How to Shop for Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs

In recent years, U.S. lighting manufacturers have introduced a wide array of more efficient light bulbs. While many of these bulbs have higher upfront costs, they will help you save money in the long run by reducing your energy bill. It is estimated that lighting accounts for about 12% of a home’s energy use and the savings for an average home could total $100 per year.

 For years people have chosen their light bulbs by the watt & we all know how much light to expect from a traditional incandescent 40 watt or 60 watt bulb. New bulbs use less wattage to supply the same amount of light, so we can no longer compare just the wattage. Just as we have all become accustomed to reading the “Nutrition Facts” label on food packages, we will now use the new “Lighting Facts” label on light bulb packages to shop for light bulbs.

 Use the Lighting Facts Label-

The Lighting Facts label will be included on all new light bulb packages & it provides a quick and simple summary of the information needed to compare bulbs.  It will show brightness, energy use, estimated energy costs, expected life, light color in kelvins, and for CFLs, mercury content. This information will help you find a bulb that will provide the same light output, color, appearance & function that you are accustomed to, while saving you energy & money.

Key Terms on the Lighting Facts Label-

Lumens: Tells you the brightness.  Look for at least 450 lumens if you’re replacing a 40 watt incandescent bulb, 800 lumens or more for a 60 watt bulb, 1,100 lumens for a 75 watt bulb, and 1,600 lumens or higher when replacing a 100 watt bulb.

Watts: Tells you the amount of energy used (not brightness).

Kelvins: Tells you the whiteness, yellowness or blueness of the light.

- 2,700K bulbs provide a warm yellowish light that is similar to traditional incandescent bulb.

- 3,000K bulbs give off a whiter light that is comparable to the light of a halogen bulb.

- 3,500K to 4,100K bulbs give off a cool, bright white light.

- 5,000K to 6,500K bulbs mimic “daylight”, which sounds appealing, but the bluer tones of these bulbs can be unflattering indoors.

As your old 100 watt bulb burns out there are several options that will provide 1600 lumens

  • 23 watt compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) – (See CFL section below for special requirements for 3way & Dimmers).
  • 72 watt halogen incandescent bulb.
  • If less light output is acceptable, use a 75 watt incandescent bulb.
  • LED manufacturers are still working on developing a bulb that produces enough lumens -  it should be available in the coming months.

Types of Bulbs-

Image showing four different types of CFL light bulbs.

CFL (Compact fluorescent)

  • ENERGY STAR-qualified CFLs use about 75% less energy and last ten times longer than comparable traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • CFL bulbs are available in a range of light colors, including warm (white to yellow) tones that were not available when CFLs were first introduced.
  • If you live in an area with extremely cold winters a CFL in an outdoor fixture could take a few minutes to warm up & reach full brightness. A halogen bulb may be a better choice.
  • If you are looking for a bulb to be used on a dimmer or in a 3 way socket, be sure to check the package. The package will state if it is a dimmable CFL or 3 way bulb.
  • Many manufacturers offer covered spirals that closely resemble the shape of a traditional incandescent bulb.   

Image showing four different types of energy-saving incandescent light bulbs.

Energy-Saving Incandescent (aka Halogen Incandescents)

  • Use about 25% less energy than traditional incandescents.
  • Typically have the same life span as traditional incandescent bulbs but there are some models that can last up to three times longer.
  • Available in a wide range of shapes, color temperatures and are fully dimmable.

Image showing four different types of LED light bulbs.

LEDs-  (Light Emitting Diode)

  • LED bulbs use about 75%–80% less energy than traditional bulbs.
  • Last up to 25 times longer than the traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • Savings realized in the long run due to the low energy use & long lifetime.
  • At this early stage the bulbs are expensive, but as the technology matures prices are expected to go down.

Sources to learn more about shopping for light bulbs -

Energy Star Interactive learning experience at  Choose a Light Guide

Department of Energy Lighting Chioces at www.energysavers.gov

Watch a video on lumens and the Lighting Facts label at ftc.gov/lightbulbs.