More Light from Less Electricity

January 2006 – During my separation, I lived alone in a one bedroom apartment, and my electric bill never hit $10 a month. How’s that for frugal?

CFL light bulbThere were a lot of factors involved: a gas stove, baseboard heat included in the rent, and no washer, dryer, or dishwasher. Also, I moved out before air conditioning season.

Electrical appliances included a refrigerator, a microwave, and a coffee maker. I had a TV and DVD player/stereo, as well as a clock radio in my bedroom. Not much power drain.

It was a small apartment with big windows, and I took as much advantage of daylight as I could. I didn’t need to use lights very much during the day.

My PowerBook G4 doesn’t draw much power, and the Dell PC with Windows 98 was turned off, not just asleep, when I wasn’t using it.

Light Bulbs

The biggest factor in my low electric bills was probably light bulbs. I replaced all the 40, 60, and 75 Watt incandescent bulbs with those twisty fluorescent bulbs (compact fluorescent bulbs or CFLs) that fit in most regular light sockets.

I had a pair of 40W equivalents in the bathroom and 60W equivalents in the rest of the apartment. These put out about the same amount of light as 40W and 60W incandescent bulbs, but they use 74% less electricity.

Nowadays I’m also using some 100W equivalent bulbs, and they only draw 26W of power. Lots of light with minimal impact on the electric bill.

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish?

If you’ve seen these bulbs in your grocery store, you know they’re not cheap. You can pay $5-6 for single bulbs. Or you can go to Sam’s Club and buy six 100W equivalent or eight 60W equivalent bulbs in a single package for under $15.

I’m sure these bulbs have saved at least $5 a month, and we’ve been using them in the family home as well, where the electric bill has dropped significantly. They also tend to last a lot longer than incandescent bulbs, giving them one more advantage.

If you’re trying to trim your electric bill, figure out which 4-8 bulbs in your house are used the most, pick up a multipack of CFL bulbs, and replace those incandescents. Then see how much it trims from your next two electric bills.

Update, May 2008: I’ve been using CFLs for over four years now, and I’ve found one place where I cannot recommend them: the bathroom. I’ve had a lot of CFLs burn out in the bathroom, hardly any anywhere else. I suspect humidity from the shower is probably the big factor here. Regular incandescent bulbs also burn out quickly in the bathroom, but they are much less expensive to replace.

Update, October 2016: I’m tempted to give LED bulbs a try in the bathroom but have not yet done so. They are even more energy efficient than CFLs but also more expensive. I had been using regular 13-14W CFL bulbs in the basement, replacing 65W incandescent floods, since I bought my home in early 2006. A couple months ago our local Meijer store had 3-packs of LED indoor floods on sale for $4.99, so I replaced all 8 of those CFLs with true floods that provide a lot more light at about half the power draw – just 8W each! I plan to write a follow-up article on LED vs. other types of light bulbs when time permits.

You can now buy CFL floods. The pair we recently installed in the back yard work just fine. [But not in the long term – another place to give LED a try, although outdoor LED floods are still pretty expensive.]

CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, so they should never be thrown out with the trash or incinerated. IKEA is the only national retailer with a CFL take back program at present (2006), and most garbage services don’t yet offer CFL recycling. Until you have a good option for recycling dead CFLs, we strongly recommend you store them until such a service becomes available in your locale.

Next time: The True Cost of Waterbeds

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Keywords: #lightbulbs #cfllighting #cfllightbulbs #lighting #energymizer

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