Part One of Illuminated, epa’s Lighting Podcast

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Part One of Illuminated, EPA’s Lighting Podcast

Hello and welcome to Part 1 of Illuminated, EPA's lighting podcast. I'm Brittney Gordon-Williams and on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency I invite you to join us as we discuss the latest energy-efficient lighting options with some of the leaders in the field.

Lighting has always been one of the most talked about topics in the energy efficiency world. For many people, lighting is the easiest first step in making their home more energy efficient. It's also one of the easiest steps one can take when working to prevent climate change. The lighting world is upping its innovation at lightning speed these days. And the choices are more diverse than they were when CFLs first hit the scene. With new federal lighting standards making energy-saving choices more important than ever, EPA thought this was the perfect time to bring together some of the industry's top thought leaders to talk energy-efficient lighting.

Part I of our podcast explores trends on the current state of lighting in the US and what lighting technologies are on local retailer shelves. If you'd like to jump to a specific topic, at 7:49 we look at what you need to know when shopping for lighting. At 10:09, learn what type of bulb to buy and why. Our guests today include Taylor Jantz-Sell here in Washington, DC, with me. She's ENERGY STAR's lighting program manager. Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist from the Natural Resources Defense Council, he's joining us from Berkley, California. Naomi Miller, lighting designer and senior staff scientist from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. She's joining us from Portland, Oregon. And Mark Voykavic. He is a national light bulb merchant for The Home Depot joining us from Atlanta, Georgia. Everyone, thank you for joining us. 

Let's start with a little background. The average American household spends more than $2,000 a year on energy bills. With about $250 or 12% of that going to light their home. If every American home replaced just one light bulb with one that had earned the ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes a year, save more than $680 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions each year equivalent to the emissions from 800,000 cars.

Let's get this discussion started. What is the current state of lighting in the United States.

Taylor – Well, Brittney, we've made significant progress in lighting, but there's still a lot of progress left to be made. About 70% of our sockets still contain an inefficient light bulb and that's a huge amount of energy savings left on the table. To give you a sense of how inefficient these bulbs are and how we're losing money every day, the average home last year spent more on lighting than they did operating their refrigerator, their dishwasher and their laundry equipment combined. It's crazy. We have about 40 light bulbs in our homes and we don't realize that they all add up. Fortunately, there are a lot of great options on the market to replace all those inefficient light bulbs. The CFLs and LEDs that have earned the ENERGY STAR are going to save you energy, save you money, and help protect the environment. And these bulbs have been tested against more than 20 different requirements based on energy efficiency and performance. And all of them have been certified by third parties. ENERGY STAR bulbs use about 75% less energy than your traditional incandescent bulbs and they last 10-20 times longer.

Brittney – Thank you, Taylor. I want to open that up to the rest of the panel. What are your thoughts on the current state of lighting?

Noah – I'd like to add to what Taylor said and put this into even bigger perspective. There are 4 billion sockets in the US and 2 out of 3 of them still have an inefficient light bulb in them and once we change all of them we can save $13 billion a year and 30 power plants worth of electricity and I think what we're going to hear today is that we've got more choices than ever and there's an energy-efficient bulb waiting for every socket. 

Brittney – I like that, Noah. Anyone else?

Mark – When you take a look at our consumers out there today in the marketplace, they basically have a lot more choices than what they've had in the past. A lot of our customers and even our sales staff haven't really had to think about changing a light bulb for over 100 years. As we get into new legislation and new times where incandescent bulbs are going to be going by the wayside consumers and ourselves need to think about what choices we have in the future. Right now we're in that transition phase where a lot of consumers are going to have to make that first decision on energy-efficient lighting. 

Brittney: Mark, tell us what are the lighting options available to consumers on your shelves today.

Mark – Absolutely. At The Home Depot we have several options available for consumers, each with unique product benefits. We look at them as being good, better, and best options. We'll start with the best: the LED bulbs are the best and The Home Depot offers cost-effective LED bulbs that use the latest and most advanced technology. Now LED bulbs are the next innovation in lighting, so let's take a look at energy savings. They use up to 85% less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs, all without sacrificing the light quality. A great part about LED bulbs is that their life is 25 times longer than incandescents and that's cutting down on the operating costs and the inconvenience of replacing them. Just imagine you're replacing a light outside of your home on a second story that's an outdoor light, you don't have to worry about that for a long period of time. The majority of our LED bulbs last 25,000 hours or 23 years. A great part about LEDs as well is that they are in dimmable options, they don't contain mercury, and they emit great color. So that's our best solution. 

The next solution is our better solution and that's compact fluorescent bulbs or CFLs. So they're an ideal low-energy bulb for environmentally-conscious consumers who are looking to save money on their energy bills. The best part about CFLs is that they use 75% less energy, not as much as LEDs and they last approximately 10 times longer than incandescents—about 7-10 years—and they pay for themselves in about 3 to 6 months. The last technology is halogen bulbs or another term can be eco-incandescent are bulbs that look similar to a regular incandescent but use a halogen capsule to emit the light. Most of them are dimmable and they save about 28% - they use about 28% less energy than regular incandescent so they're a step in the right direction but not as good on energy savings as your LEDs.

Brittney – Thank you, Mark. I think you bring up a really good point that there are a lot of options out there. Let's start talking about those options. How does a consumer know what to buy? Taylor, can you start off with that?

Taylor – Sure well even with all these choices it's still simple, you can just look for the ENERGY STAR for energy savings. No matter what the technology, only the bulbs that have earned the ENERGY STAR label meet these strict guidelines for efficiency and performance. It's tested and certified by third parties, so you have that added confidence with that label, a label associated with a government energy efficiency program.

Brittney – Yeah, and we'd love to get to Naomi. Naomi, any thoughts on this? What do consumers need to know when they go out to buy these days?

Naomi - There's going to be a little bit of a shift in thinking that consumers are going to have to go through. It used to be that you bought a light bulb based on watts, so it was a 60-watt bulb or a 75-watt bulb or a 100-watt bulb, and we all equated in our minds how much light was coming out of that light bulb. Today, watts are a unit of power use, it's not a unit of how much light is emitted. So, what we'd like to do is encourage consumers to shift away from watts and shift towards lumens. If you look at a light bulb package of an incandescent light bulb, let's say a 60-watt incandescent, you can look at the lumen output on that bulb and it’s usually about 800 lumens. Then go to your energy efficient bulb options and see if you can find a bulb that also emits 800 lumens. So once you do that, you're going to be in the right ballpark of finding a replacement bulb and it’s going to save you a lot of time if you think in lumens instead of power. There's a required label on the packaging, it’s called the lighting facts label and that will list the lumens and some other basic information about the light bulb like the power that it draws in watts, and the color of the light bulb. And I'll add one more thing about color. Color is kind of an esoteric business when it comes to light bulbs, but here's a rule of thumb: if you want a light bulb that's going to give you the same color of light as an incandescent light bulb look for a number that looks like 2,700K. That's called color temperature. If you want something that's closer to a slightly whiter halogen, that's about 3,000K. If you want a much whiter, almost bluish light bulb then you can go up to 4,000K or 5,000K. It's a matter of personal preference, but that little guide will help you land on a color that you'll be happy with in your home.

Brittney – Naomi, that was great information. Thank you. Noah, is there anything else that you think consumers need to know these days.

Noah – I think consumers might be a little bit overwhelmed and I think we need to keep it simple. Some tips: Figure out how much light you need and that's in lumens. People are used to shopping by watts, but they need to think about how many lumens they're getting. Also, where are you going to put that light bulb? Are you going to put it in a table lamp where you want the light to go in all directions? Or are you putting something in your ceiling in a recessed can or downlight? Those are more like spotlights. You have to figure out where is that light bulb going and then do I need it to dim or not. Not all energy-saving bulbs dim; almost all LEDs do, but most of the CFLs don't. Then you figure out, okay I know what shape and type of light bulb I want do I buy an LED or CFL? That's purely up to you. The CFL will cost closer to $2 where the LED $10 to $50, depending on the bulb, but will save you a whole lot more money, so you've got good choices there. And as Taylor said earlier, look for those that have the ENERGY STAR label on them. ENERGY STAR has a lot of requirements not just that the bulb needs to be efficient, but that the bulb needs to perform well and you can be confident that the bulb won't die prematurely. So that's pretty much it and then when you're done with your CFLs, bring them to places like The Home Depot that offer free recycling.

Taylor – Absolutely, thanks Noah. There's also some great information on the front of the package that helps you compare. You can take different technologies and compare them apples to apples. If you take an LED with 800 lumens, take a CFL with 800 lumens, and an incandescent with 800 lumens on the front of the packaging it will tell you how much those bulbs will cost to operate in a year. What you'll see is that the incadescents are around $7 and the LEDs and CFLs are just around $1 a year to operate. So it's very clear up front which one is going to save you more money and energy in the long run.

Brittney – that was all great information that you shared. I'd like Naomi to chime in again because you work as a lighting designer. Can you tell us about the kinds of trends you're seeing taking off right now?

Naomi – It's actually a really exciting time to be a lighting designer because the world is turned upside down. It's changed from fluorescent and halogen and incandescent lamps almost overnight into LEDs. It's such a promising technology. LED products started out kind of yucky and got a little bit better and now they are great. They are really exciting. Not only can you get the right color of light, which I described before, but you can also get good color rendering especially when it comes to red tones. Most residential consumers have wood floors or wood moldings in their house, they have carpets with lots of red in them or they may have curtains and fabrics that have red in them. A lot of the CFLs weren't very good at rendering red colors and they didn't make skin color look as good as some of these LED bulbs do. So here's another hint, if you're looking for color rendering information on a package look for something called the color rendering index or CRI where a number of 80 means that it's good color, but to get better color you can go to 85 or 90, or even higher CRI usually means the color rendering is going to be that much better on those LED bulbs. Another thing that's happening is that the bulbs we're seeing in LED are about the same size as incandescent bulbs. It used to be that CFLs were a little bit bigger, so it was sometimes a problem getting them to fit in the fixture. If you've had problems with CFLs in the past, try the LEDs. You may find that you're much happier with them. And the most promising trend is that the costs are really dropping fast on LED bulbs. You can now find really good quality LED bulbs costing only $10 to $20 a piece and that's a fraction of what they were even 3 years ago. And LEDs are instant on. If you ever had a problem walking into a room, flicking a switch and having the CFL take too long to come up to full output, try putting in an LED bulb instead because it is instant on. There are so many different LED options on the market now. There's an LED option for almost every incandescent bulb that you used to use and more and more coming on every day. And it’s a great change, but it means there's almost too much choice on the market because now the consumer really needs to learn how to choose the best option for the particular light fixture in their house. 

Brittney – That's it for Part I of Illuminated, EPA's lighting podcast. Thank you for listening. Part II of our podcast looks at the changing attitudes about lighting in the market, tips on buying bulbs, and ENERGY STAR's role in educating consumers. In the meantime, if you want more information about ENERGY STAR certified lighting head to our website There you'll find the latest lighting information along with tools and other resources to help you save energy and protect the climate.

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