The Economics Of Good Lighting

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

For the motivated homeowner, a well-lit home and an energy-efficient one do not have to be mutually exclusive. It helps to know a few facts.

Lighting in a home can consume between 6 and 20 percent of the monthly electric bill, according to the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. Much of it is wasted on inefficient light bulbs. Many organizations, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have introduced programs and ratings designed to reduce residential use of electricity.

Most electricity used in the home is generated by burning fossil fuels and, according to the EPA, this puts tons of pollutants in the air. The more homes with energy-efficient lighting, the cleaner the air.

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"Consumers believe it is important to be environmentally conscious," says Russell Leslie, associate director of the LRC, "but they buy fixtures based on style and aesthetics. They don't have the inclination or time to peel apart all the energy factors."

For this reason the EPA, along with the United States Department of Energy, has launched a simplified identification program, the Energy Star label, to mark energy-efficient products. But compared with large appliances, such as refrigerators, clothes dryers, or air conditioners, lighting is not No. 1 on the list of possible energy savings.

"For some reason, energy efficiency is a hard sell at the residential level," says Al Thomas, director of lighting design services for Lamps Plus in Chatsworth, Calif. "In reality we are in the fashion business, and trends and designs are changing three or four times a year."

Still, the lighting industry continues to move toward efficiency. Successful attempts to improve energy efficiency in commercial lighting - where lighting costs can be as much as 40 percent of the power bill - eventually trickle down to the homeowner. "All the major lamp manufacturers work on being more efficient, and achieving better color rendering in the commercial area," says Mr. Thomas, "and this eventually changes what the homeowner uses."

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