Buying a light bulb used to be easy. And it used to be something you did several times a year.
But now, a lot of people are starting to look at light bulbs as an investment, says Jaclyn Pardini, a spokeswoman for Mooresville-based Lowes Home Improvement stores.
The incandescent bulbs in wide use ever since Thomas Edison received a patent for his version in 1880 are being phased out. A federal law passed in 2007 ends incandescent manufacturing and importing in the U.S. by the end of 2014, though stores will be allowed to keep them on shelves until theyre sold out.
In their place are more energy efficient replacements that come in a dizzying array of hues and shapes.
But youll want to choose carefully. Those CFLs might be with you for the next nine years or so. And if you spring for an LED bulb, youre really in it for the long haul.
From the time a child enters kindergarten to the time that they graduate from college, that bulb will still work, says Pardini of LEDs.
So as those last incandescents flicker out in your lamps and light fixtures, how do you decide what will replace them? Read on:
Cost: (one bulb): Less than $1; (to run for one year): $7.32
Life: 1,000 hours
Pros: Its the warm, soft light you grew up with.
Cons: A hot-blooded energy hog. Federal law is phasing them out after 2014.
Cost (one bulb): $2-$3; (to run for one year): $5.18
Life: 1,000-3,000 hours
Pros: The closest still-legal thing to the soft glow of an incandescent light. Theyre now the designers choice in bulbs, says Lowes spokeswoman Jaclyn Pardini.
Cons: Youre not gaining much in lifespan or efficiency over incandescents.
CFL (compact fluorescent lamp)
Cost (one bulb): $1-$2.50; (one year): $1.57
Life: 10,000 hours
Pros: Heres where energy efficiency really steps up. CFLs use 2/3 less energy than incandescents.
Cons: Early CFLs got a bad rap for being slow to warm up and casting a harsh light. But theyve improved a lot. Still, you reduce the lifespan a bit if you turn the light on and off a lot (less than 15 minutes of on time). Using CFLs in an enclosed fixture can also reduce their lifespan, but some newer models have overcome this.
Check the packaging for the bulb youre considering.
• Disposal can be a hassle. Each CFL contains a small amount of mercury, so you need to recycle old bulbs. Several retailers offer this service, and many local municipalities, including Wake, Durham and Orange counties, allow drop-off at their household hazardous waste facilities. (Check earth911.com for listings.)
LED (light-emitting diode)
Cost (one bulb): $10-$30; (one year): $1.50
Life: 20,000-50,000 hours
Pros: Extremely long life. Cutting-edge technology.
Cons: Much higher upfront cost than other bulb types. But, Jaclyn Pardini says, the potential return in energy savings and your time in changing out light bulbs is far greater over time. So its more of a longer-term investment. Like CFLs, some LED bulbs can deteriorate in the heat of an enclosed fixture, so consult the packaging.
*Cost figures are averages and based on 60W-equivalent single bulbs. Annual cost and lifespan based on three hours of use daily.
SOURCES: Lowes Home Improvement, Home Depot, energystar.gov, eartheasy.com, Consumer Reports
Picking the right hue
CFL and LED bulbs come in a variety of colors (color temperature is the correct term) that will really affect the look of the room youre illuminating. Here are your options, with suggestions from Jason Blackwood, showroom manager at Lights Unlimiteds Wake Forest store, on what will put each room of your home in the very best light.
Soft white/Warm white
Where to use: Living areas, bedrooms, dining spaces. This is the most common color temperature, and closest in color to the traditional incandescent bulb. Works well with earth tones like brown and tan.
Cool white/Neutral/Bright white
Where to use: Office and work areas. Fine for general lighting. Works well with neutral tones like gray and beige.
Where to use: Reading areas or for display lighting. Complements bold colors like blues, greens and purples; shows color with the most accuracy.
Here are some stats from the Environmental Protection Agencys Energy Star program, which adds its stamp to light fixtures and bulbs that are at least 75 percent more efficient than traditional lighting.
• By replacing your homes five most frequently used bulbs, you can save $70 each year.
• The average U.S. home has about 30 light fixtures; a switch to Energy Star lighting can save more than $400 a year on your electric bill.
• If every American household replaced its five most frequently used light fixtures or the bulbs in them, the national savings would be $8 billion each year in energy costs, and that action would prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions from 10 million cars.
Dimmable and 3-way lights
You can save energy in 3-way and dimmable fixtures, too. Look for CFL and LED bulbs in packages marked dimmable or 3-way to make sure youre getting a bulb that will work.