Dim, dusty lightbulbs can be energy wasters

Consumer Reports News: July 12, 2012 10:08 AM

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Replacing energy-wasting lightbulbs with new efficient ones will certainly save you money but proper maintenance is also key to lighting efficiency. Light levels decrease over time because of aging lightbulbs and dirt on fixtures, bulbs and room surfaces. Together, these factors can reduce total illumination by 50 percent or more, while lights continue drawing full power.

The Energy Savers website, run by the Department of Energy, recommends taking the following basic maintenance steps to help keep your lights operating at their optimum energy efficiency:

  • Clean fixtures, lightbulbs and lenses every six months to two years, depending how dusty your house is, by wiping off the dirt. Of course, never clean an incandescent bulb while it is turned on. The water's cooling effect will shatter the hot bulb.
  • Replace lenses if they appear yellow.
  • Many lighting experts recommend replacing all the bulbs in a lighting system at once. Common bulbs, especially incandescent and fluorescent lamps, lose 20 to 30 percent of their light output over their service life. Replacing all the bulbs in your track lighting or ceiling fan saves labor, keeps illumination high, and avoids stressing any ballasts with dying bulbs.
  • Clean or repaint small rooms every year and larger rooms every two to three years. Dirt collects on surfaces, which reduces the amount of light they reflect.

Remember, replacing just 15 of the inefficient incandescent light bulbs in your home can save you about $50 per year. As a rule of thumb, halogen lights use 25 percent less energy, CFLs use 75 percent less and LEDs use more than 75 percent less. To choose your replacement lightbulbs, see the results of Consumer Reports lightbulb tests. The lights in our labs are still cycling on and off and we'll be giving you an update in the coming months.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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