How to Shop for (non-incandescent) Bulbs

Raleigh, North Carolina - Buying a light bulb used to be easy. And it used to be something you did several times a year.

But now, "a lot of people are starting to look at light bulbs as an investment," says Jaclyn Pardini, a spokeswoman for Lowe's Home Improvement stores.

The incandescent bulbs in use since Thomas Edison received a patent for his version in 1880 are being phased out. Federal laws in Canada and the U.S. have changed the way we shop for light bulbs.

In place of the so-many-watts incandescent bulbs are more energy-efficient replacements that come in a dizzying array of hues and shapes.

But choose carefully. Those CFLs might be with you for the next nine years or so. And if you spring for an LED bulb, you're really in it for the long haul.

"From the time a child enters kindergarten to the time that they graduate from college, that bulb will still work," Pardini says of LEDs.

As those last incandescents flicker out in your lamps and light fixtures, how do you decide what will replace them? Read on:

Incandescent Cost: (one bulb): Less than $1; (torun for one year): $7.32 Life: 1,000 hours Pros: It's the warm, soft light you grew up with.

Cons: A hot-blooded energy hog. And they're becoming ever harder to find.

Halogen Cost (one bulb): $2-$3; (torunforone year): $5.18 Life: 1,000-3,000 hours Pros: The closest thing to the soft glow of an incandescent light. They're now "the designer's choice in bulbs," says Lowe's spokeswoman Jaclyn Pardini.

Cons: You're not gaining much in life span or efficiency over incandescents.

CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) Cost (one bulb): $1-$2.50; (oneyear): $1.57 Life: 10,000 hours Pros: Here's where energy efficiency really steps up. CFLs use two-thirds less energy than incandescents.

Cons: Early CFLs got a bad rap for being slow to warm up and casting harsh light. But they've improved a lot. Still, you reduce the life span a bit if you turn the light on and off a lot (less than 15 minutes of on time). Using CFLs in an enclosed fixture can also reduce their life span, but some newer models have overcome this.

Check the packaging for the bulb you're considering.

Disposal can be a hassle - they contain a tiny amount of mercury, so you need to recycle old bulbs. Several retailers offer this service, and many municipalities allow drop-off at their household hazardous waste facilities.

LED (light-emitting diode) Cost (see note) (one bulb): $10-$30; (one year): $1.50 Life: 20,000-50,000 hours Pros: Extremely long life. Cutting-edge technology.

Cons: Much higher upfront cost than other bulb types. But, Jaclyn Pardini says, "the potential return in energy savings and your time in changing out light bulbs is far greater over time. So it's more of a longer-term investment." Like CFLs, some LED bulbs can deteriorate in the heat of an enclosed fixture, so consult the packaging.

Note: Cost figures are averages and based on 60W-equivalent single bulbs. Annual cost and life-span based on three hours of use daily.) SOURCES: Lowe's Home Improvement, Home Depot,,, Consumer Reports COST SAVINGS Here are some stats from the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program, which adds its stamp to light fixtures and bulbs that are at least 75 per cent more efficient than traditional lighting.

• By replacing your home's five most frequently used bulbs, you can save $70 each year.

• The average U.S. home has about 30 light fixtures; a switch to Energy Star lighting can save more than $400 a year on your electric bill.

• If every American household replaced its five most frequently used light fixtures or the bulbs in them, the national savings would be $8 billion each year in energy costs, and that action would prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions from 10 million cars.

• You can save energy in three-way and dimmable fixtures, too. Look for CFL and LED bulbs in packages marked "dimmable" or "three-way" to make sure you're getting a bulb that will work.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT HUE CFL and LED bulbs come in a variety of colours ("colour temperature" is the correct term) that will really affect the look of the room you're illuminating.

Here are your options, with tips on what will put each room of your home in the very best light.

• Soft white/Warm white Where to use: Living areas, bedrooms, dining spaces. This is the most common colour temperature, and closest in colour to the traditional incandescent bulb. Works well with earth tones like brown and tan.

• Cool white/Neutral/Bright white Where to use: Office and work areas. Fine for general lighting. Works well with neutral tones like grey and beige.

• Natural/Daylight Where to use: Reading areas or for display lighting. Complements bold colours like blues, greens and purples; shows colour with the most accuracy.

CONVERSION CHART With the phaseout of incandescent bulbs, the term "watts" is fading from importance. Now the word to know is "lumens" - a unit of measure for the brightness of light that a bulb produces. This watt conversion chart will make shopping easier.

The wattage equivalent is still listed on the packaging of newfangled bulbs, but can be hard to find sometimes.

150W = 2,600 lumens 100W = 1,600 lumens 75W = 1,100 lumens 60W = 800 lumens 40W = 450 lumens SOURCE: U.S. Federal Trade Commission

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