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October 01, 2009

Seeing the (green) light!

Green lighting is a go, as more models come out to easily replace older, electricity-guzzling bulbs as well as more innovative lighting-specific home designs

L. Sara Bysterveld

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If you knew that half the energy used by a specific system or appliance in your home was being wasted, and that that system accounted for 20 per cent of your home energy use, would you take action to cut waste? The answer seems obvious, yet there are still some people that don’t realize how much energy and money they could save by simply switching their lightbulbs and being smarter about their electric lighting use.

“Homebuyers tend to think more about the appearance of their fixtures rather than the efficiency aspect,” says Ryan Scott, president of Avalon Master Builder in Calgary. Avalon is a BuiltGreen™ builder whose goal is to build net zero homes at no additional cost by the year 2015.

Luckily for the environment and for consumers, Scott points out that compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), and, increasingly, also light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs fit into most fixtures now, which means consumers can choose based on looks without having to worry very much about efficiency.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t major considerations, especially when building or renovating a home, that can make a considerable dent in the amount of energy eaten up by lighting. The first is the use of daylight to strategically reduce electric lighting needs.

Laying out the home so rooms receive light as needed (the bedroom in the morning, office and living room during the day and kitchen in the afternoon and evening, perhaps) cuts lighting needs considerably.

In rooms where windows are not an option (interior rooms such as closets and bathrooms, for instance), the Solatube® can provide bright light for free during daytime hours. The device consists of a convex dome on the roof of the home through which light enters, traveling down into the home through a tube containing mirrors and entering the room below through a fixture that is similar in appearance to a pot light.

Les Wold, managing partner of Effect Home Builders Ltd. in Edmonton reports that approximately half his customers incorporate the Solatube into their home. He has two in his own home.
Although Wold says lighting is not at the top of most of his buyers’ list of concerns, he suspects this is largely because Effect Home Builders is known as a green builder and it is assumed that they will use the most efficient fixtures possible, which he assures they do. “People don’t generally know what to ask, so we give them guidance in that area,” he says.

Aside from using efficient bulbs such as compact fluorescents and LEDs, Wold’s top tip to homeowners is to incorporate dimmers, motion sensors and home automation to cut electric light usage. He explains that by simply dimming lights by 25 per cent, an amount barely discernible to the human eye, users can cut their energy consumption by 20 per cent and quadruple the life of their bulbs. He adds that since some CFLs are not compatible with dimming, it is important to make sure the proper type is used in a dimming fixture.

Motion sensors and home automation systems target the other big culprit in energy waste, homeowner complacency. Leaving on the light in an empty room and using the lights when not really necessary eat up a surprising amount of power, accounting for much of the 50 per cent waste figure cited by the Energy Conservation Enhancement Project at Louisiana State University. Smart technologies cut this figure significantly by automatically switching off lights in empty rooms or abiding by pre-set programs to turn off all lights but the porchlight and a nightlight at a certain time in the evening, or all lights in the house during the day when no one is home.

LEDs are quickly gaining ground in the energy efficient lighting field. Though the technology is still proving its longevity, it is already clear that the bulbs have a much longer lifespan than CFLs, and they also offer the advantages of using less energy and not containing heavy metals (CFLs contain mercury and must be properly disposed of).

New is the GeoBulb® from C. Crane in the U.S. It is the first 60-watt direct replacement, Premium Quality Brightness (PX-HB) bulb that uses less than eight watts. The GeoBulb® is the same size as a conventional incandescent bulb suitable for direct replacement in any indoor open fixture. It puts out more light than a standard 60-watt bulb but uses less than eight watts. It is also the first bulb built to withstand 10 years of use.

The bulbs are still significantly more expensive than their compact fluorescent and incandescent equivalents, but given their lifespan offer a good value. LEDs are appropriate almost anywhere other lighting could be used and are in fact more appropriate in areas of extreme cold, such as a Calgary porch in February. 

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