Cash for lights: Are you missing out on CFL incentives?

With the wide range of new "green" technology coming onto the market, it can be hard to keep up with newer options and figure out how they make sense in your home designs.

Where CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) are concerned, however, missing out on incentives may not be in the best interests of your budget.

$50 incentive adds up fast

The Power Smart New Homes program provides a $50 incentive to builders who include a minimum of six CFLs in their new homes. The cost of six lamps is usually less than $20, and the incentive applies to each suite in a home, making this a valuable option for multi-suite builds.

"This is probably the best deal on incentives we have," says Doug Overholt, program representative. "Yet it's one of the least used. Developers are missing out – and it's likely because they simply haven't figured out how to best incorporate CFLs in their projects."

Solution: Specify the size and colour temperature

The trick is to realize that not all CFLs are alike – and to find the ones that work best for the look your designer is trying to achieve.

Colour temperature

This is the key to making CFL lighting work for you. "Colour temperature" refers to the appearance of the light, and is measured in degrees Kelvin.

The lower the temperature, the more "warm" and yellow the light appears. The higher the number, the more "cool" and blue the appearance. As a reference point, 2,700 degrees Kelvin is a close match for the light we're used to from an old 60w incandescent light bulb.

In many settings, however, lower-temperature CFLs may not make a display room "snap", appearing a bit dim or greenish instead. Try 3,000 or 3,500 degree Kelvin lamps (the colour temperature is usually listed on the lamp packaging), and you'll get the crisp, clean appearance you're looking for.

Note that it's often a good idea to experiment with your designer, to ensure the colour temperature you choose delivers the intended colour perception of other features, such as wall colour.

Length and shape

There are longer and shorter CFLs. In certain applications, such as downlights over an island, the "stubby" version may look better.

There are also lamps where the fluorescent tube is open to the air, and others where it is encased in a "bulb" that looks similar to the shape of an old incandescent bulb. Find the ones that best suit each application and fixture.


Standard CFLs (which now run in the $2-3 per bulb range) cannot be used in dimmer applications. Dimmable CFLs are available, but they are more expensive.

Using CFLs in your general lighting areas and choosing halogen lamps for dimming applications may be your best bet. Halogens are not as energy efficient as CFLs but they still beat incandescents for efficiency.

Fluorescent tube

In laundry or garage applications, remember the humble fluorescent tube light. Older T-12s will be disappearing from the market, but T-8s and T-5s – the more efficient replacement – are expected to be available for the long term.

Note that the number refers to the diameter of the tube; T-5s are the slimmest (5/8"), offering a low profile.

Improvements in colour temperature and ballast technology mean newer models provide crisp, clear light without the eyestrain-causing flicker traditionally associated with these lights.

Making the most of energy efficient lighting – and snagging the CFL incentive – may mean spending a bit of time with a lighting contractor or wholesaler to find the right lamps for your builds.  Interior designers are not always aware of issues such as specifying colour temperature in degrees Kelvin.

"It's like anything else; it may require a little more effort the first time to make sure you're getting the product that you want and that meets the needs of your designer," says Overholt.

But once you get the proper lighting, you can confidently promote the energy efficiency of your homes' lighting systems – and put some money in your pocket, too.

View our CFL Fact Sheet [PDF, 502 KB] to find the right CFL for each application.