Turn off the dark with energy-efficient bulbs


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The phase-out of energy-inefficient lighting and introduction of eco-friendly bulbs have left some of us in the dark. Well, it’s time to switch on the lights, illuminate your mind, flash a beam of light … OK, you get it. We’re going to throw our confusion to the wayside, thanks to Consumer Reports, which tested both compact fluorescents (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Among the many findings were these gems: A number of the issues you may have encountered in earlier versions of these bulbs have been fixed. They also last longer and use less electricity than traditional incandescents.

The report focused on 60-watt equivalent CFLs and LEDs, and learned that CFLs save money faster thanks to their low cost. It takes less than one year to make back the cost of most CFLs, while LEDs, which carry a high price tag, can take four to 10 years to pay for themselves.

CFLs now have less mercury, dropping 60% to 75%, compared with the low levels they found in 2008. But just in case you break one of these bulbs, click here for tips on how to clean them up. (And don’t forget to recycle your used CFLs. HellaWella already has you covered here.)

The best LEDs, according to Consumer Reports, were still as bright as the incandescent bulbs they replaced, but only half were as bright as promised. All LEDs reached full brightness instantly, and energy use matched or exceeded claims. Almost all the LEDs that were tested were shining after 3,000 hours, and only 4-of-the-100 LEDs stopped working. (LEDs are supposed to last 20,000 to 50,000 hours, or about 18 to 46 years when used three hours a day.)

Consumer Reports’ recommendations include:
• Philips AmbientLED 12.5W 12E26A60 60W, $40 for table or floor lamps;
• EcoSmart LED Downlight 10.5W 65W E26 ECO-575L Dimmable (Home Depot), $50 for recessed or track lights; and
• EcoSmart PAR38 ECS 38 Bright White 75W 866194 Dimmable LED (Home Depot), $45 outdoor floodlight.

Consumer Reports also suggested the following when choosing energy-efficient bulbs:

• Energy Star-qualified bulbs meet high standards for brightness, color and energy use. Mercury content is capped in CFLs;
• Make sure to take notice of lumens. Watts indicate energy use, but lumens measure brightness. In spirals look for at least 450 lumens if replacing a 40-watt bulb, 800 lumens or more for a 60-watt bulb, 1,100 lumens for a 75-watt bulb and 1,600 lumens or higher for a 100-watt bulb. In floodlights check for a lumen count that is at least 10 times the wattage of the bulb you’re replacing;
• Brightness and color are two different things. The whiteness, yellowness or blueness of light is measured by its temperature in Kelvins. Incandescents give off a warm, yellowish light with a color temperature of about 2,700K. The 3,000K to 4,100K range offers a cool, bright white light — similar to a halogen bulb — and 5,000K to 6,500K bulbs mimic natural daylight, but can have bluer tones;
• Take note of the Color Rendering Index. The CRI indicates how accurately colors appear under the light and ranges from 0 to 100 (daytime sunlight = 100). Most of the bulbs Consumer Repots tested were in the low 80s; a few reached the upper 80s and low 90s. A CRI of at least 80 is recommended for interior lights, and differences of fewer than five points are minor;
• Read the package. As of Jan. 1, 2012, a Lighting Facts label must appear on the packages of most bulbs. The label will inform you of the bulb’s brightness, energy use, estimated energy costs, expected life, light color in Kelvins and, for CFLs, mercury content. (Consumer Reports note: Only the information on Energy Star bulbs has been independently verified.); and
• Hold on to your receipts, since the bulbs are meant to last for years.

The full report is available exclusively for “fans” on Consumer Reports’ Facebook page.

Click here and here for rebates and coupons.

Have you made the switch to energy-efficient lighting at home? Let us know by commenting below!