Greener Home Living in 3 Easy Steps

Earth Day happens once a year but it should be something that we’re aware of every day. As an individual, there are plenty of things I have done to help the environment. I’m adamant about recycling, I replaced all my windows, I’ve installed solar panels, purchased energy-efficient appliances; and I drive around in a Smart car. When it comes to being green at home, it’s actually easier than you might think. Here are three energy conservation steps to get you started:

Step #1: Replace Your Incandescent Bulbs

As a lighting designer, I have a few suggestions to help make your home more energy-efficient and sustainable, without losing comfort or warmth. For more than hundred years we’ve been using incandescent lighting to illuminate our spaces. The mechanics of incandescent lighting are pretty straightforward. Electricity is used to heat a filament which in turn produces light. Incandescent light is also very easy to dim, so we can easily change the level of light to fit the mood that we want to create. Dimmed incandescent light reminds us of firelight and candlelight. Let’s face it, incandescent light has romantic qualities.

Why is the government slowly banishing incandescent bulbs? The bottom line is that they are a very inefficient way of creating illumination. They create more heat than they do light. So what are our options to incandescent light sources? We are left with fluorescent or light emitting diode (LED) light sources. Romantic is not a word that is usually associated with these alternative light sources. Knowing what to look for can make a huge difference in the quality of light these can produce.

What to look for in a bulb

It’s a bit like creating your eHarmony profile. What are the qualities of light to which you are attracted? The first would be the color of light, refered  to as color temperature, which is measured in degrees Kelvin. If you like the color of incandescent light at full capacity then you want to look at sources that are in the 2700° Kelvin range. If you’re attracted to the warmer color of dimmed incandescent then you would want to choose something in the 2200° Kelvin to 2400° Kelvin range.

The next thing to consider is the color quality of the light, this is referred to as the color rendering index (CRI). Incandescent light is considered the gold standard, so it gets a CRI rating of 100. This is the highest rating possible for all light sources. Most of the alternative light sources on the market have a CRI rating of 80 to 85, which is not so great. You want to search for bulbs or fixtures with integrated energy-efficient components with a CRI of 90 to 95. Don’t settle for anything less.

The last thing to consider is the lumen output. This measures the amount of illumination produced as compared to the power it consumes. You can’t look at wattage anymore, as we have always done with incandescent bulbs. You need to get comfortable with what a lumen measurement represents. A 60 W incandescent bulb produces 840 lm. It only takes a 12 watt LED version to produce 800 lm worth of illumination. So what you simply need to do is adjust your thinking a bit. All this information is now on the bulb packaging, like the nutrition labels on food products.

Fluorescent lighting

Let’s face it; no one is particularly happy with the quality of fluorescent light. Few fluorescents have high CRI ratings and almost all of them contain mercury, which is not particularly earth friendly. Plus you have to recycle them; you can’t just throw them in the trash. There is one fluorescent bulb that contains no mercury, can be thrown away like a regular incandescent bulb, and is dimmable. It is a reflector bulb called the VU1. It has a CRI rating of 90 and produces 500 lm of light for 19.5 Watts; and it lasts for 10 years. They have given it the designation of ESL (electron stimulated luminescence) to differentiate it from a CFL.

There’s subcategory of fluorescents called CCFL’s (cold cathode compact fluorescents). This is a terrible name for really attractive bulb. They look just like a standard household bulbs and dim with a standard incandescent dimmer. The 8 watt version provides 325 lm and lasts 18,000 hours which is 8000 hours longer than a standard compact fluorescent. What I particularly like about them is that they are available in a 2250° Kelvin option, offering up the warm inviting look of dimmed incandescent. This bulb does contain mercury though and need to be disposed of appropriately. Take a look at the Micro Brite made by Litetronics.

LED Options

The market has been flooded with LED products. Many of them have poor color quality, low CRI’s and limited lumen output. Pick something with a high CRI, with a color temperature between 2200° Kelvin 2700° Kelvin and a lumen output that is appropriate to the amount of light you’re looking for, then you will be much happier with your selections. These bulbs last in the 25,000 hour range, so you to make sure that you choose something you’re comfortable with for a long, long time. Switch lighting offers dimmable household bulbs with high lumen output’s that are also rated for enclosed fixtures. Most LED bulbs on the market not do well in enclosed fixtures.

If you have recessed fixtures that use halogen 50 watt MR 16 bulbs, there are LEDs versions that can offer 50 W to 65 Watts worth of illumination for 11.5 to 12 Watts worth of power. Two companies a look at are Soraa and Green Creative. For LED task lighting at your desk, Conscious Connection prefers the FLOS Kelvin LED Green Mode.

Step #2: Use Switched Motion Sensors

Some lights in your home get left on by accident all the time, especially the ones located in closets and bathrooms. A switched motion sensor is set up so that you have to manually turn the light on then it will turn itself off. This is better than a standard motion sensor where the light automatically goes on even during the day when you don’t need a light. One of the downsides to a standard switched motion sensor is that the lights to come on at full brightness. This can be a little disconcerting when you’re making a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night. There is an option called a dimmable switched motion sensor that allows the lights to be dimmed. A couple of companies who offer both standard and dimmable switched  motions are Watt Stopper and Lutron.

Step #3: Make the Switch to Solar

Now’s the time to really consider adding solar panels to your home. There are both national and state incentive programs to help defray the costs, but they are not going to go on forever. You can buy the system or you can lease it. There are also solar companies that pay all the money up front and then sell power to you at a rate that is less than the rate of that your local power company would charge. Energy costs are going to continue to rise. There’s no time like the present be proactive in harnessing the sun, benefiting yourself and the earth. There are lots of companies out there. The one that I used and have been very satisfied with is Sungevity.

Learn more about sustainable lighting for your home at www.randallwhitehead.com or www.lightmakesright.com

Cover photo: Both the recessed fixtures and the pendant fixture are fitted with LED bulbs.
Interior Design: Kristi Will | Lighting Design: Randall Whitehead

About The Author

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Randall Whitehead is the Conscious Connection sustainable lighting design expert. He has written seven books on the subject of lighting design, including his latest work, Residential Lighting, A Guide to Beautiful and Sustainable Design. In addition to having appeared on HGTV, samples of his work, books, and video clips can be seen on his website www.randallwhitehead.com.

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