exploring green interiors – green lighting—watts it all about?

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exploring green interiors – green lighting—watts it all about?


One of the easiest and most effective ways to “green” your home is by switching out incandescent fixtures for compact fluorescent bulbs.  We’ve heard about them for years, and most of us know they are more efficient; however, we also know they are much more expensive than the standard incandescent. It comes as no surprise that the average skeptic might wonder what the fuss is all about.

An incandescent lamp (yes, the one invented by Thomas Edison) has not changed much since its conception in the 19th century. To emit light, electricity passes through a metal filament. The heat production causes that filament to glow, producing light. When you turn your light on, only 10 percent of the energy is actually released as light. The remaining 90 percent is emitted (and wasted) as heat.

A compact fluorescent lamp, which has a spiral shape, passes the electric current through a tube of gases. This creates an invisible ultraviolet light that is turned into visible light by hitting a phosphor coating on the inside of the tube.

It may seem like a lot of science to explain the difference, but the benefits really come down to math. CFLs may be more expensive than their incandescent counterparts, but they last almost ten times longer and use up to 75 percent less energy. This remarkable difference led Congress to pass the Energy Dependence Act in 2007 to phase out incandescent fixtures by 2014. But there is no reason to wait that long to make the switch!

The benefits of replacing your lamps now are two-fold. You will save a considerable amount of money on energy bills, and the upfront investment will pay for itself in replacement costs alone. Plus, you will also be helping to contribute to the efforts of protecting renewable energy sources in the environment. According to the Energy Star website, if every home in America swapped out only one incandescent fixture for a compact fluorescent, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for an entire year.

There are some concerns related to switching that extend beyond the initial cost. As a designer, one of the most common apprehensions I hear from clients is the awful blue hue fluorescents can emit; however, this is actually a misconception! Fluorescent fixtures have changed quite a bit since the early days.

The color that is emitted has to do with the color temperature of the bulb, not the fluorescent fixture as a whole. Color temperature is measured in Kelvins, not watts. A standard incandescent bulb has about 2800K. So look for a fluorescent fixture that has about 3000K.

This will emit a warm white color. The higher the number of Kelvins, the brighter (and bluer) the light appears.

Another necessary concern is the proper disposal technique for the bulbs once they burn out. Because a small amount of mercury vapor is  
used to light the bulb, it is necessary to take advantage of recycling facilities for proper disposal. Some major retailers such as The Home Depot also offer free recycling for unbroken bulbs. In the event that a bulb does break in your home, the Energy Star website provides clear instructions for how to safely clean up the area.

To learn more about compact fluorescent light fixtures, check out the Energy Star website (http://www.energystar.gov), and be sure to sign up for the Energy Star Pledge to help fight climate change. Beth Haley Design has signed up, along with over 2 million others!
—By Maggie McClure of Beth Haley Design

Editor’s Note: Beth Haley Design, an urban interior design firm, focuses on remodeling and revitalizing established homes, as well as
creating stimulating, functional, sustainable spaces in new homes.  Maggie McClure is an allied member of ASID (American Society of Interior Designers). E-mail your questions to her at ngregg@ngregg.com or visit http://www.bethhaleydesign.com.

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