The Miser's Guide to a Better Planet

By Darryl McMahon

Reducing Your Electrical Bill - Lighting

Ever noticed that most offices use mostly fluorescent lighting? Do you know why? Because it saves them money. They can save you money too. Fluorescent lights use less electricity (reduced electrical bill), they last longer (reducing labour costs / your time), and produce less heat (reducing cooling costs). There are three kinds of fluorescent lights you should be considering. The traditional 2, 4, and 8-foot tubes; the direct replacement compact fluorescent light (CFL); and the compact fluorescent lights that use a special fixture with replaceable "tubes". There are some drawbacks to fluorescent lights: most do not work with conventional dimmer switches; some cheap small tube types can have an annoying buzz (I avoid these); and, the shape and size of some of the CFLs make then unsuitable for some existing incandescent fixtures. Measure both before you buy to make sure they will fit. Not all stores that sell lighting will carry a decent range of fluorescent options, and prices vary greatly. Some will tell you that fluorescent light is cold or harsh. This was often true 10 years ago, but, driven by ergonomic concerns of their customers, the manufacturers have made great strides in the past few years, and there are many more options now.

Conventional Fluorescent Lights

Not always the most aesthetically pleasing lamps, they are certainly suitable for use in garages, workshops, utility / laundry areas, etc. There are fixtures for conventional fluorescent lights that are quite at home in the kitchen or family room, especially those with dropped ceilings. Give these serious consideration when building or renovating. In the garage, look for fixtures with ballasts rated for cold weather operation. Look for bargains (on fixtures and tubes) at outlets that demolish buildings or carry used building materials, particularly if appearance is not the major concern. Cheap fixtures and tubes, 75% less electricity, now that's a good deal.

Direct Replacement Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL)

These screw into a standard light socket instead of a common incandescent bulb, so you don't have to modify your existing wiring or fixtures. These marvelous devices will save you money, even though they cost more to buy. For example, I have one of those post lamps, which provide streetlighting on many streets in Nepean. Controlled only by a light sensor, it is on about 12 hours a day on average. That is about 4,380 hours a year. I have a 9-watt CFL in it, replacing the 40-watt incandescent that was in it. For those 4,380 hours a year, this unit will use 31 fewer watts - an annual saving of 136 kWh, worth about $13.60 (at 10 cents/kWh - approximately the current residential rate). Based on its 10,000 hour life rating, this CFL will last about two years, during which time about 9 conventional bulbs would have burned out, costing about $10.00 in bulbs. So over the life of this CFL, it will save me about $37 in electricity and replacement bulbs. This CFL cost less than $15, leaving me $22 ahead. A 17-watt CFL, rated for outdoor use and a 6,000 hour life, which can replace a 60-watt incandescent was recently available for $7.48 in a local store. This economical CFL saves 43 watts whenever it is on, for a saving of 258 kWh over its life, or about $25.80. Add in $7.00 for the six incandescent bulbs that were not used, and subtract the original cost of the CFL, and you are ahead $25.32. The cost of CFL in this case is almost the same as the cost of the displaced lights; the electrical savings are nearly free.

Special Fixture Compact Fluorescent

When you are changing fixtures anyway, you should consider switching to this kind of lighting. The replacement lights are cheaper than the screw in types, because you are buying the ballast once (in the fixture) instead of with the light. Compare, cost it out, then decide.

Why wouldn't you use fluorescent lighting? Your wallet is ahead, and reduced electrical use is beneficial for the environment.

No matter what type of lighting you use, the best way to save money is to turn it off when it does not need to be on, and that doesn't cost you anything to install.