Monday, October 20, 2014

My Journey Towards Self-Reliance, Part I: High Efficiency Lighting

Formerly "Moving Towards Self-Reliance, Part I: High Efficiency Lighting"

I've been slowly working towards my goal of being self-reliant in food, water, energy and finances.  Today, I want to discuss how to become more energy-efficient as part of the larger goal of becoming self-reliant.  More specifically, I want to talk about high efficiency lighting.

Do Light Bulbs Really Use That Much Energy?


According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, artificial lighting accounts for at least 10% of the typical American's total energy usage in their homes.  Various other sources claim even larger figures, with some experts citing that lighting can make up as high 30% of the annual electricity usage.

It's hard to imagine that a simple light bulb would use that much of total energy a house expends throughout the year.  Indeed, even the most inefficient light bulbs don't use that much power compared to other appliances, like refrigerators or clothes dryers.

Hardly anyone uses just one light bulb in most rooms in a typical house, however.  The combined sum of wattage used by light bulbs can quickly surpass that of larger, power-hungry appliances, especially when left on for long periods of time.

Obviously, turning off lights when not in use will save energy and money.  However, most of us like having artificial lighting, especially at night when we would accomplish nothing without said lighting.

Artificial lighting may be necessary, but we can choose specific types of light bulbs to significantly reduce our energy usage.

The Most Energy-Efficient Lighting

It's pretty well understood that the old incandescent light bulbs waste the most amount of energy to produce useable light.  The U.S. government even realized it, and introduced a law that forced light bulb manufacturers to make them more efficient by 2014 or stop selling them altogether.  The law was mostly a success in the field of light bulb technology, as most manufacturers decided to abandon the old bulbs in favor of new forms of lighting.

I still use CFLs in some less frequently used fixtures, like in the half bath
Since 2008, compact florescent light bulbs, or CFLs, have seen a major price reduction and increased demand.  These bulbs have been around for ages, but only just recently became affordable and common enough to market to the masses.   And they do provide improved energy efficiency compared to incandescent light bulbs.  Typically, CFLs require about half as much power to produce the same amount of light as incandescent bulbs.

50% reduction of power usage is pretty good, but here at the Dow Dominion, I want the maximum energy efficiency I can get out my artificial lighting... and not just for the savings on my power bill.  Having a highly energy-efficient house reduces that amount of energy I will need forever, making my household less reliant on the power companies, and reduces my negative impact on the environment.

That's why I have upgraded most of the artificial lighting in my house to LED bulbs.  Light Emitting Diodes bulbs, or LED bulbs, are currently the most energy-efficient light bulbs you can buy.  Today, an LED bulb that uses 6 watts of energy can produce the equivalent amount of light as a 40-watt incandescent bulb.  That's over 75% energy savings from a single bulb.  The more of these old bulbs you replace with LED bulbs, the more savings you will realize.

But LED Bulbs Are So Expensive!

Yes, LED bulbs are more expensive than its CFL and incandescent counterparts.

However, LED bulbs are not only more energy efficient, they also last longer, look better and work perfectly in cold conditions.  So even though the initial investment is a bit higher, you get a better looking light that works in any temperature, and will last for many years longer than either of the other bulb types.  That is addition to saving you money, energy and pollution month after month after month.

Can't Afford to Replace All Light Bulbs With LEDs?

I was faced with the same problem.  After all, if I replace all of my light bulbs with LEDs at the same time, I'd likely spend over $300 just on light bulbs!  While it would be highly efficient, most people (including myself) don't want to drop that much cash all at one time on just light bulbs.

This is why I decided to replace the most used light bulbs with LED bulbs first.  After all, a light that stays on more than other lights will use more energy, thus a higher energy savings can be achieved by replacing those first.

LED bulbs are very good at producing light without dimming over time like a CFL or incandescent bulb would, so to further my energy savings, I combined a 40-watt equivalent LED bulb (6.5 watts) with a 60-watt equivalent LED bulb (9 watts) in fixtures with more than two sockets.  These replaced a duo of 60-watt equivalent CFLs (13 watts), which saved an additional 2 watts a piece off of the already 8 watt savings from just upgrading to LED bulbs.  This may not seem like much, but I saved $3 a piece buying 40-watt equivalent LED bulbs instead of 60-watt equivalents and the light looks just as bright (if not brighter) than the couple of 13 watt CFLs that were replaced.

Even while consuming far less energy, LED bulbs are just as brilliant

My wife abhors the color of CFL lighting, even those marketed as "warm white."  This made it difficult to convince her to use more efficient lighting in her bathroom vanity fixture.  We still had the old incandescent globe bulbs in there, which used 40 watts a piece to produce a rather dim light.  After my wife reluctantly allowed me to replace them with LED bulbs, her vanity is almost TOO bright now and the entire cluster of four bulbs now uses the same amount of power as just ONE of the old bulbs.  And the LED bulbs have the same color and shape of the ones they replaced.  We use the bathroom lights a lot as well, so replacing these bulbs was a win on all fronts.

These LEDs use 1/4 of the energy of the bulbs they replaced, while being brighter to boot

Should I Replace Every Light in My House With LEDs?

It depends.

If you are simply after the highest energy efficiency possible, then the answer is yes!  I plan on making a full transition to LED bulbs one day, in order to have the most energy-efficient house as possible.

On the other hand, if you are concerned more about the return on investment, your best bet is to replace the most frequently used lights in your house with LED bulbs, and rarely used lights can simply get CFLs.  At the Dow Dominion's house, I use LED bulbs in the bathroom fixtures, dining room ceiling lights, kitchen lights, and utility room lights.  These are the ones that get used most frequently that have the highest potential for energy savings.  The rest of them get CFLs for now, as I would be waiting years for the savings to pay off for these infrequently used lights.

People who use lights for security stand to benefit greatly from upgrading to LED bulbs.  If you plan to leave your lights on at all times, the energy savings of LED bulbs stacks up quickly compared to the others, especially if you take into account the lifetime cost of buying new bulbs when old ones burn out.  Not to mention the massive reduction in pollution levels to power these lights around the clock.

What Wattage LEDs Should I Use?

If you are happy with the brightness of your current bulb, but want to upgrade to LED bulbs for the energy savings, look on the side of the current bulb for the amount of wattage it uses.  Then replace it with the wattage of the LED bulbs listed below.

  • 40 watts ICD = 10 watts CFL = 6 watts LED
  • 60 watts ICD = 13 watts CFL = 9 watts LED
  • 100 watts ICD = 22 watts CFL = 13 watts LED
  • 150 watts ICD = 30 watts CFL = 25 watts LED
Note: ICD is short for incandescent.

Final Thoughts

Why are LED bulbs important for the overall goal of self-reliance?  I see it as getting more for less.  I can the same amount (or more) lighting while using far less energy.  I plan on investing in a solar panel electricity system in the [far away] future, and reducing my energy needs will allow me to use a smaller system... saving me money in the long run.  On a bigger scale, it will also lower my negative impact on the environment via reduced pollution.  I definitely plan on inhabiting Earth for the rest of my life, so keeping it clean could be as important (if not more so) than saving money on my power bill.

That said, there isn't much in this article that hasn't been repeated in other places before.  With this article, I just hope to entice you to make the switch to LED bulbs so that you, too, can move towards the goal of being more self-reliant every day!

Do you know of additional benefits of LED bulbs that I might have left out?  Got a question about making the switch?  Have you upgraded to LED bulbs and seen a significant decrease in your monthly power bill?  Let me know what you think about LEDs and this article in the comments below!

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