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Green Building Blog

More Lighting Options, Please?!

Compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) styles
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Lighting energy-efficiency continues to improve, and last fall the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) extended Energy Star labeling to LED fixtures. While few Energy Star-labeled LEDs have yet made it to market, and some see the labeling as premature (see post from 9/5/08), this move nevertheless signals a significant step forward for “green” lighting.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), too, have come a long way from their humble origins. They are smaller and are available in several colors (soft white, natural white, daylight) and lamp styles. (For lots of useful information, go to ; on the “Products” tab, click “Lighting”).

All Energy Star fixtures are required to use at least 75% less energy than incandescents, and both CFLs (~10x) and LEDs have far greater longevity (~20x) than their incandescent cousins.

Even so, designing low-energy residential lighting systems remains a challenge for several reasons:

  • Many people have strong feelings and preferences about lighting aesthetics;
  • Fluorescent lighting has a bad rap from its history of poor color rendition and buzzing (problems which have been largely rectified);
  • Relatively few places in the US are subject to energy-efficiency standards for lighting (California is—does anyone know of others?);
  • As a result, the lighting industry has been slow to innovate and provide energy-efficient fixtures in a wide range of design styles, models (pendant, sconce, etc.), and finish options;
  • Relatively few home lighting systems are designed by energy-savvy designers.

When we did an extensive energy retrofit of our home in 2005-06, we wanted to replace the majority of the home’s lighting with Energy Star fixtures. California had just updated its lighting efficiency standards, so I went to the showrooms optimistic about finding what I wanted. I was sorely disappointed. I saw little improvement in selection from a decade prior. I could find Energy Star fixtures, but if I found a pendant I liked, I could not find a companion sconce or couldn’t get the finish I wanted. Even when I broadened my criteria to consider any fluorescent fixture (LEDs were few and far between at that point, and out of our budget range anyway), I had little to choose from.

I’d like to encourage the lighting industry to step up to this challenge and provide the design community with more options! Any takers?


  1. Anonymous | | #1

    LED bulbs v.s. CFL bulbs
    IMHO LED bulbs probably have the future. But for now they absolutely don't live up to the expectations yet and won't in the near future. At the moment if you are replacing your bulbs, CFLs are the way to go. Both in terms of $$ and longevity.

    In theory LED bulbs should last longer, but in practice that is often NOT the case. The LED components used in LED bulbs could theoretically reach the lifespan indicated, but other components in the bulb often do not. Instead of giving an honest lifespan estimate, manufacturers often choose to quote the lifespan of the LED component, not the lifespan of the whole bulb with ALL its components taken into account.

    There really are only two reasons to buy LED bulbs at the moment if price is not an issue:
    -instant-on (CFL bulbs take a bit longer to come up to full brightness)
    -light color is a bit better in some cases, more natural (although some color corrected CFL's are available as well)

  2. Anonymous | | #2

    Forgot one last reason:
    -form factor

  3. Kevin Dickson | | #3

    LED Lighting
    Thanks to a price breakthrough from Sam's Club, I recently made the switch to LEDs. As you say, CFLs aren't there yet, but maybe we just leapfrog them to LEDs.
    For more:

  4. qBTjZXFZP3 | | #4

    I would love to see an update on other Energy Star available products; I've seen that companies such as Rejuvenation and Schoolhouse Electric allow for customization of sockets (incadescent vs. GU24 fluorescent) as a no-cost option. However they are still pricey. Would love to see other options, as we have ~50 lights to purchase for a new rehab...

  5. bsandersga | | #5

    What about good ole' sunlight?
    I installed a solar tube in my kitchen and never have to use artificial lighting during most of the daylight hours. I intend to use a solar tube to light a stair to the basement. Sunlight is free, but what about sealing the duct that connects the interior lens to the light collector on the roof, so as to not compromise the building envelope? That seems to be the only shortcoming of using solar tubes.

  6. | | #6

    I agree with Robert! Sunlight always is the best option. I would suggest getting a heliostat. They can be cheaper than making home renovations for solar tubes and they can be redirected to whatever room you want. I got one last year and I love it. I would suggest you look into the Sunflower, that's what I have. Good luck!

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