CFLs, LEDs, lumens, and Kelvins. The simple process of buying a lightbulb seems to have become a lot more complicated in recent years. Fortunately the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DC SEU; www.dcseu.com) is around to demystify this terminology and provide deep discounts for energy-saving home lighting. Energy-efficient Energy Star light-emitting diode (LED) lightbulbs are now available for as low as 95 cents from select retailers around DC, with a limit of 12 LED bulbs per residential electrical utility account.
To find the ideal lightbulb for your needs, the DC SEU has an online Lighting Guide (www.dcseu.com/for-my-home/lighting/lighting-guide) offering a three-step process that will match the 1) the lighting appearance (warm, neutral, or cool, and measured in Kelvins, K) you want with 2) your light fixture type (ceiling fan, table lamp, etc.) and 3) the brightness, measured in lumens of light. The guide will even help you find a nearby retailer that carries the bulb you’re looking for.
Most lightbulb packaging now includes lighting facts that help in deciding which bulb is best for you. Energy Star bulbs provide additional energy efficiency. Ted Trabue, managing director of the DC SEU, notes, “The DC SEU wants to ensure the residents of DC have access to high quality products that will guarantee them energy savings for years to come. This is why we are so concerned with bulbs that are not Energy Star-qualified and why we are working so hard to educate residents about the issue.”
While compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) were all the rage just a few years ago, LED technology has quickly evolved into bulbs that are even longer lasting and – thanks to the DC SEU – now more affordable. Both CFLs and LEDs last much longer than the older, incandescent bulbs.
Unlike CFLs, LED bulbs do not contain mercury. When LEDs burn out they can be thrown into the trash, whereas CFLs, with their mercury, should be treated as hazardous waste and disposed of accordingly. Home Depot, Ace Hardware, and True Value Hardware stores are just some of the businesses where you can dispose of your spent CFLs.
For many of us, “lumens” and “Kelvins” are terms we heard in science class but never really associated with a lightbulb purchase that focused merely on watts. To confuse things even more, both CFLs and LEDs use considerably less wattage than the old incandescent models. The DC SEU Lighting Guide includes a table that translates watts into these measurements and can help you figure out the best lighting for your needs.
A Few Considerations
Many people who eagerly began switching to CFLs when they appeared were disappointed by the dimness of the bulbs when turned on and their tendency to flicker or hum. Technology has progressed, and CFLs no longer have these problems.
If you’re going to install an LED bulb on a light switch that includes a dimmer, be sure to purchase one that is designed for a dimmer switch as identified on the packing, because regular LEDs can flicker or hum if operated on a dimmer switch.
Finally, if you’re looking for an outdoor light, the International Dark-Sky Association recommends lighting in the warmer range (below 3,000 Kelvin), which is less obtrusive to humans and wildlife.
The DC SEU was created by the DC Council as part of the Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008. Operating since 2011, the DC SEU is overseen by the Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE). DOEE recently negotiated a $100 million, five-year contract with the DC SEU that will provide financial incentives and technical assistance to residents and businesses for green energy initiatives. Funding comes from the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund, which is financed by a surcharge on electric and natural gas utility ratepayers in DC. Essentially, your money is made available to help you offset the price of making smart energy investments.
In addition to providing low-cost, energy-efficient lighting, the DC SEU provides a wealth of discounts and rebates for other energy-efficient investments and upgrades to home or office. They address heating and cooling (air-conditioning, programable thermostats, water heaters), appliances (washers, dryers, dehumidifiers, refrigerators), and air sealing and insulation.
Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter @DC_Recycler. She is a board member of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club and Green America, but her perspectives are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of either organization.