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Lighting choices: Our comparison chart should help

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Specific needs are key in choosing between lighting types

Posted by Rob Klovance

Last month's blog post on our first ever residential ENERGY STAR® LED lighting rebate offer struck a chord. Many were interested in the rebate on the pricey LED, and the response proved there's a considerable appetite for information on energy-efficient lighting types.

So, this month, we're introducing an energy-efficient lighting comparison chart [JPG, 271 Kb] we hope can act as a quick reference for customers who want to know the basics of energy-efficient lighting.

Relying solely on the fine print on the box of a lighting product is not going to work for most customers. And when you start shelling out $10, $20, $30 or even $40-plus for one bulb, you want to make the right choice.

Our comparison table, for now

We pre-launched the lighting comparison chart in mid-May by asking followers of BC Hydro's Facebook page to take a look at the chart and provide feedback. Again, the response was overwhelming, and we've learned a few things we'll apply to this version, and any updated versions, of the chart.

One is that  to many customers, "lumens" is a mysterious word. Fortunately, there's a fairly simple explanation: The higher the lumens (essentially, light output), the brighter the bulb.

And then there's the issue of "colour temperature".  While many people may not be familiar with the term, everyone knows when they have a bulb with the wrong light temperature in the wrong place. They hate it.  That leads to complaints about too-blue "clinical" light that ruins the mood in a living room, or that yellowish tinge sometimes associated with earlier compact fluorescent lights.

The rule of thumb is that  "warm" colour temperatures tend to be those closest to what we got used to with the energy-wasting incandescent bulbs that once dominated the market. But now, energy-efficient CFLs and LEDs both offer colour range options from warm to cool.

You can get a good sense of what those colour temperatures look like in images that are part of a recent post on an LED retailers' blog  in the U.S. 

Product cost, energy-efficiency and long-term savings

As I wrote last month, LEDs can still be very expensive, and while you may find some fairly inexpensive LEDs, quality can suffer with lower end products. Make sure that you buy ENERGY STAR® -rated LEDs.

The good news is that even when forking out $30 for an LED, the long life expectancy of the LED usually makes it a better long-term investment than incandescent options, and is often more cost-efficient than CFLs.

So, let's go back to chart [PDF, 116 Kb] and see how this adds up.

Over the 23-year life span of an LED, we're looking at a $30 LED costing us about $58.75 in product and energy costs over those 23 years. That compares to $64.50 for a $10 CFL (because we'd need three CFLs in 23 years) and a whopping $155.25 for a $1 incandescent (because of the high energy use and the fact we'd need to replace them each year).

Ultimately, except in certain specialty lighting applications, including some dimming situations, it's hard to make any argument for the use of an incandescent bulb. And if you're wondering why halogen, a slightly more efficient incandescent technology, is also on our chart, it's because it's still a good choice in certain applications. One such place is outdoor lighting, particularly in cold or wet conditions where a CFL's performance and life span may be compromised.

"Regardless of what lighting source you pick, you have to look at the application it's in," says Power Smart manager Michael Bachman.

It's all about finding the right energy-efficient bulb. To help you make that right choice, here's a selection of helpful online tips and backgrounders:

Rob Klovance is managing editor of bchydro.com.