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How to Calculate Your Light Savings From Replacing Incandescent Bulbs
News about saving money and lighting by replacing old bulbs is old news (unless you’ve been living under a rock). But the subject of light saving is not yet overdone. Suppose that every home in America switches to high-efficiency bulbs (such as compact fluorescent bulbs). This will reduce the country’s energy consumption in the residential sector by 10 percent. The residential sector, by the way, accounts for about 20% of all energy use in the US. That’s a lot of oil.
Still not sure about switching to high efficiency light bulbs? Don’t buy the hype about saving light? Don’t believe the positive effects on the pocketbook or the environment? Want to calculate and test the light savings for yourself? Well, let’s address the cost savings and simplified payment below. (Simple payback refers to the time it takes you to recoup the cost of new bulbs from the savings).
To calculate the bottom line, here is the necessary information:
- Wattage Rating (Watts) of Existing Bulbs
- Wattage Rating (Watts) of New Bulbs
- The number of hours we use the bulb each day
- The rate we pay for electricity in kilowatt-hours or kWh. You can find your electricity rate by looking at the electricity portion of your utility bill.
- A kilowatt is 1,000 watts, so we must remember to divide by 1,000 to convert our answer to kilowatt-hours.
- The cost of the original bulb
- The cost of a new bulb
As an example, let’s swap a heavily used light bulb in a living room fixture that runs continuously for 5 hours per day. The fixture has a 100-watt incandescent bulb that costs $050. It should be replaced with a 25 watt compact fluorescent or CFL (offering equivalent brightness to an incandescent), at a cost of $2.50. Let’s assume $0.15 per kilowatt hour (kWh) for electricity rates, the US national average.
To calculate the cost savings, first calculate the energy usage of the existing bulb, then that of the replacement bulb. Hopefully, the replacement bulb will use less energy than the existing bulb. The difference between the existing and the new is the savings. Here is the formula to calculate the cost of energy used per year:
Annual cost of energy ($) = number of bulbs X watts per bulb/1,000 watts X hours per day of use X 365 days X electricity rate
So, for our example:
Energy cost for existing bulb ($) = 1 bulb X 100 watts X 5 hours per day X 365 days X $0.15 per kWh/1,000 watts = $27.38 per year
Energy cost for replacement bulb ($) = 1 bulb X 25 watts X 5 hours per day X 365 days X $0.15 per kWh/1000 watts = $6.84 per year
Savings per year ($) = $27.38 – $6.84 = $20.54
Here’s how to calculate the simple payment over the years:
Simple payback (years): (Cost of new bulb ($) – Cost of old bulb ($)) / Annual savings ($)
For our example, the simple payment is:
Simple payment (year) = ($2.50 – $0.5) / $20.54 = 0.1 year or 1.2 months
That’s not a bad return on investment for modest savings. An average house has around 15-20 lights. If they were all the same as the example above, this would result in a savings of about $411 per year. You can use the same method to calculate the savings for each room in your home, and add up all the room savings to get your annual savings total.
You can check your savings by monitoring your utility bills month-to-month, provided your rates stay the same and you don’t change the hours of operation on your bulbs. Even with proven savings, there still seem to be objections to replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (or CFLs), or light-emitting diodes (or LEDs), otherwise, it would be a “done deal.”
LEDs offer even greater savings (light savings of 90%), and longer lifespans (25,000-50,000 hours) and will be the dominant technology of the mid-term future. They are also more environmentally friendly to produce, and less susceptible to breakage or moisture. But at this point, their major drawbacks are their higher price and lower light output (or lumens) compared to incandescent bulbs. Although technology is advancing very quickly, and once prices drop to a reasonable level, these issues will be a passing memory.
CFLs, on the other hand, are more accessible and affordable, and have come a long way to closely match the light output and utility of incandescent bulbs. A frequent complaint about them is that CFLs need to warm up to reach full brightness, but this is usually on the order of seconds to a minute for particular bulbs. They are also affected by moisture and humidity.
While CFLs still cost about $0.50 more than incandescent bulbs, prices have come down to affordable levels for replacement, typically on the order of $1.50-$4.50 per bulb, depending on the type. CFLs have an average lifespan of 8,000 hours (or about five years at four hours per day of use), while incandescent bulbs are rated for 800-1,200 hours. One thing is worth noting for light savings calculations. The lifespan of CFLs decreases if they are switched on and off frequently. If you plan to install them in areas where they are frequently switched, then reduce their lifespan by 20% to 6,400 hours.
What about mercury in CFLs? CFLs contain 5 mg of mercury or 1/100th of the amount of mercury in one dental filling (500 mg dental filling). More to the point, a power plant uses 10 milligrams of mercury to manufacture an incandescent bulb, while it’s about 2.5 milligrams for a compact fluorescent. Regardless, broken bulbs should be handled with care and burned-out bulbs should be thrown away at home centers like Home Depot and Ikea.
Regardless of how we look at it, lighting savings from replacing incandescents is one of the easiest and cheapest methods of incorporating energy efficiency and achieving home energy savings. Many countries have begun systematically producing incandescent bulbs. The economics are there, and the environmental benefits will only improve as technology advances.
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