How Much Do Lights Affect an Electric Bill?

Bulb and fixture choices affect your electric bill.

Bulb and fixture choices affect your electric bill.

When you spend money unnecessarily on electricity, you short-change your spending power for everything from rent to transportation to splurges like that perfect new outfit. According to the U.S. Energy Information Service, lights represented roughly 14 percent of the average household electric bill in 2010. You can keep your budget in check, save more, or have money to treat yourself by watching how you light your home.

Overview

Your light bulb choice affects the size of your electric bill. Only 10 percent of the electricity used by an incandescent bulb generates light; the rest is wasted. In an effort to curb this waste, Congress imposed stricter light-bulb efficiency standards through the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). Under EISA, bulbs must produce the same amount of light, measured in lumens, with 75 percent of the energy they needed in 2007. Starting January 1, 2012, a 100-watt bulb that provides 1,600 lumens became a 72-watt bulb. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you could save almost $50 a year by replacing 15 old bulbs with incandescent bulbs that meet EISA standards.

Light Bulb Choices

In addition to the new incandescent bulbs, two other kinds of light bulbs can save you money. Compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs, can be your ticket to a lower electric bill because they last longer and use less energy. You spend about $4.80 annually on every pre-EISA incandescent bulb versus the $1.20 you would spend with an EnergyStar-rated CFL with equal lighting power. The CFL lasts 10 times longer, too. Although CFLs cost more initially, the U.S. Department of Energy says they pay for themselves in seven months. Another money-saving alternative, light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, cost only $1 a year to run on average, and last up to 25 times longer than the old incandescent version.

On or Off

You can hit light switches to keep costs down, although the payback for turning lights off depends on bulb type. Incandescent bulbs should always be turned off when not needed. The Department of Energy suggests leaving CFL lights on when stepping away for fewer than 15 minutes to reap the most savings. Switching LED lighting on and off also saves energy and money and, unlike the other two types, doesn't shorten bulb life.

Controlled Use

Dimmers, timers and sensors can help you monitor light usage inside and outside of your home. Dimmers lower room-lighting energy use as well as add ambiance. However, if you go the energy-saving CFL or LED route, choose bulbs specifically labeled "dimmable" for your dimmer-equipped fixtures. Timers make your home appear occupied wile you're on that romantic getaway without keeping lamps constantly lit. By installing motion detectors or sensors outside, you can save money without losing security. For maximum savings, consider solar lights to illuminate your patio and walkways.

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