Bash the Incandescent Bulb and Save Money

Replace your incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs to save money and the planet.

By: Eric Ryherd, HEC Chairman

Summary: Go to the store, purchase a pack of LED bulbs and replace perfectly working incandescent bulbs in your home today and you’ll start saving money in just three months. As a bonus you’ll be doing your part to help the environment.

Yes, that’s right, removing a perfectly good incandescent bulb and replacing it with an LED bulb pays for itself in just three months. In three months, you are SAVING MONEY on your electric bill by using a fraction of the electricity needed to produce the same amount of light. While it seems counterintuitive to remove working light bulbs, you will be saving money and the planet in just three months.

LED bulbs have really come down in price in the last year. Electricity rates here in NH are 18.6 cents per kWh which is among the highest rates in the country. Anything you can do to reduce your electrical usage can quickly add up. Replacing a few light bulbs is a really easy way to make a difference today.

Let’s do the math

Maybe math isn’t your strong subject. Fortunately free calculators are available on the internet and they’ll do the math for you. If you google “LED savings calculator” you’ll get a list of calculators. My favorite is Assume a single 60W incandescent bulb (costing $1) used only one hour/day is replaced with a 9W LED bulb which costs only $2 even before any NHSaves incentives. The calculator computes a 3 month, 6 day breakeven point! If your lights are on longer than 1 hour then the savings are even greater. Assuming seven hours per day results in a breakeven point of only two weeks.

LED Bulb Types

With incandescent bulbs your only choice was how many watts of power the bulb uses, which in turn determined how bright it was. With LEDs, there are a dizzying number of choices so when you walk down the aisle you might be a little overwhelmed. Here are the important items to look for in an LED bulb:

1.       First and most important make sure it has the Energy Star logo on it. The Energy Star logo means the bulb is of high quality. Some very cheap bulbs may not be Energy Star and you should avoid those.

2.       Select the desired color. Most stores have a display that shows you the different shades of white the bulbs produce to help you decide which you prefer. LED bulbs come in three colors:

a.       Soft White (2700K) - warm color similar to an incandescent bulb

b.       Bright White (3500K)- brighter white light best in kitchens and bathrooms

c.       Daylight (5000K)- blueish bright white light - imagine a hospital operating room

3.       Dimmable vs. Non-Dimmable

a.       If your lights are controlled by a dimmer, you must be careful to read the package and make sure you are buying dimmable bulbs. Dimmable bulbs cost a little more than non-dimmable ones. A non-dimmable blub will flicker when used with a dimmer.

If you’re not sure which bulb to buy, buy just one or two and try them out, then if you are happy with the color, go back to the store and buy more.

Virtually every style of bulb is now available in LEDs. The incandescent versions are rapidly becoming hard to buy. From bathroom globes to clear bulbs with what look like filaments (but are actually LED strings) to different sizes and shapes, virtually all bulbs types are available in LEDs now.

Which bulbs to replace first?

Your first target is to replace the bulbs you use the most every day. The obvious ones are the kitchen, hallways and bathroom since those tend to be on the most (or your kids leave them on). Outdoor lights often have several bulbs in each fixture or maybe you have a whole string of them all connected to one switch which often gets left on all night or all day!

In my home I had already replaced the obvious ones earlier this year. Today, I went through a second pass of replacing bulbs in bedrooms, the basement and garage. I recently replaced the fluorescent tubes in my office with much more pleasing LED bulbs that use a fraction of the electricity and they don’t buzz. Saving money and making my office much more pleasant and generating less CO2 all at the same time.

Dimmers might need to be replaced

If your lights are on dimmers and the dimmer is more than a few years old, switching to LEDs might require the dimmer to be replaced. Older dimmers assumed you were using power hungry incandescent bulbs and the dimmer would always send a little power thru the bulb to run the dimmer circuitry. Even with dimmable LED bulbs, some dimmers will flicker because the power used by the LED is so tiny the dimmer doesn’t work properly. The best solution is to replace the dimmer with a newer model that specifically says it supports LED bulbs. Often the new dimmers require three wires instead of just two so it may require some rewiring. You can also try a different LED bulb model - some are better with the older dimmers than others. If the dimmer is controlling several bulbs (like in a kitchen), then for a short term solution, leave one of the bulbs as an incandescent and replace the others with LEDs. The single incandescent will make sure the dimmer has enough power to operate properly.

NHSaves is currently running a promotion on dimmable LED bulbs where they are only $2.50 each instead of the normal $4.00. You don’t even have to send in any coupons - the discount is taken at the register automatically. With the extra cost of the dimmable bulbs it does extend the payback time from a mere 3 months to just under 5 months but it is still a really easy way to save money. The calculator can also calculate the savings for fluorescent tubes, CFLs and other types of bulbs. Often LEDs will payback in less than a year depending on the type and how much time the bulb is turned on. No math required, just plug the numbers into the calculator and then purchase a few new bulbs and you’ll be saving money and reducing your carbon footprint.