20] 900 800 940
Lumens/Watt 14.3 13.6 50.8 100 64 94
Color Temperature Kelvin 2700 3100[21] 2700 3000 2700 2700
CRI 100 100 82 >75 85 92
Lifespan (hours) 2,000 3,500 8,000 25,000 25,000 30,000

Note that this chart also considers color temperature which is a rating of the visible light quality. Different bulbs radiate different types of light, some being quite white, often referred to as ‘cool white’ and others giving off a more yellowish or ‘warmer’ glow. Depending on your preference and use each has its purpose. Many people do not care for the stark white light from florescent bulbs. They are often referred to as commercial lighting and only used in homes in places like a garage, shop or laundry room where bright light is necessary. Some CFL bulbs have a longer warm up time than others, taking a minute or more to reach their full lumen power and may not be suitable in rooms where immediate or short term light is necessary.  LED bulbs come on instantly with their full power. They also come in differing light qualities. Be sure to read all the fine print on the package at the store to determine if the bulb will suit your purpose. Usually the more expensive bulbs and name brands like Phillips will work best. Beware of some of the cheaper brands available and always buy only one to test if it is a style or brand you aren’t familiar with. Here are a couple of websites to give you an idea of what’s available online.

So here is the arithmetic.

If an average house has 75 light bulbs it would cost $1125 – 2250 to upgrade all the bulbs to LED. Lets assume that your all your lights are on for an average of 25% of the time. This means that the bulbs should last up to 12 years. The lighting energy costs would be about $125 per year or $1500 for the entire house for the 12 year period. So your total costs for upgrading to LED and lighting your home for 12 years would be somewhere around $3000.

Using the same formula, CFL bulbs would cost just over $3000 for a 12 year period. You would have to change them out 3 times since their lifespan is shorter.

Incandescent bulbs would need to be changed about 5 times and would cost roughly $10,000  for the 12 year period.

It’s easy to see that incandescent bulbs are energy suckers and it makes sense to change your whole house to either LED or CFL bulbs and the sooner, the better.

There are a couple of things that I have noticed in my travels. For examle, in Hawaii, where most of the electricity is powered by either oil or coal fired plants, LED bulbs are not even on the market and the change to CFL has been slow to catch on. In British Columbia, where energy is mostly hydro generated, LED bulbs are available but there is a surcharge tax on each bulb due to it being classed as an electronic device, therefore requiring special disposal treatment. Of course, this is just another example of “Hands In Your Pocket.” Most folks just fire them into the garbage dump.  Western Europe is generally far ahead of North America and most European countries have had incentive programs to rid themselves of all incandescent lighting for some time.  In Ontario, where energy is generated by coal, solar, wind, hydro and nuclear, and the cost of energy is second to highest in the country, LED bulbs are not yet widley used. Many homes and businesses are still using incandescent bulbs.

The following is a residential energy cost comparison across Canada. Commercial and industrial rates may be significantly higher.

Halifax   NS 14.465
Englehart ON 14.458
Toronto ON 13.718
Charlottetown PE 13.279
Kenora ON 12.839
Regina SK 11.574
Saskatoon SK 11.573
St. John’s NL 11.025
Calgary AB 10.864
Moncton NB 10.837
Edmonton AB 10.24
Saint John NB 9.808
Vancouver BC 9.738
Montreal QC 7.134
Winnipeg MB 7.113

This chart is for comparison only since energy costs fluctuate and change often. The actual formulas for energy charges are complicated and may take into account things like the time of day, peak hours or off hours, total monthly amounts used, global adjustment charges, contract energy providers, etc. To the average householder this is all commerce babble and their only concerns are the number at the bottom of the power bill and its due date.

With energy costs due to rise sharply over the next few years, as a consumer it may just be time for you to consider simple ways that you can keep those energy hands out of your pockets.

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