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Basic Facts About Residential Lighting

The choice in light bulb shapes, sizes and brightness continues to grow as more energy-efficient light bulbs come onto the market. Fixtures for these light bulbs have been designed so that virtually any effect can be created – shadow-free lighting in the kitchen, flattering illumination in bathrooms, a soft chandelier glow for the dining room, mood and accent lighting for family and living rooms, and security lighting outdoors.

With today's advanced technology, these effects can be achieved in cost-effective ways. So think twice the next time you need to replace a light bulb. Buying economical energy-efficient lighting doesn't have to mean sacrificing light levels and ambience.

More Light – Less energy

When comparing different types of lighting, designers use the term efficacy. The efficacy (or efficiency) of a light source is the ratio of lumens produced to watts consumed. Wattage determines the energy that a bulb uses, while lumens measure light output.

Wattage Equivalency Guide
Incandescent Bulb (watts)
Qualified CFL (approximate equivalent watts)
Light Output (lumens)
40 10 450
60 15 800
75 20 1100
100 29 1600
150 38 2600

The first step in saving energy costs is to find the bulb with the light output you need and to choose the one with the lowest wattage. Light bulb efficiency varies from one manufacturer to the next, so it's always best to check the package for the manufacturer's recommended replacement wattage.

Energy efficiency and the Second Price Tag

Every lighting product you buy has two price tags. We are all familiar with the first - the purchase price, which is the one you see in the store. The second price tag is less familiar but just as important: it is the cost of the energy your new fixture or light bulb will consume.

Think of the purchase price as a down payment and the ongoing operating cost as a series of monthly installments you must pay until the unit is replaced. For example, a 60-watt incandescent bulb you buy for 50 cents can cost you another $4.90 in electricity before it has to be replaced. Since the second price tag will cost additional money, you should consider it when you make a purchase decision.

However, a low second price tag is not in itself a good enough reason to buy a particular product. Make sure the fixture or bulb you choose is suitable for the application and location you have in mind. Purchase price - the first price tag - will also be a factor. Some energy-efficient products can be more expensive, but the extra purchase cost can often be justified by the lower second price tag and the environmental benefits of reduced energy use.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent light bulbs while delivering the same light output.

In addition to the energy and cost savings, CFLs:

  • come in a range of designs and shapes to fit almost any fixture - indoors and out
  • can last for five years with three hours of use per day
  • may be specially designed to work with dimmers and three-way switches

ENERGY STAR Qualified Compact Fluorescent Lamps

ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs are the most energy efficient. They undergo a rigorous certification process to ensure that they are high-quality, energy-efficient products.

To qualify as ENERGY STAR bulbs, CFLs must meet minimum light outputs. This allows them to serve as replacements for higher wattage incandescent light bulbs while meeting strict efficacy or lumen-per-watt requirements.


The international ENERGY STAR symbol is a simple way for consumers to identify products that are among the most energy-efficient on the market. Only manufacturers and retailers whose products meet the ENERGY STAR criteria can label their products with this symbol.

If every household in Canada changed just one traditional incandescent light bulb to an ENERGY STAR labelled CFL, the country would save over $73 million in energy costs every year and reduce GHG emissions by 397,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) - which would have the same impact on climate change as taking 66,000 cars off the road for one year.

By replacing the light bulbs you use the most with ENERGY STAR labelled CFLs, you can reduce the annual emissions associated with your lighting needs by 72 kilograms per year.

Comparing the Costs of Incandescent Bulbs and CFLs

When replacing bulbs or fixtures, focus on energy efficiency. The extra money you spend will often be more than paid back through energy-cost savings.

Light Bulb Cost Comparisons
60-Watt Incandescent 15-Watt CFL
Initial cost (a) $0.50 $6.99
Light output (lumens) 800 800
Life (hours) 1000 9000
Replacement light bulbs (b) 8 x $0.50 = $4.00 -
Lifetime electricity cost (c) 9000 hrs. x 60 x $0.08/kWh = $43.20 9000 hrs. x 15 x $0.08/kWh = $10.80
Total lifetime cost
(a + b + c)
$47.70 $17.79
Savings - $29.91

Note: This table does not take into account the crossover effect of heat generated by incandescent lighting.

Tips for Saving Energy

By following these steps in lighting your home, you can save energy and money as you use energy-efficient fixtures and bulbs:

  • Install CFLs in areas where lights are on for long periods, such as the kitchen, family room and outdoors, for maximum savings.
  • Use CFLs in hard-to-reach fixtures - CFLs last five times longer than standard bulbs, so they don't need to be changed as often.
  • Use natural daylight from windows and skylights whenever possible.
  • Turn lights off when they are not in use. This applies to fluorescent as well as incandescent bulbs. If you are out of a room for more than 10 minutes, switching off a fluorescent light will save energy and lamp life. (Switching fluorescent lights on and off repeatedly will reduce lamp life.)
  • Keep your lamps and fixtures clean. If dirt reduces light levels, you may tend to switch on extra lights or use higher wattage lamps. Drip-dry plastic parts to reduce static buildup, which can attract dust. Be safe - remember to unplug the fixture or turn the power off when you are cleaning the fixture.
  • Avoid having too many lights controlled by a single switch - this can result in having lights on where and when you don't need them.
  • Replace ordinary wall switches with high/low switches with three settings: full brightness, one-third brightness and off. Make sure these switches don't use resistors, or you won't save energy.
  • Install solid-state dimmers so that you can vary the light levels in a room to match your needs. This saves energy and extends bulb life. Look for dimmers that allow a full range of dimming, and don't buy bulbs that are brighter at full power than you need. Do not use compact fluorescents with standard household dimmers unless they are rated to function with dimmers.
  • Install timers that automatically turn lights on and off after a set period of time, or install motion sensors that turn lights off when a room is unoccupied.
  • Light-coloured walls and ceilings reflect about 80 percent of light that strikes them, and dark-coloured surfaces reflect only about 10 percent of the light. So when you are redecorating, remember that you will need brighter lights in a room with a dark decor than in a room with white surfaces.
  • Place floor lamps or table lamps in a corner instead of in the middle of a wall. This will allow them to reflect light from two walls, giving you more usable light for your money.

Installation Tips to Save Energy

A typical house has 30 light bulbs that use about $200 worth of electricity each year. Whether you are simply replacing burned-out light bulbs or designing a lighting system from scratch, the more you are willing to invest in energy-efficient lighting, the more you can save over the long term.

If you replace five standard incandescent light bulbs with ENERGY STAR labelled CFLs, you can save around $30 every year.

Here are some prime locations for putting new CFLs:
  • Where a light is on for more than three hours a day, such as the kitchen, family room, recreation room or workshop
  • Where a light is in a hard-to-reach place, such as a recessed dome in a high ceiling
  • Where exterior lights are on for much of the night (but be sure that the CFL is labelled for exterior use)

When purchasing for renovations, consider fixtures and light bulbs designed for task lighting that will concentrate light where you need it most.

  • Choose T-8 lamps with electronic ballasts when using linear fluorescent lamps. They are 25 percent more efficient than T-12 lamps and will save you money in the long run. Ask your electrician to replace your existing magnetic ballast with a suitable electronic ballast. electronic ballasts minimize the flicker and noise of older lighting systems with magnetic ballasts.
  • Use photocells, motion sensors or timers so that light isn't being produced when it isn't needed. A lighting retrofit will improve the quality of your home's lighting and could also save you over $60 each year in electricity costs.

If you are building a new home, you have an opportunity for tremendous energy savings. Using only energy-efficient lighting systems can help you reduce the cost of lighting on your electricity bill by $100 to $150 every year. After just a couple of years, you will have recovered the higher initial cost of the more efficient system. Ask your builder or contractor for help in choosing energy-efficient lighting.

Canada's Energy Efficiency Regulations

Certain lighting products commonly used in residences - reflector lamps (typically spotlights and flood lights) and standard fluorescent tubes - are among more than 20 energy-using products regulated under Canada's Energy Efficiency Regulations.

The objective of these regulations is to eliminate the most inefficient products from the market. As a result, some common household lamps are no longer available in stores. However, acceptable substitutes are sold that provide similar service.

The Energy Efficiency Regulations have been developed under the authority of Canada's Energy Efficiency Act, which was passed in 1992 to promote and support energy efficiency improvements. energy efficiency saves consumers money, helps Canada maintain a competitive economy and reduces the impact of energy on the environment.

Finding What You Want

In the past, it was difficult to find stores that carried energy-efficient lighting products. Today, however, more and more stores are stocking a full range of these products.

For maximum choice, your best bet may be a lighting specialty store or a supplier of electrical equipment. Check your local Yellow Pages under "Lighting Fixtures," "Light Bulbs and Tubes" and "Electrical Equipment Suppliers." Don't hesitate to shop around.

If you can't find what you want even at a specialty store, ask them to order it. Special orders can often be filled quickly and easily.

Basic lighting terminology

Choosing lighting products


The ENERGY STAR name and symbol are administered and promoted in Canada by Natural Resources Canada and are registered in Canada by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.