Mother Earth Living

Energy-Efficient Lighting: Energy Star Lighting Fixtures

Energy Star lighting can save you time and money.
By Paul Vrabel
January/February 2006
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Mention energy-efficient lighting, and many people jump to negative conclusions: It’s ugly and utilitarian, has poor color quality, and flickers and buzzes. They believe they’ll have to sacrifice performance, quality, or style.

They’re wrong.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program is changing the reality of energy-efficient lighting. Today’s Energy Star–qualified lighting fixtures use two-thirds less energy while providing the same quantity and quality of light as incandescent. Available in indoor and outdoor options and in a variety of styles—from chandeliers to portables, flush mounts to bath bars—energy-saving lights are available for almost every home application.

Energy Star is the government’s symbol for energy efficiency. To earn the Energy Star, manufacturers must meet strict efficiency and quality guidelines and verify their claims with performance requirements and laboratory reports. More than seventy manufacturers produce more than 3,000 Energy Star–qualified fixture models.

Smart but stylish

The great news is you can create a sense of style and sophistication in your home while also being an electricity miser. Whether your tastes run from elegant chandeliers, objets d’art, Zen modern, or whimsical, you can find designs in a variety of finishes that meld creativity with practicality. The utilitarian bases are covered as well; for instance, a popular, recessed downlight comes in a 26-watt version with one or two lamps to equal the light output of a 75- to 100-watt incandescent downlight.

“I’m constantly challenged by lighting energy codes,” admits lighting designer Mark Raissen of Lighting Imagination, who has worked on projects ranging from the average American home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. “These codes and my own conscience drive me to create magnificent lighting schemes while maintaining responsible energy use. Energy Star–qualified light fixtures enable me to create ‘energy-effective’ lighting recipes for homes and gardens.”

What, watts?

The general public uses “wattage” as a synonym for the quantity of light: the higher the wattage, the more light. This is generally true if you’re comparing two of the same type lightbulbs, such as incandescents, but it doesn’t help if you compare an incandescent to another light source such as a compact fluorescent. A lumen is a measure of light; wattage is the measure of power the lightbulb consumes. A typical sixty-watt incandescent bulb produces about 850 lumens. A typical thirteen-watt compact fluorescent bulb produces about 800 lumens. Most bulbs list the wattage, life, and lumen output on the package. You can also follow this rule of thumb: For equal or more light output for an existing fixture, look for a compact fluorescent that uses two-thirds less wattage than the incandescent currently uses.

LEDs: What’s the buzz?

You may have heard about Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). First used as indicator lights, such as those small red lights on your stereo, they’re now very common in traffic signals and other applications because of their energy efficiency and long life. Recently, white LEDs have appeared in residential landscape lighting, but are they really energy efficient?

LEDs are improving in quality and energy efficiency at a rapid pace. Colored LEDs (red, yellow, blue, green) are very efficient. Red LEDs use about ninety percent less energy than a red incandescent lightbulb. These colored LEDs can save energy and be a great light source for accent and decorative colored light. Plus, each LED lasts 10,000 or more hours longer than a standard bulb.

White LEDs are also available, but they’re currently only about as efficient as incandescent. It will be a few more years until they rival the efficiency of compact fluorescents. In addition, color quality and brightness are still not quite up to snuff.

Although white LEDs are far from being used as a general home light source, colored LEDs can add a nice colorful accent. Manufacturers’ claims vary, but you can count on the LEDs lasting several times longer than incandescents.

The payoffs

Energy savings: Except for some outdoor fixtures, Energy Star–qualified fixtures generally use compact fluorescent lightbulbs, which use approximately two-thirds less wattage to produce the same amount of light as an incandescents. This saves on your utility bill, preserves energy resources, and also means less pollution is generated at the power plant.

Long life: The compact fluorescent bulbs in these fixtures last 10,000 hours, compared with 1,000 hours for the average incandescent. With average use, these bulbs last seven years, which means fewer trips up the ladder to change the lightbulb.

Automatic shutoff: Outdoor Energy Star–qualified fixtures use a photocell to turn off during the day and on when it grows dark. Some outdoor fixtures also use a motion sensor to extinguish the lights when no one is near. In addition to added energy savings, the motion sensor provides an added security measure that could scare away prowlers.

Quality: Energy Star–qualified lighting is instant-on, does not hum or flicker, and provides excellent color. One caution: There’s still plenty of low-quality fluorescent lighting around. For quality and energy savings look for the Energy Star label.

The drawbacks

A technical drawback is that Energy Star–qualified built-in light fixtures generally aren’t dimmable, although table and floor lamps do come with dimmers and three-way switches. Fixtures with built-in dimmers have been developed but won’t be available to the residential market for one to two years. They’re also incompatible with remote switches and most timers.

In addition, Energy Star–qualified fixtures are more expensive than a standard incandescent of the same style and finish. Generally the fixtures can be $15 to $30 more per socket, so a five-light chandelier may cost $150 more and a basic ceiling flush-mount may only be $15 more. Although it costs more, remember a compact fluorescent lightbulb lasts ten times longer, which saves you money on replacements, and the energy savings will pay for the additional fixture cost within a couple of years.

Enlightened buying

More lighting showrooms and large retailers are promoting Energy Star–qualified lighting every day. Home Depot and Lowe’s have dramatically increased their stocks. If you don’t see the fixture you want, most showrooms have catalogs you can browse. Because these energy-efficient decorative fixtures are new to most retail stores, you may find that sales staff aren’t yet knowledgeable on their features and availability. To learn more about these products and to locate stores that sell them in your area, visit EnergyStar.gov.


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