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Shedding the Light on Energy Efficiency

Brighten up your day by saving energy with efficient lighting!  Learn how the long lifespans of LEDs and CFLs can minimize time spent replacing dead light bulbs while simultaneously maximizing your energy savings.

Making the Right Lighting Choice for You

energy efficient light bulbs

Lighting accounts for approximately 20% of an average household’s electric bill, but you can save money and energy by switching to energy-efficient lighting. Switching from traditional incandescents to ENERGY STAR® light bulbs is a simple, yet effective way to reduce energy use in your home. Not only will these bulbs use 75-85% less energy than incandescent and halogen alternatives, they will help save money on energy bills and prevent greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change.

Traditional incandescents waste energy and money by using 90% of electricity to produce heat instead of light. Yet, with numerous energy-efficient bulb options, you can make smart lighting choices. The two most efficient lighting technologies are compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and lighting emitting diodes (LEDs).

Why Are Some Light Bulbs Going Away?

Incandescent Fade Out

New Federal Lighting Standards

In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which included new, higher efficiency standards for the basic light bulbs we use today. Beginning in January 2012, and over the course of a three-year period, these new standards require bulbs to be roughly 30% more efficient. That is, they will be required to consume less electricity for the same amount of light produced.

LED bulbLEDs are small light sources that become illuminated by the movement of electrons through a semiconductor material. Any heat that is produced gets absorbed into the (heat sink) base, as opposed to other lighting technologies which send heat in all directions. This makes LEDs not only cool to the touch on top, but also very energy efficient. The base of the bulb where the heat sink is located will heat up when the bulb is illuminated.

LEDs are made of a durable plastic and they do not contain mercury. Many can also be used with dimmer switches making them more versatile as well. The lifespan of a LED is pretty impressive, lasting over 25,000 hours. One LED can last up to 25 times longer and save up to 85% more energy than an incandescent light bulb and up to 2.5 times longer than a CFL.

LED bulbs are becoming more efficient and less expensive. Convection-based technology is being developed that replaces the heat sink base with slots at the top of the bulb and bottom of the base so heat can rise out of the top and cooler air can rise through the bottom. These shatter-proof bulbs will look very similar to incandescent bulbs, but use 85% less energy and last about 25 times longer.

CFLs produce light differently than incandescent bulbs. In an incandescent, electric current runs through a wire filament and heats the filament until it starts to glow. In a CFL, an electric current is driven through a tube containing argon and a small amount of mercury vapor. This generates invisible ultraviolet light that excites a fluorescent coating (called phosphor) on the inside of the tube, which then emits visible light.

Once the electricity starts moving in a CFL, it uses about 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs. A CFL's ballast (the electronic part that regulates the electric current through a fluorescent lamp) helps "kick start" the CFL and then regulates the current once the electricity starts flowing.

cfl bulb

Typically a CFL bulb will pay for itself in less than nine months, a CFL lasts a minimum of 10,000 hours and many last 12,000 hours or more. One important point to note is that they do contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing that can be exposed if broken. CFLs should not be used in lamps that can be easily knocked over or in places where they can be easily broken. See the Lighting FAQs for more information.

OLED TVOLED lighting is still being developed, but the technology is anticipated to have wide-reaching effects. OLEDs are light emitting panels. When electricity is applied to the panels, the carbon based (organic) materials they are made of emit light. While they are very efficient, their cost is higher than other types of lighting. These types of panels do not contain mercury, can be flexible, transparent, and color tunable. OLEDs are becoming more widely available in the manufacturing of cellphones, TVs, and other electronic devices. Currently they are still rare in the lighting world but are anticipated to take off within the next couple of years.

Not currently available on the consumer market
Expected to last 15 years
Mercury Free
Susceptible to water damage
Color tunable, flexible, and transparent
Ultra-thin, carbon-based material
Versatile applications

For decades, we have been buying light bulbs based on how much energy they consume (watts) — no matter how much light they give us (lumens). Lumens measure the true brightness of a bulb. More lumens means it's a brighter light; fewer lumens means it's a dimmer light. When buying new bulbs, the best way to determine the brightness of the bulb is to look for lumens on the label.

Graph of Watts versus Lumens for bulb type

Understanding the Color of Light

An important consideration is the color of light, which can affect a room’s appearance. Two bulbs with equal lumen ratings can produce very different results if they have different color temperatures. Coloration is directly related to the bulb’s Kelvin (K) rating and affects the appearance of home furnishings. The Kelvin scale measures the temperature of color in light.

Bulbs with lower K have a warmer yellow light while bulbs with higher K have whiter or bluer light. Most ENERGY STAR certified bulbs match the color of incandescent bulbs in the 2,700K-3,000K range. To maintain consistent light quality, it’s best to use bulbs with the same color temperature throughout a room.

choosing the right color

Lighting Facts Label 

 The Federal Trade Commission requires a new product label for light bulbs called the Lighting Facts Label. It helps you buy the right bulb for your lighting needs.

Like the helpful nutrition label on food products, the Lighting Facts Label helps consumers understand what they are really purchasing in terms of:

  • Brightness – lumens
  • Energy cost – how much energy used per year
  • Life – estimated life of bulb
  • Light appearance – Color temperature (Kelvin)
  • Energy Used – amount of energy (watts) the bulb consumes when illuminated
  • Mercury – if bulb contains mercury

Lighting Facts Label

For more help finding the right bulb, check out our Energy Efficient Lighting Brochure.

Incandescent light bulbs can be disposed of in your regular trash. You may want to consider wrapping your old bulb in newspaper or paper towels to protect those taking out the trash from broken pieces of glass.
To save money, energy, and the environment! The true cost of a light bulb is not just its purchase price, but what it costs to use. Even though a single CFL or LED is more expensive than a single incandescent or halogen bulb, you'll save more money in the long run. For example, replacing just one incandescent with an LED will save you about $160 in energy costs over the life of the bulb.Additionally, energy-efficient CFLs and LEDs use 75-85% less energy than incandescents which results in the prevention of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change. If every home in America replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an ENERGY STAR certified bulb, in one year we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of more than 800,000 cars.
CFLs and LEDs can replace regular incandescent bulbs in almost any fixture. They come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, including globes for your bathroom vanity, decorative chandelier bulbs, and recessed down lights. Make sure the bulbs you purchase are approved for use in specialty fixtures like recessed cans or enclosures. Look on the light bulb package for recommended uses.
Saves up to 75% in energy costs Saves up to 85% in energy costs
Lasts 8-10 years Lasts 20-25 years
Delayed warm up time Instant-on
Must be paired with a compatible dimmer; may flicker when dimmed Must be paired with a compatible dimmer; most dim down to 10%
Contains mercury, recycling required Mercury free
Sensitive to cold temperatures Performs well in cold
Limited colors and styles Available in a variety of colors and styles
Base spirals can shatter; some covered CFLs are available in a shatter resistant material Most models currently available are made of durable plastic
Not all are suitable for use in enclosed fixtures; check label Not all are suitable for use in enclosed fixtures; check label
Comparable cost to incandescent with utility incentives Greater upfront cost, but becoming more affordable with declining prices and utility incentives
Older CFLs used large and heavy magnetic ballasts that caused a buzzing noise in some bulbs. Most CFLs today use electronic ballasts, which do not buzz or hum. Look for the ENERGY STAR label to ensure the bulb you purchase will provide a steady, hum-free light.
Not all CFLs and LEDs are appropriate for enclosed fixtures, like outdoor porch lights. Before using a CFL or LED in a totally enclosed fixture, you should consult the product packaging. Bulbs that are not designed for totally enclosed fixtures will typically carry a disclaimer stating "Not for use in enclosed fixtures." Totally enclosed fixtures do not allow air to circulate around the lamp, which causes heat to build up. The heat build up can lead to performance issues.
Turning a CFL on and off frequently can shorten its life. To take full advantage of the energy savings and long life of ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs, it is best to use them in light fixtures you use the most and are on for at least 15 minutes at a time.
EPA recommends only using qualified CFLs and LEDs that are specifically designed for 3-way sockets. Manufacturers are trying to make it easier for consumers by labeling their products with special features on the front of the packaging as well as in the fine print.
CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing – an average of 4 milligrams (mg). In fact, ENERGY STAR CFLs cannot contain more than 3mg of mercury. By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 mg of mercury – an amount equal to the mercury in 125 CFLs. Mercury is an essential part of CFLs; it allows the bulb to be an efficient light source. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact (not broken) or in use.
Because CFLs contain mercury, they should be disposed of properly. Proper use and handling of CFLs in the home should not result in any exposure to mercury. Simply follow these recommendations if a CFL breaks:
  • Keep people and pets away from it
  • Wear disposable gloves
  • Scoop up pieces with cardboard
  • Wipe the area clean
  • Place everything in a sealable bag or container with a lid
  • Ventilate the room

For more information, visit the CFL Guide.

CFLs contain a small amount of mercury so EPA recommends that consumers take advantage of available local recycling options for CFLs.

These major retailers offer free CFL recycling for unbroken bulbs:

  • Ace Hardware
  • The Home Depot
  • IKEA
  • Lowes

Contact your local municipal solid waste agency:

If your state or local environmental regulatory agency permits you to put used or broken CFLs in the garbage, seal the bulb in a plastic bag and put it into the outside trash, or other protected outside location, for the next scheduled trash collection. Never send a fluorescent light bulb or any other mercury-containing product to an incinerator.

For more information, visit Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection or call 860-424-3366.

No, incandescent bulbs do not need to be recycled. They can be tossed in the regular trash.
Yes, LED lighting products can be dimmable, but not all are. LED bulbs and fixtures must be designed to dim and they are not compatible with all dimmer controls designed for incandescent lamps. Be sure to check the packaging for information about the product’s dimming capability before installing it in a dimmable socket.
Not all LED lighting is created equal. Look for the ENERGY STAR label which is awarded to products that meet strict efficiency, quality, and lifetime criteria. LEDs already surpass the quality and efficiency of existing lighting technologies such as fluorescent and incandescent in most applications, but only well-designed products applied in the right applications will provide the energy, lighting quality, and long-life benefits of LEDs.
While LEDs are more efficient and produce less heat than incandescent and halogen bulbs, some first generation LEDs with metallic heat sinks can be hot at the base of the bulb. Incandescent bulbs produce heat that is carried in the beam of light as infrared radiation, much like the heat that is felt from sunlight. LEDs create little additional heat in a room so you can potentially save on your cooling bill in the summer. Nevertheless, LEDs do create some heat that can affect the light quantity and quality over time. To combat the negative effects of heat on LED performance, manufacturers incorporate heat sinks and or/convective cooling in their designs to transfer heat from the LED.
Currently, LED bulbs can be disposed of in local curbside trash. However, it is always a good idea to check with your local municipal solid waste agency to see if they offer recycling for LED bulbs.
You can also visit Earth911 to help find recycling programs for LEDs in Connecticut.
OLEDs are not yet available for consumer purchase for lighting. Look for them on store shelves in the next couple of years.

Not sure where to buy energy efficient bulbs? Look for the blue ENERGY STAR® label and the Energize Connecticut display at participating retailers, or visit the ENERGY STAR® Lighting page for more information.

Why stop with just new light bulbs? You can also find ENERGY STAR® Certified Light Fixtures that can match your style while saving you energy.

ENERGY STAR® also certifies Decorative Light Strings

 light bulb

What Can I Do With Old Bulbs and Light Fixtures?

Incandescent light bulbs can be disposed of in your regular trash. You may want to consider wrapping your old bulb in newspaper or paper towels to protect those taking out the trash from broken pieces of glass.
LED bulbs are made of recyclable materials, however not all facilities recycle LEDs. Contact your local waste management company to learn its policies for collecting and recycling. You can also visit Earth911 to find recycling programs for LEDs in Connecticut as well as mail-in programs.
Due to the small amount of mercury that CFLs contain, the EPA recommends that consumers take advantage of available local recycling options for CFLs. Major retailers such as The Home Depot, Lowes, Ikea, and Ace Hardware all offer free CFL recycling for unbroken bulbs. For more information on CFL recycling or what to do if a CFL breaks, visit DEEP: Compact Fluorescent Lighting.
Putting up Holiday lights can be a pain, but properly disposing of them doesn’t have to be! Both incandescent and LED holiday bulbs are recyclable and there are many options for getting broken or unwanted strings of lights out of your home and out of a landfill. Please visit, DEEP: What Do I Do With...?for more information.
If your old lighting fixture is still in working conditions and you simply no longer want it, consider donating it to a local consignment shop or community program. Feeling crafty? There are many project ideas available online today to turn your boring old lamp into a functional conversation piece. For lighting fixtures that are beyond repair or not suitable for donating, check with your local municipal recycling coordinator for more information.