It’s Just A Light Bulb, Right?

For most greenies-in-training, one the first steps they take to green their home is to switch out traditional incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones. Well, if you have any experience purchasing CFLs you know that it isn’t as easy as grabbing the first package you see. There is definitely a difference in just about every brand and type of CFL. So what’s behind this new trend of CFLs and how do you pick the right one?

Mayer Electric in Birmingham has offered a run down of what you need to know to be an educated (or at least not as clueless) CFL consumer!

Out With The Old, In With The New

In case you didn’t know, the incandescent bulb is being legislated out by our government.  Their message to the lamp manufacturing industry: make them 25 to 35% more efficient, or don’t make them at all.  The energy bill has shaken up the industry and, according to most experts, will result in the elimination of the incandescent bulb within the next five years.  In addition, local municipalities have begun adopting a new building code that requires a minimum of fifty percent of lamps installed in permanent light fixtures be energy efficient.  There is not an incandescent lamp currently on the market that meets the criteria.  Long story short, one way or the other, you’re going to have to be more energy conscious.

Understanding the new regulation gives you two choices; start stockpiling incandescent lamps or begin manufacturing your own lamps illegally in your basement – neither of which we recommend.  It is time to begin looking at options and deciding which is best for you.


Compact Fluorescent lamps or CFLs are an inexpensive way to begin greening your home.  CFLs use nearly 75% less energy than standard incandescent lamps, last up to 10 times longer and produce 75% less heat.  This adds up to nearly $50 in costs savings over the life of one lamp.  Stop!! Before you run out to your local lighting showroom or big box store to pick up a package of CFLs, there are several things you will need to know:

  • If the lamps you are replacing are controlled by a dimmer, are in a 3-way socket, controlled by a photocell or timer, insure that the lamps you purchase are dimmable or will operate with your current set up.  Dimmable CFLs are nearly twice the cost of non-dimmable.
  • The color of CFL lamps are measured using a Kelvin Scale (K).  The lower the Kelvin Temperature of a lamp, the warmer the color of the light (yes, warmer), and the higher the Kelvin Temperature, the cooler the color of the light. CFLs with a Kelvin Temperature of 2700 to 3000 are closest to the color of incandescent lamps and are suitable for bedrooms and dining rooms.  CFLs with a temperature of 3500K to 4100K are bright white and good for kitchens and work spaces.  CFLs with a temperature of 5000K to 6500K are closer to natural light and good for reading.
  • Also take note of the CRI (Color Rendering Index) rating of the CFL lamp you are considering.  The higher the CRI rating, 100 being the highest rating, the more your wall colors, fabric colors and countertops, among other things, will look like their natural colors.  90 CRI is typically what you can expect of the highest quality CFL lamps.  A CFL with a CRI rating 80 or below, for example, could cause your window pane blue walls to appear gray.
  • Just a couple other things of note concerning CFLs: all CFLs contain mercury and all CFLs have a warm-up period when switched on; it will take nearly one minute for a CFL to reach full brightness.


Light Emitting Diodes or LED lamps are becoming more and more popular by the day.  Where CFLs are considered a good option, LEDs are considered the best option.  LED lamps last more than 15 times longer than incandescent lamps and up to 10 times longer than CFLs. They burn cooler than both incandescent and CFLs and provide instant full level lighting.   LEDs consume up to 50% less energy than CFLs and up 90% less energy than incandescent lamps.  Once again, a few things you should know before purchasing LEDs:

  • The same as CFLs, you’ll need to know how your current lamp or fixture is controlled before you purchase your LED.  Not all LED lamps are dimmable, and those that are dimmable normally require a special dimmer.
  • The color of LEDs are also measured using the Kelvin Temperature Scale.
  • LEDs also have CRI ratings; the highest quality LEDs are rated 90 and above.
  • LEDs do not fail like your typical incandescent and CFL lamps.  If a LED light is rated for 50,000 hours, at 50,000 hours that LED is only producing 70% of its original light output and 70% light output is when you would visibly notice the difference in the amount of light.  Depending on the amount of usage, you would not have to replace your LED for 25 years or more.
  • Heat can shorten the life of LED lamps. The fins on the LED lamps and light fixtures are designed to control that heat, but if your LED lamp is in an enclosed fixture, it’s harder to manage that heat.  If you are replacing recessed lamps, a recessed retrofit LED fixture like Cree Lighting’s LR6 would be a better option than a screw-in LED lamp.  The Cree LR6 is close in price and will last longer than the LED lamp.
  • LEDs do not contain mercury.

So, why aren’t LEDs flying off the shelves?  “Initial cost.”   The only negative of replacing your existing lamps with LEDs is the up front cost of making the swap.  The most expensive CFLs top out around $15.00, but LED lamps and retrofits can cost as much as $150.00, depending on the application.  The good news is that if you can handle the initial cost, the question is not whether you will receive a return on your investment, it’s when?  The money saved on your electric bill and re-lamping costs over the life of the LED, among other things, will eventually start to earn you money.  Now for you guys that waited until DVD players were less than $50 to purchase one and are waiting on the price of LED lamps to drop like that  DVD player you finally purchased, think about this: You weren’t losing money by sticking with your VHS, but you are by sticking with your incandescent bulbs.

Who knew light bulbs could be so complicated?  If you need help deciding what is the best option for your application or if you need help calculating energy savings and pay back periods, contact your local Mayer Lighting Showroom or visit

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