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Energy-efficient lights winning acceptance

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With the impending phase-out of incandescent light bulbs on the horizon, have you been tempted to hoard your remaining old-style bulbs? If so, you can stop worrying.

Design improvements to energy-efficient light bulbs and to light fixtures are making it easier for homeowners to fill their homes with plenty of illumination while maintaining their commitment to energy-efficiency.

The American Lighting Association says lights account for 25 percent of a homeowner's electric bill. Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, all incandescent light bulbs in the United States must meet new energy-efficiency requirements established by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA).

Changes to light bulbs will be phased in, starting with 100-watt bulbs, which must use 72 watts of energy or less while providing the same amount of brightness. Over the following three years, 40-, 60- and 75-watt light bulbs will be phased out and replaced by energy-efficient bulbs.

"People have already embraced [compact fluorescent light bulbs] to the point that in 2010, more CFL bulbs were sold than traditional incandescent bulbs," said Joseph Rey-Barreau, an architect and lighting designer in Lexington, Ky. "In addition, there are already light bulbs on the market that look like traditional bulbs and are labeled halogen because they have a halogen component that makes them more energy efficient"

Mr. Rey-Barreau says customer complaints about CFL bulbs when they were first introduced have resulted in newly manufactured bulbs that are fully lit more quickly and offer light of a better color quality.

"Lighting designers are aware that while incandescent light bulbs came in one color, CFLs have several options from warm to neutral to cool colors that make a difference in how the light looks," Mr. Rey-Barreau said. "Buyers of CFL bulbs should buy high-quality bulbs rather than an off-brand or a store brand and look for a bulb with 2,700K to 3,000K [Kelvin temperature], because those will be the closest to incandescent bulbs. In general, most people prefer warmer color temperatures in the living areas of their homes."

Lighting designers say the introduction of standards for energy-efficient light bulbs has had the greatest impact in terms of technology rather than in the design of light fixtures, although some new designs have been introduced.

Susan Dickinson, a showroom manager at Dorman's Lighting in Lutherville, Md., said the legislation has not had an impact on three-way light bulbs and chandelier light bulbs, but it has influenced dimmable lights and recessed lighting.

"Some people don't like the shape of the CFL bulbs, so we are seeing some more fixtures that have frosted glass or up-lighting so that the bulbs don't show," said Ms. Dickinson. "Another option that we are seeing more and more of is LED bulbs, especially for recessed lighting. LED lighting is mostly used commercially, but now it is being used for desk lights and sometimes pendant lighting. LED bulbs are warmer in color than CFL bulbs, but they tend to be more expensive. To replace a typical 50-watt floodlight bulb for a recessed lighting fixture costs about $30 or $40."

Linda Gombof, a certified lighting consultant with Annapolis Lighting in Rockville, says LED lighting once had a bluish, cold color, but recent technological improvements have made the light from these bulbs warmer.

"Replacing a 65-watt reflector light bulb for a recessed lighting fixture with a 16-watt LED bulb is clearly a big saving in energy-efficiency, but the light you see will look the same," Ms. Gombof said. "Prices are still high for these bulbs, at around $60 for that size bulb, but they were priced at $100 not too long ago. This is basically a supply-and-demand issue, with the price expected to go down as they become more commonly used."

Ms. Dickinson says LED lighting also works well for under-cabinet lighting since it is cool to the touch.

"LED under-cabinet lighting is more expensive than halogen under-cabinet lighting, which is what most people have," Ms. Dickinson said. "The big advantage is that you don't have the problem of the lights heating up the lower shelves of your cabinets."

Ms. Gombof said many of her customers are willing to spend a little more money on LED lighting for their kitchen cabinets because not only are they more energy-efficient, but they also last longer and fix the issue of too much heat underneath the cabinets.

"The consumers I see want to be energy-efficient, but they are also budget-conscious," Ms. Gombof said. "I always suggest that a good way to be energy-efficient is to add a dimmer switch to all of your standard incandescent bulbs. Not only are the bulbs themselves becoming more energy-efficient, but the dimmer allows you to use the least possible light that you actually need. That saves energy and will save on your electric bill, too."

Ms. Dickinson suggests purchasing CFL bulbs, since they are only slightly more costly than incandescent bulbs.

"If you are not sensitive to color and light, you can try out the least-expensive CFLs, or use them in utility closets and the laundry room, where the quality of the light matters less," Ms. Dickinson said.

Mr. Rey-Barreau said consumers should avoid CFLs with Kelvin temperatures above 3,500, because they are designed to work best in offices. He said "daylight bulbs," at 6,000K, sound as if they are appropriate for home use, but in reality they match the color of the sky and give off a bluish light.

"CFLs are close to the price of incandescent bulbs, but they are about four times more efficient," Mr. Rey-Barreau said. "So a typical 25-watt CFL would be similar to a 100-watt light bulb. In addition, CFLs last about 10 times longer than the standard light bulb. If you are careful to choose the right quality bulb with the right color, then you can save money and get good lighting."

Mr. Rey-Barreau said not all CFLs work with dimmer switches, but some are beginning to come on the market. He believes improvements in LED lighting will mean the majority of light bulbs sold in the U.S. within a decade will be LED bulbs.

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