Light bulb moment for your home

How to choose lights that save on electricity billsIt could be a lightbulb moment for environmentally friendly house design, if only we all knew which light bulb to choose.

With the government banning old-fashioned incandescent bulbs from 2010 and experts decrying halogen downlights as energy-guzzling eco-demons, most homeowners are in the dark about the right lighting choice.

Those curly wurly compact fluorescent bulbs (also called CFLs) get the Green tick of approval, with experts like RMIT adjunct professor Alan Pears saying they are the cheapest, easiest solution to create energy-efficient lighting without the expense of altering light fittings.

Installing CFLs should slash your yearly lighting bill, with energy-savings of up to 80 per cent compared to incandescent light bulbs.

But others say newer lighting technology known as LED – light-emitting diodes – will become the energy-efficient household’s lighting style of choice.

“LEDS will be the future – they last longer and the manufacturing process isn’t as harmful as CFLs,” says University of NSW’s Kirsty Mate. LEDs give a softer light and are currently used in traffic lights and swimming pool lighting.

But Bright Lights’ lighting designer John Ghetto says that while LEDs are excellent choices for energy-efficient outdoor lighting, the technology is not advanced enough – or cheap enough – to light up inside homes.

“LEDs are very efficient and have a long life – if the standard incandescent lasts 1000 hours, a CFL might last 10,000 hours but an LED will last 50,000 hours,” says Energy Australia’s efficiency expert Paul Myors.

“But an LED downlight costs $115 just for the lamp so they are expensive but don’t deliver the same amount of light as a compact fluorescent, which is cheaper.”

Pears says the banning of incandescent bulbs – which give off more heat than light – might not be such a worry, as new guidelines propose incandescent bulbs that offer more than 15 lumens per watt will still be manufactured and sold.

“Incandescents and halogens are both poor lighting choices because they make light by heating wire,” Pears says. The extra heat forces air-conditioners to work harder and guzzle even more electricity.

Halogen downlights are particularly inefficient, with large en masse installations required to light large rooms and the low-voltage transformer above the downlight guzzling extra energy.

“The Melbourne Fire Brigade has acknowledged that a significant number of houses burn down each year when the halogen downlight transformers interact with insulation material and start fires in the ceiling,” Pears says.

Hmm, a house on fire … could that be considered an energy efficient form of lighting? “Not likely,” Myors says.