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Lightbulbs: Green buying guide 3/12
(This article is adapted from ConsumerReports.org.)

Finding the best and brightest lightbulbs is getting easier, but there are a few things you'll need to know before buying the newest energy and money-saving bulbs. Starting in 2012, 100-watt incandescent bulbs are being phased out in stores. So eventually your choices will be narrowed down to some energy-efficient replacements. You have three types of replacement bulbs to choose from: compact fluorescents (CFLs), light emitting diodes (LEDs), or halogen incandescents.

Why are incandescent bulbs being phased out?

In short, because they waste energy. Less than 10 percent of the energy used by the bulb produces light; the rest escapes as heat. So it takes a lot of energy to create the incandescent's warm glow. There are an estimated 4 billion lightbulb sockets in American homes, according to the Department of Energy, and more than 3 billion still use the standard incandescent. You can see how all this wasted energy adds up. (Check out National Geographic’s lightbulb calculator to see how much energy we can save.)

As of 2012, a "Lighting Facts" label must appear on the back of packages for most bulbs. The label will show brightness, energy use, estimated energy costs, expected life, light color in kelvins, and, for CFLs, the fact that the bulb contains mercury. How do the new labels help?

Comparison shopping made easier

For starters, before you buy you can compare brands using the labels on most bulbs. The label makes it easier to compare for brightness (lumens), color, life, and energy use (watts), and estimated operating costs for the year.

Also, on the front of the package look for the Energy Star logo to find the best bulbs. These bulbs meet high standards for brightness, color, and energy use, and the mercury content is capped in compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). Note that some halogen incandescent bulbs, may not meet Energy Star standards because they have a relatively shorter lifespan, even though they are more energy efficient. For certain situations, however, where you need instant or dimmable lighting, halogens could still be a good choice.

Look for lumens

For the first time, the label on the front of the package will emphasize the bulbs’ brightness as measured in lumens, rather than a measurement of watts. Here's a rule of thumb for replacing the wattage of bulbs in your home with equivalent lumens:
• to replace a 100-watt incandescent bulb, look for an Energy Star bulb labeled 1600 lumens and up—the higher the lumens the brighter the light.

• to replace a 75-watt incandescent bulb, look for an Energy Star bulb labeled 1100 lumens

• to replace a 60-watt incandescent bulb, look for an Energy Star bulb labeled 800 lumens

• to replace a 40-watt incandescent bulb, look for an Energy Star bulb labeled 450 lumens
Recommended bulbs

CFL bulbs
CFLs quickly pay for themselves, usually taking less than a year to recoup the cost for most of the brands Consumer Reports tested. (The tests are based on the bulbs being turned on for three hours a day.) Each 60-watt equivalent CFL can save you an estimated $52 in electrical costs over its lifetime. Each 100-watt equivalent can save you $100 or more over its lifetime. (In your state, you may be eligible for energy efficiency discounts. Check www.dsireusa.org/incentives for information.)

Because CFLs don't fully brighten instantly, don't use them in staircases or other areas where you need instant brightness. Consider LEDs or even halogen bulbs instead.

In Consumer Reports tests, the following CFLs and LEDs performed the best. (The tests are ongoing so brand recommendations may grow to include additional brands.)

Recommended 60-watt equivalent CFLs in the tests include:
GE Energy Smart Saf-T-Gard 60W 78961 at $10

EcoSmart 60Watt Soft White 423-599 ES5M8144 (Home Depot) at $1.50

Feit Electric ECObulb Plus 60W ESL13T/5/ECO at $10
Recommended 100-watt equivalent CFLs or halogens include:
Utilitech 100W Soft White CFL UHS236B 0252475 (Lowe's) at $10

Feit Electric ECObulb Plus 100W BPESL23TM/ECO 87533 at $7

EcoSmart 100W Soft White CFL ES5M8234 EDXO23 475110 (Home Depot) 4 pack is $19

Philips Energy Saver 100W T60 Halogena 20969 816952 Dimmable at $11
LED bulbs
LEDs can cost twice as much or more initially, even though prices are dropping a lot, and so they take longer to start saving more. But because of its longer claimed life, an LED can save you $100 to $400 per bulb over its lifetime. LED's are pricey because production is challenging and expensive, but you can look online for rebates from manufacturers and utilities.

Semiconductor chips and electronic circuitry in LEDs can include lead, arsenic, and gallium, but those substances aren't accessible, even if the bulb breaks. LEDs should be recycled with other electronic waste.

Recommended 60-watt equivalent LED in the tests includes:
Philips Ambient LED 12.5W 12E26A60 60W 409904 at $25
Recommended 40-50-watt equivalent LED in the tests includes:
GE Energy Smart 40 W LED9A19/830/CD 62180 at $30
LED replacements for 100-watt bulbs from major manufacturers aren't yet available. Bulb makers are working on fitting all the diodes and circuitry needed to produce enough lumens into a standard-sized bulb, and on dispersing the heat those components generate. They hope to have those 100-watt replacement LEDs in stores later this year.

CFLs and mercury

The new labels indicate that CFLs contain a small amount of mercury (typically less than 3 mg.) to produce light. Three milligrams is an infinitesimal amount compared with old thermometers, which contained 500 mg of mercury. Even with the small amount of mercury, CFLs actually reduce mercury in the environment because they reduce the amount of mercury produced by power plants. Intact and in use, CFLs release no mercury. However, like nearly everything else in your house, they need to be properly recycled and cleaned up, if broken.

When a CFL shatters, the cleanup involves a series of steps to minimize exposure to mercury. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers step-by-step cleanup advice. To prevent such breakage, don't put CFLs in lamps in play spaces or other areas where light fixtures can be easily broken or knocked over. Many retailers recycle CFLs for free. Go to http://www.epa.gov/cfl for more information.

Related links

For best performance, match the lightbulb to the fixture. 12/11

Consumer Guide to New Light Bulb Choices Resulting From Law Taking Effect January 1st. 12/11

Tips on Buying Lightbulbs. 12/11

U.S. Department of Energy: Lumens and Lighting Facts Label.

Video: Some replacement lightbulbs don't measure up.

LUMEN (www.lumennow.org) The Alliance to Save Energy’s Light Bulb Coalition.

Natural Resources Defense Council Guide to More Efficient and Money-Saving Lightbulbs.
Copyright © 2003-2012 by Consumers Union of United States., Inc., 101 Truman Avenue, Yonkers, NY 10703, a nonprofit organization. No downloading, transmission, photocopying, or commercial use permitted. Visit www.GreenerChoices.org.