Saving Money is No Joke

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Updated: 11/08/2012 10:41 am

We’ve all heard this joke: How many people does it take to change a light bulb? While the comedic value of the answer sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, the underlying principle stays the same.

The average home contains 40 light fixtures, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Thanks to a series of staggered federal standards and more lighting choices than ever before, the average homeowner could save $50 every year by using more energy efficient light bulbs.

This year, the first of several federal light bulb efficiency standards kicked in, requiring manufacturers to stop making 100-watt (W) incandescent bulbs in favor of ones using less electricity to produce the same amount of light (lumens). This doesn’t mean the old bulbs went away—you can still find old stock at stores around town. But keep in mind that those traditional incandescent bulbs waste 90 percent of your lighting costs as heat.

If you don’t want to stray too far from the bulbs you’re used to, consider halogen incandescent light bulbs. Color options and dimming abilities mirror their time-tested forebearers, but they cut energy consumption by 25 percent and last three times longer.

Another style we’ve championed for years is the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL). These swirly bulbs slash energy use by 75 percent compared to traditional incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer.

But for folks who don’t like the pigtail CFL shape or who worry about the very small amount of mercury in these bulbs, another, brighter option looms on the horizon: light-emitting diodes (LEDs). These solid-state products have been used in electronics since the 1960s, and manufacturers are ramping up efforts to transform them into the perfect replacement bulb. LEDs require 75 percent to 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and can last 25 times longer—by far the longest lifespan yet.

DOE estimates it’ll take more than six years for a $40, 800-lumen (60-W-equivalent) LED to pay for itself. But investments in manufacturing and increased demand should help drive down costs. By 2021, LED prices are expected to drop by a factor of 10, and that’s good news for anyone who enjoys the thought of only changing a light bulb once every 20 years or so.

In January 2013, a new set of light bulb efficiency standards fall into place, this time halting production of inefficient 75-W incandescent bulbs. A year later, household light bulbs using between 40-W to 100-W must consume at least 28 percent less energy than classic bulbs, saving Americans an estimated $6 billion to $10 billion in lighting costs annually.

So what’s the punch line? Every time you change a light bulb, buy a more efficient replacement. No matter which kind you opt for, you’ll save money every time you flip a light switch—and that’s nothing to chuckle about.

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