Switching your old light bulbs for new ones could be the easiest way for you to reduce your household energy consumption and save money, according to energy efficiency experts.
The reason is simple. Quality LED light bulbs use 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs do, and they last 25 times longer, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. And in recent years, LEDs have become more and more affordable.
“It’s so simple; no one talks about it,” said Andy Meyer, residential program manager for Efficiency Maine, the independent administrator for energy efficiency programs in Maine. “When it comes to energy efficiency, the best payback and easiest thing to do is still change out a light bulb.”
Patented by Thomas Edison in the late 1800s, incandescent light bulbs were used exclusively by people worldwide for more than 100 years. And while this design has improved over the years, the technology continues to be extremely inefficient. About 90 percent of a traditional incandescent light bulb’s energy is given off as heat, according to Energy Saver, the U.S. Department of Energy’s consumer resource on saving energy and using renewable energy technologies at home.
In the 1930s, research programs in the U.S. focused on the development of fluorescent lights, which were longer lasting and more efficient. And by the 1950s, fluorescent lights became common throughout the country, according to the DEP.
The first LED — which stands for light-emitting diode — was created by Nick Holonyak, Jr., while working for General Electric in 1962. Early LEDs emitted red, yellow and green light, and were used in indicator lights and calculator displays. It wasn’t until the 1990s that blue and then white LEDs were invented.
Initially, LED lights were not any more efficient than incandescent lights, however, the technology has rapidly improved so that today, quality LED light bulbs are about 90 percent efficient, according to Center for Nanoscale Science at Penn State University, compared to incandescent lights, which are about 10 percent efficient.
However, for a while, LED bulbs were so expensive that they were not desirable for the everyday consumer.
“I remember when the first LED products first started coming out,” said Paul Grenier, customer support specialist for Efficiency Vermont, a statewide utility that serves as an adviser for Vermont residents on saving energy through efficiency. “At the time, a 4-foot tube was like $35 and it had a horrible color. It was a pretty terrible product. They’ve really come a long way.”
In recent years, companies have raced to increase efficiency and lower the cost on LED bulbs, Grenier said. They have also developed a wide variety of LED colors, including warm toned light that people have grown accustomed to with incandescent lighting. However, with all the companies — domestic and overseas — developing LEDs, the quality of these lights varies dramatically.
“We really encourage people to find a product that has an ENERGY STAR rating,” Grenier said. “It’s just a way to ensure quality, that the product is actually tested and holds up to the claims on the box.”
Created in 1992, ENERGY STAR is a government-backed symbol that signifies that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ensured that the product delivers the quality, performance and savings it promises on the label, and that it’s considered to be an energy efficient product.
The cost of LED bulbs continue to vary greatly throughout the country, as state energy efficiency programs including Efficiency Vermont and Efficiency Maine work with lighting manufacturers, retailers and distributors to reduce the prices of energy-efficient lighting products in their state.
So while in some stores, LED bulbs may cost 50 cents each, in others, they may cost up to $8. Nevertheless, if you use one of the many online calculators to determine how much in electricity costs an LED bulb will save you over time, it is well worth the investment.
For example, according to Efficiency Maine, switchin g one incandescent bul b that you use for an average of two hours a day to an LED bulb will save you $5.82 a year in electricity bills, and swapping out 10 will save you $58.17 a year.
Add to that savings the fact that LED bulbs lasts much longer than incandescent bulbs. Good-quality white LED lighting products are expected to have a life of 30,000 to 50,000 hours. In comparison, a typical incandescent light lasts about 1,000 hours. At 8 hours of use a day, that’s a lifespan of 10 to 27 years for LED lights; compared to a lifespan of a little more than 4 months for an incandescent bulb.
The trend toward more efficient light bulbs was pushed by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush. The law required that household light bulbs manufactured in the U.S. must use at least 27 percent less energy by 2014. The second part of the law requires that most light bulbs be 60 to 70 percent more efficient than the standard incandescent by 2020.
In addition to LED lights, halogen incandescent light bulbs and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are energy-efficient options that currently meet the law’s requirements, however, their lifespan and efficiency doesn’t match LEDs.
“The days of incandescent lamps are gone,” Grenier said. “Even compact fluorescent lamps are old technology.”
The future of lighting is LED.