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Lights

Energy efficient light bulbs are good for the environment and your pocketbook.

Check the Label

  • Choose Energy Star-certified light bulbs

  • Choose halogen, compact fluorescent or LED bulbs

  • Avoid incandescent bulbs

Do’s & Don’ts

The Dirty Details

Federal standards set in 2007 require light bulbs to be energy efficient—not only good news for the environment, but also for your pocketbook. The new standards don’t ban traditional incandescent bulbs, which waste the most energy and have the shortest lifespan, but the most inefficient were phased out by 2014. All light bulbs must now use at least 25 percent less energy than under the old standards, and some are as much as 75 percent more efficient.

Light Bulb Labels

Since 2011, light bulbs must be labeled for easier comparison of types and brands. Labels must provide information on lumens, or brightness; estimated yearly cost; expected life of bulb; watts, a measurement of energy used; and mercury content.

When choosing incandescent bulbs in the past, you probably looked at watts, which measure energy used. Since energy use varies between halogen, compact fluorescent and LED bulbs for the same amount of light produced, light bulbs are now labeled based on brightness, measured in lumens.

Watts Lumens (brightness)
40 450
60 800
75 1100
100 1600
150 2600

Halogen Bulbs

These bulbs have a capsule of halogen gas around the filament, increasing efficiency. The best application for halogen bulbs is focused lighting like reading lamps or track lighting. Halogen bulbs tend to get hotter than regular incandescent bulbs and produce more light, but can pose a risk of fire. These bulbs save 30 percent or more energy compared to regular incandescent bulbs, and do not contain mercury.

LED Bulbs

LED lights have the lowest energy costs and are the most efficient, using up to 80 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. They do not contain mercury, are not sensitive to cold temperatures and don’t break easily. Because they last so long, they’re a good choice for fixtures that are hard to reach and also those in high-use areas like porches. These bulbs tend to be more expensive, but their price has dropped significantly in recent years.

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

Compact fluorescent bulbs use a coated glass tube that contains a small amount of argon and mercury vapor. This technology offers up to 75 percent in energy savings and the bulbs can last up to 10 times as long as traditional incandescent bulbs. The lifespan of these bulbs is reduced if they are turned on and off for short periods, so they are best for areas where lights are left on for long periods, like hallways or entryways.

Compact fluorescent bulbs contain a small amount of mercury, but none is released unless the bulb breaks. Mercury exposure is hazardous even at low levels and is especially dangerous for kids, so avoid using these bulbs in children's rooms, playrooms or recreation rooms.

EWG recommends compact fluorescents to save energy, but if a bulb breaks, follow these cleanup procedures:

  • Children and pregnant or nursing women should stay away from the contaminated area.
  • Close doors and open windows to allow mercury vapors to vent outdoors. Stay away for five to 15 minutes.
  • Wearing rubber gloves, scoop up broken pieces of bulb and use tape to collect tiny particles. Seal the waste in a glass jar with a screw top lid.
  • Use the Environmental Protection Agency’s website to find the nearest location for disposal of hazardous household waste. See www.epa.gov/bulbrecycling.

If you are concerned about the mercury used in compact fluorescents and price is not a factor, choose LEDs.

  Traditional incandescent Halogen Compact fluorescent LED
Energy used (average watts) 60 43 13 9
Average life 750-1000 hours 2250-3500 hours 10,000-12,000 hours 15,000-25,000 hours
Contains mercury No No Yes No
Sensitive to cold temperatures No No Yes No
Sensitive to humidity Some Some Yes No
Heat High High Medium Low
Use with dimmer switch Yes Yes Some Some
Light up immediately Yes Yes Delay to brightness Yes
Durability Glass or filament can break easily Glass or filament can break easily Glass or filament can break easily More durable, less sensitive to vibrations
Frequent on/off shortens lifespan Some Some Yes No
Best application Phased out under new standards Reading or office lamps Left on for extended periods Outdoor lighting, left on for extended periods, hard to change fixtures

Certifications

  • Energy Star

References

  1. California Energy Commission, Incandescent, LED, Fluorescent, Compact Fluorescent and Halogen Bulbs. Available at http://www.energy.ca.gov/lightbulbs/lightbulb_faqs.html
  2. Energy Star, Learn About CFLs. Available at www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=cfls.pr_cfls_about#how_work
  3. Energy Star, Light Bulbs. Available at www.energystar.gov/products/lighting_fans/light_bulbs
  4. Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Compact Fluorescent Lamp Breakage Study Report. 2008. Available at www.maine.gov/dep/homeowner/cflreport.html
  5. Natural Resources Defense Council, Your Guide to More Efficient and Money-Saving Light Bulbs. Available at www.nrdc.org/energy/lightbulbs/files/lightbulbguide.pdf
  6. Natural Resources Defense Council, The Facts About Light Bulbs and Mercury. Available at http://www.nrdc.org/legislation/files/lightbulbmercury.pdf
  7. U.S EPA, Cleaning Up a Broken CFL. Available at www2.epa.gov/cfl/cleaning-broken-cfl
  8. U.S. Department of Energy, Lumens and the Lighting Facts Label. Available at energy.gov/energysaver/lumens-and-lighting-facts-label
  9. U.S. Department of Energy, New Lighting Standards Began in 2012. Available at energy.gov/energysaver/new-lighting-standards-began-2012
  10. John Lippert, A Bright Idea: New Efficiency Standards for Incandescent and Fluorescent Lights. U.S. Department of Energy, 2009. Available at energy.gov/energysaver/articles/bright-idea-new-efficiency-standards-incandescent-and-fluorescent-lights

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