In The Dark About Picking A Light Bulb?

Buying a light bulb used to be a no-brainer. Now it's a brain teaser; the transition to more energy-efficient lighting means choosing from a dazzling array of products.

We've long identified bulbs by their wattage, but that is actually a measure of electricity, not the brightness of a bulb. The amount of light a bulb generates is measured in lumens.

An incandescent 60-watt bulb, for example, gives off 800 lumens of light. And LED bulbs, which are more energy efficient than their incandescent counterparts, can deliver the same amount of light using as little as 10 watts.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that if every household replaced just one incandescent bulb with an "Energy Star"-rated LED or CFL (compact fluorescent), Americans would save close to $700 million per year in energy costs.

But with so many types of bulbs with different price points and life spans now on the market, many consumers are confused.

When we asked for your questions about light bulbs, we got an earful. So we called in Noah Horowitz, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Center for Energy Efficiency, to answer your most frequently asked questions.

(We should note that Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental organization, is a strong backer of energy-efficient lighting. It receives a small percentage of funding from government grants, including one from the EPA Energy Star program to accelerate the adoption of energy-efficient equipment.)

For even more information about light bulbs — the different types available, how long they last and what they cost over the life of the bulb — check out our guide to changing light bulbs.


Why do some CFLs die so quickly? The whole seven-year life thing seems random. I have some bulbs that last years but others that die within a year.

As not all CFLs are created equal, only buy those that have the Energy Star logo on them. Those bulbs are not only efficient but also meet the Environmental Protection Agency's rigorous performance requirements and must pass various tests including longevity. Switching your CFL on and off frequently may shorten its life. Additionally, CFLs may not turn on or reach their full brightness in really cold temperatures.

Everyone I've talked to says they just throw dead CFLs in the trash. Isn't this a problem for landfills? Are we going to start hearing about dangerous mercury levels in the ground and water in a few years?

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