Eco lighting: a buyer’s guide

eco lighting
As the days shorten and electricity prices rise, there’s a lot of potential savings to be made by choosing greener lighting. Gervase Poulden weighs up the options

Choosing a light bulb used to be so simple: do you go for bayonet or screw? Even then the decision was made for you by the shape of your fittings. But these are radical times in the lighting world. The beginning of September saw new EU legislation outlaw old style incandescent light bulbs, although most had already been removed from UK shelves following a voluntary agreement between the Government and manufacturers. Yet the removal of these bulbs doesn’t mean that people have been left with fewer options.

In fact, there are now more than ever. ‘There seems to be a misconception that consumer choice is being reduced by this phase out,’ says Peter Hunt, CEO of the Lighting Association. ‘But there’s never been such a wide choice of light sources in the history of the light bulb.’ Globally, lighting accounts for 20 per cent of overall energy consumption according to a recent report commissioned by Credit Suisse. In the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) estimates that lighting accounts for 19 per cent of energy used in the home. Choosing the right bulbs can mean lower energy bills as well as being good for the environment, so what’s out there and what’s the best choice?

Incandescent bulbs
The four-star petrol of the lighting world, this decrepit dinosaur is well on the way out. Although they can no longer be bought in stores in the UK, there are 105 million incandescent bulbs still in domestic use today. Largely unchanged since their invention by Thomas Edison in 1879, incandescent bulbs are highly inefficient as 90 per cent of the energy they use is given off as heat. As well as being a fire hazard and expensive to run, they also have an extremely short lifespan of less than 1000 hours and consequently need to be regularly replaced. Any incandescent bulbs that you do still have are best used in areas that only require lighting occasionally such as airing cupboards, both to prolong their lifespan and to cut down on the environmental impact.

Energy efficient halogen bulbs
Halogen bulbs are a variation on incandescent bulbs and possess a similar tungsten filament. The big difference is that they also contain halogen gas which slows down deterioration, thus extending the life of the bulb. They look and act in a very similar ways to incandescent bulbs and can save between 25 per cent and 30 per cent more energy than the former, which although an improvement, is less of a reduction than other energy-saving bulbs. They are the nicotine patches of the lighting world: a good option if you need to wean yourself off the more damaging incandescent bulbs, but not for long term use.

Florescent lamps
Fluorescent lamps, which often come in long, thin tubes, have been available commercially for over 70 years. Throughout their existence fluorescent lamps have been beset with problems including a tendency to give off a rather unattractive, harsh, white light and to flicker intermittently - something which can only be fixed by a sharp jab of a broom handle to their casing. They are also only effective as energy savers if they are not regularly switched on and off throughout the day, which explains why they are most often used in schools and businesses. Although problems such as flickering are less noticeable in modern models, standard fluorescent lamps are still better suited for commercial rather than domestic use thanks to their awkward shape and low light quality. If you do want to use them at home, they are best employed for lighting under cabinets.  

Compact fluorescent lamps
This is the type of bulbs most often marketed as ‘energy saving’. The compact version of fluorescent bulbs, they are without many of the drawbacks of standard fluorescent lamps: warming up quickly and not so prone to the odd flicker. The quality of the light is also superior, and less akin to something out of The X-Files. The presence of mercury in these bulbs has lead to some sensationalist headlines over the last few years but most of these fears are unfounded, according Peter Hunt. ‘To put it in perspective, the average thermometer has about 10,000 times as much mercury in it than a compact fluorescent bulb’,’ he says. If you break one, it is best not to rub your hand in the mess then put it in your mouth but as long as you avoid that - and remember to recycle the bulbs properly - you should be fine. CFL bulbs have a lifespan of eight times the amount of regular bulbs, and replacing an incandescent bulb with one can reduce the amount of carbon emitted by 70 per cent as well as saving you £7 per bulb every year.

Light emitting diodes (LED)
LED lighting is often touted as the future of lighting. ‘We predict that the peak of this business will be around 2013 to 2014,’ says Shari Burton, director of the lighting company Burton and Sons. At the moment, LED lighting is more common in electronics, business and commercial usage. The Co-op, for example, announced in July that it was installing LED lighting in freezers in 800 of its stores. Because LEDs are still a relatively new technology, many products are beset by problems. According to a recent report on LED lighting commissioned by Blackswan PLC,  ‘there is a lack of standardisation within the LED lighting industry. This has meant some LED light bulbs claiming to last up to five years have lasted a much shorter time.’ The best way to avoid these problems is to go with trusted manufacturers such as Phillips, Osram or Megaman. An LED bulb will probably set you back around £25 but only need to be replaced about four times every century and use less than 10 per cent of the energy of an incandescent, so they can repay their cost within a couple of years. In comparison to CFLs, their lifespan is four times as long and they can be used with dimmer switches. Like CFL bulbs, LED lights are best placed in areas where they will be used frequently, otherwise there is a distinct possibility that the bulb might outlive you and never deliver the savings to justify your original investment.


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