CFL: The better bulb
Compact florescent bulbs (CFLs) are those swirley little guys that look like soft-serve ice cream cones. Actually, they come in a myriad of different shapes, sizes, and colors of light. Economically speaking, they’re a great deal, too. CFLs cost a bit more than an incandescent, but use about a quarter as much energy and last many times longer (usually around 10,000 hours). It is estimated that a CFL pays for its higher price after about 500 hours of use. After that, it’s money in your pocket. Also, because CFLs release less heat, not only are they safer, but your cooling load is less in the summer. CFLs aren’t hard to find anymore, and many cities will give them away for free.
Get the LEDs out
LEDs are a definite favorite. LEDs, or light emitting diodes, are a technology that allows for extremely energy efficient and extremely long-lasting light bulbs. LEDs are just starting to hit the consumer market in a big (read affordable) way and still cost quite a bit more than even CFLs, but use even less energy and last even longer. An LED light bulb can reduce energy consumption by 80-90% and last around 100,000 hours. They even light up faster than regular bulbs (which could save your life it there are LEDs in the brake lights of your car). They are almost always more expensive presently, but we have seen the cost go down steadily. It’s no coincidence that the Millennium Technology Prize went to the inventor of the LED.
Most LED lamps on the market have the bulbs built into them, so you buy the whole unit. For screw-in bulbs, check out Eagle Lighting Stores and Osram. For desk lamps, check out a few affordable ones from Eagle Lighting Stores. For more designer models, look at LEDs from Osram and Brightstar. Vessel rechargeable accent lamps represent some of the interesting new things LEDs can do as well.
Light isn’t all about the bulbs, though. Having eco-friendly lamps and light fixtures is key to greening your lighting. When scouting for new gear, keep your eyes out for lamps made with natural, recycled, or reused materials. Lights made from recycled materials include metal, glass, or plastic, and natural materials can include felt, cloth or wood. Interesting lamps that use reclaimed materials include these made from traffic signal lenses, and these made from wine bottles. Also, don’t be shy about borrowing ideas for reuse in your own projects.
Fluorescents last a long time, but when they’re dead, they have to be properly disposed of. CFLs, like all florescent bulbs, do contain a small amount of mercury, which means they definitely can’t be thrown in the trash. Every city has different services for recycling, so you’ll need to see what’s offered in your area. LEDs, to our knowledge, do not contain mercury, but the jury may still be out on how to best recycle them
By far, the best source of light we know is (yes, you guessed it) the sun, which gives off free, full-spectrum light all day. Make the most of daylight by keeping your blinds open (sounds obvious but you might be surprised). If you want to go a little farther, put in some skylights, or, of you are designing a home or doing a renovation, put as many windows on the south-facing side of the house as possible (or north-facing if you live in the southern hemisphere). To take it even further, sunlight can be “piped” inside via fiber optics and other light channeling technologies.
As efficient as your lighting equipment might be, it doesn’t make sense to have lights on when no one’s around. Turn out lights in rooms or parts of the house where no one is. Teach your family and friends about it too and it will become second nature. If you want to get a little more exact, follow these rules:
Standard incandescent: turn off even if you leave the room for just seconds. Compact fluorescent: turn off if you leave the room for 3 minutes. Standard fluorescent: turn off if you leave the room for 15 minutes.
Dimmers and motion sensors
Motion sensors can be a good way to keep lights turned off when they’re not needed, and dimmers can give you just the right amount of life, and timers can be set to turn things on and off when needed.
Get green power
A great way to green your lighting is to buy green power. More and more electric utilities are offering customers a green power option on their bill. Signing up for green power usually means paying a few more rands a month to support energy in the grid that comes from renewable sources like wind, solar, or biogas. For some more info on how to get green juice, look here, and for the greenest grids in the RSA, look here. More info is also available in How to Green Your Electricity.