Lighting for Less: How to Save Energy, Cash

From bulbs to timers, new products and systems promise significant energy savings on your electric bill.

FlushMount

The FlushMount sensor from Vantage/Legrand detects motion and light levels within a room. It can be integrated into a control system so that specified lights turn off when

Can something as simple as a lightbulb help preserve the environment? Manufacturers like Philips, GE and Sylvania think so. These manufacturing giants are promoting new types of bulbs designed to consume as much as 75 percent less electricity than standard incandescent models, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. It’s a move that promises to help homeowners curb their household energy costs while being good to the environment.

“Operating your lighting more efficiently is not just about dollars and cents,” says Phil Scheetz, home systems marketing manager for lighting control manufacturer Lutron Electronics. “It’s about conserving the natural resources required to fuel electrical power plants.” When those plants produce less electricity, fewer toxic emissions are fed into the air and water.

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“By replacing three incandescent bulbs with three CFL (compact fluorescent) bulbs, over the course of 10 years you can eliminate the emission of one ton of carbon dioxide,” says Susan Bloom, a Philips spokesperson. Such statements have made CFLs part of a nationwide movement that has homeowners rethinking how and when they use their lights and utilizing a variety of innovative technologies to curb their consumption of electricity. Safe disposal of CFLs is important because they contain a small amount of mercury, so it is recommended that you look into available local recycling options.

Switch to Better Bulbs
While there’s no denying CFLs are a more efficient light source than traditional incandescent bulbs, they’re not the end-all solution to efficient lighting use. Even manufacturers of CFLs advise against replacing every bulb in your house with these energy-saving models. “CFLs are great, but only when used in the right application,” says Bloom. “Being green, to us, means using a combination of CFLs, halogens and incandescent lights,” adds Gary Meshberg, chairman of the Home Lighting Control Alliance. Advocates of energy-saving lights agree that CFLs are ideal for areas like garages, laundry rooms, utility rooms and the outdoors—places where the fixtures typically stay on for extended periods of time and where you need strong light. “Because CFLs can last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs, they’re also a good choice for hard-to-reach places like great rooms with cathedral ceilings.”

The good old incandescent bulb, meanwhile, still excels at producing soft, warm light, making it the right choice for areas where ambiance is important, like family rooms, bedrooms and media spaces. Plus, unlike some CFLs, incandescent bulbs can be dimmed to create a variety of effects. And when set at a dim level, they use less energy and last longer. “Dimming a lamp by just 10 percent doubles its life and saves 10 percent on energy costs,” says Meshberg. Heinz Roy, product development manager for Lightolier Controls, can testify to that. By placing all but a few of his home’s lights on a dimming system; using occupancy sensors to control the fixtures in the attic, guest bathroom and laundry room; and installing programmable thermostats, his monthly energy bills have been 12 percent lower, on average.

Other energy-saving lighting alternatives include tungsten halogen bulbs and LED bulbs. Ideal for table lamps and decorative fixtures, halogen bulbs are more energy efficient and last two to three times longer than incandescent bulbs. “You get the best of all worlds with halogen,” says Meshberg. “You can save a bit of energy without missing out on warmth and dimming capabilities.”

LED lamps are poised to be the next big thing in residential lighting. Used today primarily for commercial applications, they have an amazing lifespan of 25 years and require just 5 watts or so of electricity. They’re dimmable and can emit a variety of colors for effect. Starting at around $25 however, LED lamps may be too cost prohibitive to be a main contender in the home sector today.

Add Smart Accessories
No matter how energy efficient your lamps are, you can still waste a lot of electricity by leaving them on when they shouldn’t be. Simple stand-alone devices like occupancy sensors, timers, remotes that clip to your car visor, and photovoltaic (daylight) sensors can minimize wasteful consumption by turning the lights off automatically. An occupancy sensor, can switch on the light as you step into a closet and then switch it off after you leave. It’s handy for hallways, stairways, laundry rooms and other spaces where you might not have a free hand to manipulate a switch.

Timers, a popular choice for exterior lighting, can also be useful inside as a way to turn off all the lights before bedtime or as you leave for work. By complementing a timer with a small pushbutton controller that attaches to your key ring or clips to your car visor, you’ll never leave your lights burning again. If the timer doesn’t get them, you can use your portable controller to switch off the entire house as you drive away.

imageHomes with large windows can benefit from using photovoltaic sensors. These devices measure the amount of natural light in a room and adjust the lamps accordingly. For instance, if enough sunlight is streaming through the windows to illuminate a space, the sensor could signal the fixtures to switch off and stay off until you really need them. This technique, called daylight harvesting, is practiced widely in commercial and office buildings and is slowly making its way to the residential marketplace. In addition to turning off the lights to take advantage of the available sunlight, the system can be set up to close the drapes to block out the sun at certain times of the day. Lighting and home control companies such as AMX, CentraLite, Crestron, Colorado vNet, Control4, Elan, Lightolier Controls, Lutron Electronics, LiteTouch, Vantage/Legrand, and also offer systems that can synchronize a home”s lights with the positions of motorized window shades. This is an effective way to prevent heat gain, so that your home’s heating and air-conditioning system can run more efficiently.

Into a System
Your lights really start behaving once you tie them to a dedicated control system. Lighting control systems come in all flavors, from wireless makes that can be easily retrofitted into any type of home to sophisticated models that operate on their own network of proprietary wiring. Regardless of its design, a lighting control system is inherently energy efficient, as it can combine many technologies, including astronomical time clocks, occupancy sensors, daylight sensors and other devices into one unified package. Moreover, these systems have processors built in, allowing the technologies within the system to logically work together to achieve greater efficiency and to be tailored precisely to the special needs of your household. For instance, a lighting control system could be programmed to react to occupancy sensors only during times dictated by its internal time clock. Or a system could be programmed to adjust the family room fixtures according to the amount of natural light, but only if someone is in the room.

Your lights could be arranged into groups, or presets, that can be controlled independently by pressing corresponding buttons on a keypad. A popular preset that can save scads of energy is all-off. Positioned prominently on a keypad by the front door or by your bed, an all-off button could signal every light in the house to shut off. Other presets could be designed to control the lights in only certain areas. “Families especially can benefit from setups like this,” says Angie Larson, VP of sales and marketing for LiteTouch. “When you realize everyone is standing in the kitchen, it makes sense to turn off the lights everywhere else.”

Perhaps a lighting control system’s biggest claim to fame is its ability to set groups of lights at different intensity levels, called scenes. Scenes can be designed around common tasks, special occasions or the architecture of your home. A party scene, for example, could be designed to set the lights in the family room and foyer at dim levels while simultaneously turning off the remainder of the interior lights. A welcome scene, on the other hand, could strike a pathway of lights from the front door to the back deck for arriving guests.

The same keypads used to engage lighting scenes can also display the status of the fixtures in your house. By glancing at the keypad’s display panel, you’ll be able to tell if the kids forgot to turn off the bathroom light or if the floodlights on your outbuildings are still shining. Even when there’s no keypad available, like when you’re at work, running errands or on vacation, systems with remote access capabilities can let you control the lights via a web browser, or any Internet-connected device.

Regulatory Mandates
Manufacturers are wise to promote the green-lighting aspects of their products and systems, as several regulatory mandates threaten to restrict what type of lights consumers can use in their homes. Moreover, many national organizations have launched green homebuilding rating programs that specify the use of energy-saving lighting products and systems. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), for example, launched a nationwide green home rating system this fall. Called LEED for Homes, the rating system has four levels (shades) of green: Certified, silver, gold and platinum, with platinum being the highest level of certification.

imageMeanwhile, a group of energy efficiency advocates including the Alliance to Save Energy, Natural Resources Defense Council, and American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, among others, have banded together to form the Lighting Energy Coalition. Led by Philips Electronics (a leading manufacturer of compact fluorescent bulbs), the Coalition was created to combat inefficient lighting in North America. As part of the initiative, Philips has agreed to become the first lighting manufacturer in North America to seek a phase-out of incandescent bulbs by 2016. This may be a bold move, but the Coalition has made it clear that it doesn”t want to ban incandescent lighting outright; rather it wants to enact public policies that would provide incentives for homeowners to purchase more energy-efficient products and to set performance standards for lighting manufacturers.

Homeowners and builders in California are already feeling the pressure to become more energy efficient in their lighting use. Per the California Energy Commission’s Title 24 Code, only high-efficiency lighting is permitted in many of the rooms of a newly built home. In areas where these lights aren’t installed, the homeowners must use dimmers or occupancy sensors.

Energy and environmental issues aren’t going away, so it’s completely plausible that other states may eventually adopt similar lighting strategies. Until that time, you can still embrace the green-lighting trend by swapping your existing incandescent bulbs for energy efficient CFLs, halogens or LEDs; using dimmers and sensors to control a few choice lights; or letting an intelligent lighting control system operate every fixture in your house. These options are guaranteed to shave significant dollars off your monthly electricity bills, yet you’ll sacrifice not one iota of comfort and convenience as you use them.

For more information saving energy and money, check out Energy Monitoring in the Home, Support the Environment: Buy A/V and Flip the Switch on Lighting Control.

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