Change your lightbulbs

| 1st March 2006
Carbon Coach Dave Hampton completely ignores Matilda Lee’s thermostat and heads stright for her lightbulbs.

At 3pm on the dot, the doorbell rang. Luckily, I was prepared. Having turned the thermostat down a notch, checked that none of my appliances were on ‘standby’, insulated my boiler with some old bath towels and put the kettle to boil with just enough water for two, I was confident that my very first ‘home energy audit’ would bring no surprises. Dave Hampton, aka the Carbon Coach, was coming to visit.

I’d barely offered him a cup of tea before the jolly hulk of a man bounded down the hallway. He fished a lightbulb out of his satchel and proceeded to insert it into my living room lamp. ‘Ever seen an energy-efficient lightbulb?’ he asked. Well yes, I thought, they’re those ghastly long tubes that always stick out from lampshades – and I wasn’t going to have one anywhere near my living room.

He appeared to be reading my mind. ‘They’re no longer big and ugly,’ he said. ‘They come in hundreds of different designs, sizes, shapes, tones and colours. Enough to please even the most finicky homeowner.’ I had to admit the one he’d brought looked exactly like a conventional lightbulb, and the light it gave was great. OK, I was wrong to write off energy-efficient lightbulbs for purely aesthetic reasons, but I still didn’t see the point of the exercise – I mean how much difference does a single lightbulb make?

I went to fetch the tea. From the heavy breathing coming from the living room I was worried poor Dave had gone into cardiac arrest. I rushed back to find an enormous purple balloon in the middle of the room. What on earth did it have to do with
reducing household energy?

Dave, slightly red in the face, continued. ‘Think of this as 100 grams of CO2. The standard lightbulb you were using in this one lamp fills six of these with CO2 every year. Whereas the energy-efficient lightbulb I’ve just stuck in emits 80 per cent less CO2 – so you’d only be using one and a half of these a year.’ Now that was eye-opening. Was I really responsible for emitting six balloons full of CO2 a year to power one measly conventional lightbulb?

OK, so by now I was feeling guilty. Not only is this one energy-saving lightbulb not ugly, but it’s glowing away reducing my CO2 emissions by up to four big balloons worth a year. There must be a catch. I had to assuage my guilt. Money – that’s it, they’re too expensive. Sensing a way out, I challenged Dave. ‘I buy lightbulbs for £0.60 a piece. Are
you expecting me to fork out a tenner for a lightbulb just because it’s energy-efficient?’


His smile broadened. ‘In most hardware stores, they’re about £5, but you can buy them online for half that. Your normal lightbulb will last about 1,000 hours, but an energy-efficient one will last for between 6,000 and 10,000 hours.’ I admitted I wasn’t the sharpest pebble on the beach when it came to cost calculations, so he offered to take me through it step by step. My living room lamp is switched on 10 hours a day for roughly 350 days a year. With a pencil and a scrap of paper he made a few quick calculations and then beamed: ‘By changing this one lightbulb, you’ll save yourself over £23 in electricity costs in one year. Over the life of this lightbulb, you’ll get almost a £50 return for an investment of £2.50 – not bad!’ Damn, no excuses left.

And having barely thanked him for the best lesson in energy savings I’d ever had, he bounded out of my living room and through the front door, purple balloon in hand. Register to receive Dave Hampton’s free email newsletter full of practical tips on reducing your household energy demand. Sign up at


As they use 80 per cent less energy than standard bulbs, you can buy a much lower wattage for your energy-saving lightbulbs to create the same lighting. When buying energy-saving lightbulbs, a low wattage doesn’t mean they give off less light. How they

Standard lightbulb                                Energy-saving lightbulb
40-60W                                                   12W
  75W                                                          16W
    100W                                                           20W



To meet the UK’s energy needs from local, clean, renewable sources

In the UK we need to move from our dependence on non-renewable, air polluting, climate changing, centrally generated, hugely inefficient and increasingly expensive sources of energy – gas (40%), coal (30%), nuclear (20%), oil (5%) – to non-polluting, small-scale energy sources generated as close to users as possible, eg wind, hydro, tidal, solar, biofuels, ground source heat etc.

HOW? Supplying the current (and expected increased) energy demand in the UK, while keeping prices for energy low is IMPOSSIBLE. We either confront this and start to adapt or we stick our heads in the sand and moan about the inexorable rise in our energy bills. Each one of us, starting at home and then moving out into our local communities and
workplaces, needs to:

2 REDUCE our energy DEMAND
3 LOCALISE our energy SUPPLY... individually, and in our communities.

We can’t wait for politicians to act, and can’t rely on an energy market that profits from rising energy prices and increasing demand. This is why the Ecologist and Ecotricity have teamed up to ease your transition from expensive centrally supplied energy to clean, locally supplied energy at home (and at work). Our combined research and
practical expertise will ensure that the options we recommend for reducing demand and generating your own supply will work without costing you a fortune. 



No matter where you live you can switch your electricity supply to Ecotricity.

Since it was founded in 1995, Ecotricity has built 17.5MW of new wind energy, and currently supplies enough electricity to power 12,000 homes.

Ecotricity retains ownership of every wind turbine it erects, ensuring:
. Total community support for each turbine
. Optimal siting – minimal environmental/ community impact
. Best turbine technology on the market – to minimise its operating costs and noise impact
. Long-term commitment to wind energy and the community the wind turbine supplies
It refuses to invest in non-renewable energy sources, eg coal, gas or nuclear


This year Ecotricity has 26 wind turbines, totalling 28.8MW of clean energy, approved and ready to build – enough to power 15,000 more homes. All it needs is as many of us to buy our electricity through the company – thereby giving it the financial leverage to put this additional renewable capacity in place. Together we can fill the gap threatened by nuclear and coal decommissioning while the grey suits in Westminster fiddle.

To make the switch now call 01795 414 963 Mon to Fri 9:30am-5:30pm, quoting ref ECOPOWER2. Or visit And if you’ve already made the
switch to Ecotricity, please convince a friend to sign up today. 

This article first appeared in the Ecologist March 2006

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The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate here