At home, I tend to follow my son around, turning off lights. He’ll go upstairs to look for a particular stuffed animal friend, hit three rooms and four light switches in the process, then head back downstairs, with Bentley the frog or Fred the bear in his arms.
Then it’s my turn. His room, the bathroom, my room — all ablaze with lights.
I try not to follow my colleagues around at work doing the same, but sometimes I can’t help myself — the conference room, the library, the little interview rooms are often left empty, and fully illuminated.
By now, we all know that compact fluorescent light bulbs use about a third of the energy as traditional incandescent bulbs, and last about nine times longer. I remember when they were priced like jewels around 15 years ago, and how the power company periodically proffered one per customer, saving us the $17 per bulb going rate. But the price has come way down. Last week, I bought a four-pack of 14-watt CFLs (the equivalent of 60-watt bulbs) for $5 at an odd-lot store, and a 23-watt CFL (a 100-watt equivalent) for $1.99 at a supermarket. So there’s really no excuse not to replace your incandescents, if you haven’t already.
The next phase in energy-saving lighting will be LED, light-emitting diode lights, which use about half the energy of CFLs. Right now, bulbs that mimic the style, size and spectrum of incandescents aren’t widely available for consumers, and they still cost a ton — $25 to $90-plus a bulb, depending on type. And right now, most LEDs are directionals — they don’t spread their light. So they might be more effective as a reading light than a ceiling fixture.
In a few years, all this could change. And for now, there are LED Christmas lights, and battery-operated LED torches and ring lights. We used a hanging ring light — a 4-inch-wide circle of 12 little bulbs that my son says looks like a UFO — the last time we had a power outage. We bought it for after-dark barn chores.
The reason incandescents use so much more energy is that so much energy is wasted making heat instead of light. According to Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, replacing 10 incandescent light bulbs with 10 CFLs will save you $44 a year, or $398 over the life of the light bulbs. (That’s based on replacing 60-watt, 750-hour bulbs with 14-watt CFLs that last 10,000 hours. The figures are based on using the bulbs around 3 hours a day.)
Of course, whatever light bulb you use, the simplest way to save energy is to turn it off when you’re not using it. Maybe you don’t need your outdoor flood lights on in the evening if you’re not expecting guests. Maybe you don’t need the overhead light on in the living room when you’re reading near the floor lamp by the couch. I know for a fact my son doesn’t need his light on — and mine, and the bathroom’s — when he’s back downstairs snuggling in the rocker with Fred or Bentley.
Now that we’re waking up in the dark, the lights are going on before breakfast. And it’s easy to forget to open the shades and turn off the lights when the sun finally rises. The funny thing is that it’s the same light-wasting boy who is best at remembering to turn off the lights in the morning, maybe because opening and closing shades is his job. “Mom,” he’ll say, after pulling open the curtains and letting morning pour onto the breakfast table. “Do we really need that light on?”
Now, if I could just get him to close the back door behind himself when he comes in from gathering eggs.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and projects editor. Greenpoint makes a weekly appearance in print, in the Gazette’s Sunday Environment page.
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