The federal government’s phase-out of standard incandescent light globes has already begun. Since November last year, Australian shops have only been allowed to sell their pre-existing stock. But we don’t need to be scared of the dark – there are eco-friendly options to brighten our homes and save us money.
There are two main kinds of low-energy lighting technology to choose from: fluorescent lamps – both old-style tubes and newer compact fluoros (CFLs) – and Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs).
David Baggs, technical director of Ecospecifier (an eco product database) says that when choosing lights, it’s wise to remember both colour and brightness.
Most people prefer the yellowish glow given off by incandescent globes. “To get a light that has the warmth we’re comfortable with, ask for ‘warm white’ CFLs or LEDs,” Baggs says. To be absolutely sure, check the colour temperature (measured in ‘Kelvin’). Warm white comes in at about 2700 K, whereas a cool fluorescent tube glows bluer, at about 5000 K.
Next, if you want to know how brightly your new energy-smart globe will shine, compare the power of the light (measured in ‘lumens’) against similar incandescent bulbs. “Any good lighting shop or online retailer will have that information,” Baggs says.
The quality of both CFLs and LEDs is improving rapidly, but each is better suited to particular applications.
According to John Knox, from the Alternative Technology Association’s webshop, CFLs are perfect for general room lighting. With a quick online search, you’ll find them available in a pleasing range of shapes, from spirals and sticks, to more elegant globes. They even come in petite candle-shaped sizes that slot into unusual places such as rangehoods or chandeliers.
Good quality household CFLs cost between $5 and $15. You can also buy dimmable versions for about $30 each, but don’t fret about the extra dollars – with a lamp life up to eight times longer than an incandescent bulb, they’ll save you money before long. Knox recommends bigger name brands. “They’re generally higher quality, last longer and won’t flicker,” he says.
Until now LEDs have not been bright enough for general lighting use, but Knox is optimistic that the situation will change in months, rather than years. “The technology is coming along in leaps and bounds,” he says.
Halogen downlights are the most common and energy-sapping task lighting in Australian homes. “The easiest solution is to replace them with one low-energy bulb in the centre of the room,” suggests Mick Harris from Enviroshop.
If you want to keep your downlights but cut their energy consumption, the most straight-forward option is to install high-efficiency halogens, such as the Philips Masterline ES or the Osram IRC Energy Saver, at a cost of about $10 each. “They last two-and-a-half times longer than a standard halogen and use 30 per cent less energy,” Harris says.
Alternatively, you can buy LED downlights for between $40 and $60 each. The up-front cost is high, but with a lifetime of up to 50,000 hours, they’ll almost never need to be replaced. Harris says that while LEDs aren’t yet as bright as halogens, they do suit lounge areas, hallways or toilets, and can be purchased together with a driver that makes them dimmable. “Wander through your house and see which lights are brighter than you need. They’re good spots for LED bulbs.”
CFLs are also available as downlights ($10 to $15 each), but to make them work, you’ll need to get an electrician to replace the fitting. Enviroshop sells slightly larger downlight fittings that suit standard-sized (including dimmable) CFLs. “That way, you get the best of both worlds,” Harris says. “It will give you as much brightness as you want, with a cheap, energy efficient globe.”
All CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, so they’re hazardous if broken or left in landfill. See the federal environment department’s website for more information on how to recycle or dispose of them safely.
See this article in Sanctuary Magazine.