Get Your Light Right

Lighting accounts for 25 percent of your overall electricity bill, so switching from incandescent to CFL or LED bulbs can save you money. Here’s how to make a savvy switch with advice from EnergyRight® Solutions.


On Light Quality

People are often concerned about the light quality of compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, feeling them to be more “artificial” than incandescent. But truthfully, it depends on the bulb you choose. Here’s a guide to light quality:

  • Check the bulb’s kelvin (K) rating. Bulbs with a lower K rating (3,000K and under) give off a soft, warm light similar to an incandescent and are suitable for living rooms, bedrooms and other personal spaces.
  • Bulbs with a medium K rating (3,100 to 4,500K) give off a cooler white light that might be identified “bright white.” This type of bulb is great for task lighting.
  • Bulbs with a higher K rating (4,600 to 6,500K) produce a crisp “daylight,” and are best used in garages, display areas or anywhere security is an issue.
  • Also, check the lumen rating of the bulb—the higher the lumen rating, the greater the light output and the whiter the light. A 400 watt bulb is equal to about 450 lumens, a 60 watt bulb 800 lumens and a 75 watt bulb 1,100 lumens.

On Selecting the Bulb

Compact fluorescents and LEDs come in all shapes and sizes, so to fit your fixtures, be sure to physically compare your current bulb to the CFL or LED you’re considering. Pay attention to height and width—particularly to the width of the narrowest portion of your fixture, such as the bottom of the harp on a table lamp.

To get the right wattage for the job, think about CFLs in a 3:1 ratio to incandescent bulbs; LEDs are even more efficient. Packages might give you this information, saying something such as, “Equivalent to a 60 watt bulb.” They might not.

For shopping purposes, here’s a chart that shows equivalencies for commonly used bulb wattages.

Incandescent Bulb Wattage 40w  60w 75w 100w
CFL Bulb Wattage    9-13 13-15w 18-25w 23-30w
LED Bulb Wattage  4-5w 6-8w  9-13w 16-20w

On Limitations and Considerations

  • If you are using CFLs in a fixture that vibrates—such as a ceiling fan—their life span may be shortened.
  • You will need to buy specially marked bulbs if you plan to use them outdoors, in closed fixtures or with dimmer switches.
  • Some LED bulbs offer multiple modes of operation—different colors and intensities within the same bulb.
  • Depending on their function, some LED bulbs may require an LED-specific dimmer switch.
  • If you choose CFLs, be aware that it can take a minute or more for the bulb to reach its full lighting potential once you it them on.
  • Look for ENERGY STAR certified bulbs. They will use 70 to 90 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs, and save you between $30 and $80 over the lifetime of each bulb.
  • LEDs are the most expensive choice, but also the longest lasting—the average life expectancy per bulb is 20,000 hours. Compare that to 10,000 hours for CFLs and only 1,000 hours for incandescents.

On Recycling and Disposal of CFLs

Mercury is an important part of CFLs that allows them to operate efficiently. Because of this, it’s important to take protective steps if you break a bulb.

  • Open a window to disperse any vapor that may escape and leave the room for at least 15 minutes.
  • Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a sealable plastic bag; use disposable rubber gloves if possible. Do not use your bare hands.
  • Wipe the area with damp paper towel or disposable wet wipes and place them in the plastic bag. Seal it.
  • Place the plastic bag in a second sealed plastic bag and dispose of in the trash. (Some states require that broken and unbroken CFLs be taken to a recycling center.)
  • Do not sweep or vacuum up the broken bulb.
  • For additional information about CFL disposal see the ENERGY STAR CFL page.

No mercury is used in the manufacture of LEDs.