10:54 AM

Let There be Light(bulbs)

Lightbulbs have been around more than a century, but nowadays harder-working bulbs are on the market. In recent years, the industry has shifted from producing incandescent lightbulbs to making more energy efficient CFL and LED lightbulbs.

Even the way we spell lightbulb has changed. Just a few years ago, if I wrote lightbulb, spellcheck underlined it in squiggly red to let me know I had committed an error. The correct spelling, according to dictionaries (I consulted many), was light bulb. But now when I type “lightbulb,” there’s no squiggly red line taunting me. It has become acceptable, even preferred, to delete the space between the two words. But I digress.

It’s all to say the whole light bulb -- I mean lightbulb -- thing has become somewhat confusing. But where there’s a will to bring understanding, there’s a way to shed light on bulbs.

First, a little background: Everything seemed fine with incandescent lightbulbs, those cheap bulbs you could buy in bulk (four for $2) until 2007 when the Energy Independence and Security Act established efficiency standards requiring that lightbulbs use 25 percent less energy. As the new standards were phased in from 2012 to 2014, traditional incandescent bulbs took a backseat to fancy new bulbs that met the new standards, including compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), light emitting diodes (LEDs) and even halogen incandescent bulbs.

Today, the newer, energy efficient bulbs use from 25 percent up to 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs of yesteryear—all while producing the same amount of light for less money. And they last up to 25 times longer than the old bulbs, so they don’t need replacing as often. Switch out traditional incandescent bulbs for the newer bulbs in just five of your home’s most frequently-used light fixtures and you’ll save about $75 in annual energy costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Which bulb packs the most bang for your buck? Just as packaged foods have nutrition labels, packaging for lightbulbs now features “Lighting Facts” labels with information regarding the bulb’s brightness, estimated annual energy costs, life span and light appearance ranging from warm to cool.

Most importantly, when purchasing lightbulbs, you must think in terms of lumens, not watts. In the past, bulbs were sold and purchased based on how much energy, measured in watts, they used. Now, the emphasis is on how much light they provide, which is measured in lumens: The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the light the bulb emits.

Since traditional 100-watt incandescent lightbulbs don’t meet the new standards, most stores don’t carry them anymore. Instead, you’ll find CFLs and LEDs that produce about 1,600 lumens; that’s the equivalent of the former 100-watt bulb. If you’re looking for bright light, buy bulbs with more lumens; if you’re shooting for something dimmer, buy bulbs with fewer lumens.

As lightbulbs have evolved in recent years, the LED has risen to the top as the most energy efficient. While LEDs and CFLs can produce the same amount and quality of light, LEDs do so while using less energy. Not so long ago, CFLs were the preferred choice due to their energy efficiency and because they allowed broader light coverage than their counterparts. Now though, LEDs have caught up with, and even surpassed, CFLs in terms of energy consumption, color options, cost and longevity.

When purchasing bulbs, just keep in mind: In almost all cases, the less you pay upfront for lightbulbs, the more you’ll pay or your power bill.

Traditional incandescent bulbs don’t cost much, if you can find them, but they consume far more power, which can ratchet up your power bill. The CFLs cost a little more to purchase, but they result in a lower power bill.

Your best bet: LEDs cost almost twice as much as CFLs, but what they save in energy costs will more than pay for the extra purchase price.

If you’re interested in buying LEDs, check out Jackson EMC Marketplace to start saving energy.

Jackie Kennedy has worked with Georgia’s electric cooperatives for 23 years, producing newsletters, press releases and articles about the industry or energy-related matters. She is the author of People, Power, Progress: The Story of Jackson EMC, published in 2013. In her blog, she grapples with a variety of energy efficiency topics.