Installing CFLs Decreased Family's Electric Bill

Blogging Away Debt made this graph to show how much their family reduced energy consumption by installing compact fluorescent light bulbs and unplugging a freezer in the basement. The chart shows a decrease of around 2-3 average kilowatts hours per day, resulting in electrical bills that were about a half as much as before.

A Few Changes Made a Big Difference in Our Electric Bill [Blogging Away Debt]

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  1. RonDiaz says:

    I’ve never done the hard math on it, but I think that using CFL’s exclusively saves us about 20% per month, roughly $80 a month instead of $100 a month for electric. I know some people can’t stand that they take a few seconds to warm up to full brightness, but it doesn’t bother me and the money saved is awesome. I don’t feel bad about leaving a light on when I’m away either (I like to come home to a slightly lighted apartment at night).

    The dreaded Wal-Mart sells 6 packs of the 60 watt equivalent CFLs for 10 bucks you can’t go wrong.

  2. We have had similar results replacing traditional bulbs with CFLs, although ours haven’t been quite as dramatic. (But we’ve been replacing as they burn out, not all at once, so it’s been a slower decline for us.)

  3. MickeyMoo says:

    is there ANY viable option for people who don’t want to loose their dimmer switches? I don’t want to deal with the expense of replacing the existing X-10 switches all over the house

    • JonBoy470 says:

      @MickeyMoo: @Alexander: Roughly 50% of the electricity generated in the US is is derived from coal, and mercury is a component of the emissions from any coal plant. A typical CFL contains approximately 4-5 mg of mercury. Even if the CFL is carelessly land-filled, and all the mercury contained therein is released, the total mercury emission (including mercury from the coal burned to power the CFL) is about 1/4 that of an equivalent incandescent bulb (again including mercury emissions from the coal).

      By comparison, the mercury thermometers (such as that used to take babies’ temperature) that were common until a few years ago contained 500 mg or more of mercury, and were at least as breakable as a CFL.

      If you break a CFL indoors, open windows to ventilate, and contain and discard (in the sealed container) all cleaning supplies used to pick up the broken glass. Depending on laws in effect where you live, you may need to dispose of the CFL’s detritus as hazardous waste. Most municipalities have a process in place to allow disposal of residential hazardous waste.

      If at all possible, turn-in burned out CFL’s at a local recycler (Home Depot and IKEA both accept used CFL’s).

      For info on CFL mercury content and clean-up: [www.energystar.gov]

      Infor on mercury content of thermometers (and many other products): [www.ec.gc.ca]

  4. spinachdip says:

    @MickeyMoo: They make dimmable CFLs. I don’t know how they compare in price but do a Google search and you’ll see plenty of results.

  5. the_goz says:

    @mickeymoo

    From GE’s website:

    3. Can I use a compact fluorescent light bulb with a dimmer switch?

    To use a compact fluorescent bulb on a dimmer switch, you must buy a bulb that’s specifically made to work with dimmers (check the package). GE makes a dimming compact fluorescent light bulb (called the GE Longlife Plus Soft White Energy Saving Bulb) that is specially designed for use with dimming switches. We don’t recommend using regular compact fluorescent bulbs with dimming switches, since this can shorten bulb life. (Using a regular compact fluorescent bulb with a dimmer will also nullify the bulb’s warranty.)

  6. Alexander says:

    What is the danger of mercury poisoning if you break a CFL? I read an article about it once (I think here at consumerist.com in fact) of the possible danger/hassle if one breaks. I don’t know why but that article scared me into not dealing with CFLs at the moment. Probably dumb of my part but I couldn’t help it. I had visions of men in space suits and decontamination chambers in my apartment if one of those things ever broke…

  7. mandala_j says:

    Regarding dimmers with compact fluorescent light bulbs: Several companies make dimmable compact fluorescents, e.g. both GE and Westinghouse have bulbs designed to work with normal dimmers.

  8. mopar_man says:

    Dimmer CFLs are ungodly expensive. So are the 3-way bulbs.

    I know the regular CFLs have saved me money. I also really like the light output compared to regular bulbs. My only gripe with them is I finally had one burn out and I don’t know what to do with it. I know they’re supposed to go to a hazardous goods place but I don’t know of one locally.

  9. mopar_man says:
  10. Chicago7 says:

    How many lights do you have? 20? Let’s assume they are all 100W bulbs – to replace them, you need 13W CFLs. Assuming all the lights are on 6 hours per day,

    100w (.1KW) x 20 x 6 hours x $0.10/KW-HR = $1.20/day
    13w (.013KW) x 20 x 6 x $0.10/KW-HR = $0.156/day

    Savings of $1.04/day or about $30/month.

  11. Alexander says:

    @mopar_man: Thanks! The article embedded into that page was the one I was talking about. I guess if handled property they should be safe.

  12. RonDiaz says:

    @alexander: I dunno, I broke one once trying to put it into a lamp socket it didn’t want to fit into. I threw it away in the trash and didnt worry about it any more…

  13. theblackdog says:

    @mopar_man: If you have a nearby Ikea, they will recycle the light bulbs. There are also some of the “green” stores such as organic grocery stores that will recycle the bulbs as well. Otherwise check with your local recycling or waste management program folks as they might know where to recycle them.

  14. moorie679 says:

    I just do not like white light……

  15. Jiminy Christmas says:

    @moorie679: That’s not an issue anymore. The home improvement store I shop at has CFLs in at least 8 or 9 shades of light. Shop at a display where you can see the bulbs lit up; it should be easy to find a CFL indistinguishable from incandescents.

  16. theycallmetak says:

    Dimmable CFLs are available. Easy to get? Not necessarily. I bought one (yes one at a local lighting distributer for 18 bucks. 18 bucks because I live in Hawaii, the bulb is made by TCP and probably lasts longer than anything you’ll find at the big boxes, and the color temp was 5000k. I wanted the “daylight” or 6500k but the salesman talked me out of it. Even the 5000 is almost “too white”

    Most dealers with catalogs will have a range of color temps and hopefully a showroom to see what they look like.

    The once caveat I noticed is that the dimming isn’t exactly linear like it would be with an incandescent. The lamp stays bright until almost the end of your dimming range and then will drop light output suddenly.

  17. Adam291 says:

    I use CFLs, but to be honest, the thing I miss most about regular light bulbs is the shape. I know it’s lame but the light bulb has been an iconic shape and object, and now it’s being replaced by an ugly spiral thing. Maybe one day someone will combine the traditional shape with the CFL tech?

  18. FishingCrue says:

    I can’t stand fluorescent light, I’m surrounded by it 8-14 hours a day at work and call me selfish but I don’t want that anywhere near my home. Even natural spectrum CFLs don’t do it for me, I just need good old incandescent light electric bill be damned. Also, whose light bill is comprised mostly of actual lights? Maybe it’s running my AC for 8 or 9 months a year (South Florida) and a full complement of electronics that’s got me jaded.

  19. SimonSwegles says:

    I have not yet made any significant change to CFL in my homes due to the small amount of mercury in each bulb. As small as it is, it can add up quickly in landfills if many homes use many bulbs. I would rather use traditional bulbs with no neurotoxins or wait for LED lighting hardware to come down in cost enough to make it a reasonable replacement option.

  20. Maurs says:

    Beyond environment-conscious households like mine, CFLs are being adopted rather slowly in my cheap-electricity-having state of KY. I enjoy low electricity bills but there is just very low incentive in this state to conserve energy or switch to alternative fuel sources.

  21. crnk says:

    I think the math is a little screwed up…..From my research (quite a lot), there is much more energy consumed with appliances (specifically, anything with a motor) than with lights. Everyone just wants you to feel good about it, so they encourage smart light usage. However, investing in efficient appliances will do a lot more for your bills.
    my conclusion is that the only way the family saved that much with CFL lighting is that they ALWAYS had the lights on in the first place.
    And I’m also sorry if my eyes have gone bad, but the reduction looks to be 20-30% max, and unless you only cut out usage from the middle of the day, it shouldn’t be down more than that at all.

  22. artki says:

    From reading the article I notice the family mentioned in passing that they also had unplugged the deep freeze in the basement they weren’t using any more. I bet that saved more energy than all the CFL conversions put together.

    CFLs are handy. I have them in all the light sockets that see heavy use. But it wouldn’t make any sense to use one in a hallway that might be lit 2 minutes a day.

  23. FLConsumer says:

    Whoever posted this on Consumerist (BEN) screwed up the math. The units are killowatt-hours, NOT killowatts per hour per day. If you’re saving 2-3 kwh per day, then you’d be saving 60-90kWh/month, NOT 2,000+ Most homes use <2,000 kWh per month.

    FWIW, down here in sunny Florida, I only use about 300-480 kWh PER MONTH, or about 9.5-15kWh per DAY, and that’s with the AC & dehumidifier cranking away.

    CFL lighting is very much improved over where it’s been in the past. I still run a mixture of CFL and Xenon/Halogen incandescent bulbs. Accent lighting is mostly the xenon/halogen incandescent bulbs, task lighting is mostly CFL or fluorescent. I don’t think any of my friends have actually noticed that there aren’t any traditional incandescent bulbs in this house. Everything’s running on Lutron GrafikEye lighting control systems, so all of the lighting is done by “scenes”, so I doubt anyone pays attention to the individual bulbs.

    Also, CFLs come in a wide variety of colors and no fewer than 16 different shades of “white”. In the “task” type areas (kitchen, laundry, bath), I tend to use “whiter” (~3100K) lighting while in the “relaxation” areas (living room, bedroom, etc) I use warmer white (~2800K) lighting. All of these are substantially “warmer” than the “cool white” fluorescent lighting found in most offices and doesn’t have the industrial/institutional feel. I have the colors matched rather well in my living room & bedroom between the incandescents & fluorescents. I do have a few tiny white & amber LEDs running on a 24vDC backup power circuit which runs throughout the house for night lighting & emergency lighting. Despite using some of the best white LEDs available today (Cree & Luxeon), they’re no match for fluorescents, for now. In time, maybe, but they really don’t put out good quality light yet.

    Regarding the mercury issue, there’s ~500mg of mercury in the average dental filling. There’s about 2mg in a CFL bulb. Which do you carry inside your body 24/7? Want even more mercury? Go eat some fish.

    @mopar_man: Head over to [www.1000bulbs.com] They have about the cheapeast prices I’ve found on dimmable & 3-way CFLs and no shortage of color temperature selections. They’re also the cheapest place I’ve found my PAR36 Xenon/halogen incandescent bulbs for my recessed lighting.

  24. EtherealStrife says:

    @FLConsumer: Thank you. I was about to submit a flame at ben for such an amateur mistake, but decided to refresh before posting. You are in fact correct. On a tangent, how are you able to keep it under 15K with the AC? Granted, my insulation sucks and my AC unit is 30 years old, but even if both of those problem areas were rectified I can’t imagine using that little on the hottest of days (like a certain week last month. . . . ). FTR I have my AC set at 82 when I’m home, and use a fan to make that feel comfortable.

  25. Schmee says:

    @FLConsumer:

    I wish I only used 400 kWh per month, hell I wish mine were below 1000 kWh. I’ve installed CFL’s, and my roommates and I keep unused lights off. In Southern IL we’ve been running the air conditioners pretty heavy. There are 4 window units in our home, three of them new, one old one, all of them on “powersave mode” or set on low and put on a timer so they auto shutoff when noone is home and turn back on shortly before everyone gets home from work/school. Even with those measures my last bill said we used over 1600 kWh last month.

  26. jellycow says:

    I’m a big fan of CFLs. I actually like the range of colors. Savings is a bonus. There is some initial cost, but it averages out quickly. It comes down to preferences I guess. Considering the fact that it’s probably the lowest hanging fruit in terms of getting people to conserve energy, I think it should be pushed hard. But I’m definitely not a big fan of people over-inflating numbers to convince people to switch to CFL. Because I don’t want them to stop just at CFLs…I want them to look at all aspects of savings (energy/money) as they replace hardware at home.

    @Chicago7: How big is your house? 20 100W light bulbs for 6 hours a day? You are estimating almost 400kWh per month per home? Average US household usages in 2001 was below 900kWh per month…So going by Department of Energy report in 2001, you assume average household will consume over 4,000 kWh per month? WHOA….

    DOE Report here: [www.eia.doe.gov]

    I know it’s old data, but it lays out the percentages well. It’s an interesting read too. Average household consumes: Over 30% for HVAC. Almost 9% for lighting. Space heating is about 10%. Water heating for about 10%. And on… It’s straight from DOE. Gives you a good priority list of things that you can do to save energy/money at home too.

  27. Shadowman615 says:

    I have quite a few of those in lamps in my house. My one complaint is the white light — it gives everyone’s skin somewhat of a sickly yellowish hue. I’m hoping to find them available in a better color.

  28. STrRedWolf says:

    There’s one problem with the CFL’s: Computer screens. A good majority of them refresh at 60 Hz.

    AC Power alternates between it’s two states at about 60 Hz in the US (in other countries, it’s 50 Hz). This shows in the CFL’s and other florescent lighting — they flicker at about 60 times a second.

    Combine that with the monitor refresh rate. It never syncs up right, and gives me a headache.

    CFL’s are good for certian areas, but infront of a PC where I can’t jack up the refresh rate? I can’t stand it.

  29. SimonSwegles says:

    @FLConsumer: On a tangent, I know. But I must mention that the mercury in dental fillings is bound in a stable alloy, and therefore not dangerous. Whereas the mercury in CFLs is not bound, and is therefore dangerous.

  30. skrom says:

    @mopar_man:

    Just throw them in the trash.

    Also I refuse to buy these pieces of garbage until they can provide the same light output as GE Reveal bulbs. CFL are way too yellow whereas Reveal bulbs are a wonderful natural bright white

  31. skrom says:

    The article also says that this person unplugged a freezer in the basement which I think is where he saved the most electricity. I dont think the light bulbs made that much of a difference.

  32. Jon R. says:

    They aren’t practical for all situations. There’s a limited choice of CFLs that work with dimmers. I have a chandelier with 12 60 watt bulbs. However, I keep it dimmed down pretty far and its power consumption is much, much less than 720 watts, probably closer to 120. Replacing those bulbs with dimmable CFLs would cost me about $125.

    The future of lighting lies with LED bulbs. When they drop down to consumer level pricing, I’ll redo my entire house with them. Low power, good colors, dimmable, very long lifetime. The only issue now is price.

  33. majortom1981 says:

    Do they make cfl’s that dont have the huge whit ebases to them? I cant use cfls in a lot of my lamps because the base is to big to fit into the metal part of the lamp. fits perfectly in the socket but there is a metal car sort of that goes over the socket that the bottoms of cfls dont fit through.

  34. kc2idf says:

    @alexander:

    What is the danger of mercury poisoning if you break a CFL? I read an article about it once (I think here at consumerist.com in fact) of the possible danger/hassle if one breaks. I don’t know why but that article scared me into not dealing with CFLs at the moment. Probably dumb of my part but I couldn’t help it. I had visions of men in space suits and decontamination chambers in my apartment if one of those things ever broke…

    It’s nothing that airing the space out for 15 minutes and sweeping then mopping (or vacuuming if in a carpeted area) won’t put right. If you vacuum, toss the bag immediately after (for conventional vacs), or wash the cannister (for bagless and water vacs).

    You should also know that CFLs break a lot harder than incandescent bulbs. If your expectations of breakage are based on how easily incandescent bulbs break, then your threshold is too low. CFLs have a much thicker envelope.

    Finally, you should consider that coal-fired power plants emit mercury. The mercury displaced by one of these bulbs (if you live in a coal-fired area) is much greater than the mercury contained.

  35. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    We have a 1100SF all-electric apartment in Texas, where we run the air conditioning from April to October, have 2 computers, and use a frightening number of electronic gadgets (entertainment, kitchen, crafts, general geekery, you name it). We have an air purifier running night and day in the bedroom.

    We switched to CFs from incandescent bulbs just in the 4-light strip in the bathroom, two standing lamps in the living room, and three hanging lights elsewhere in our home. This cut our total KW usage nearly in half as shown on our electric bill.

    We do, indeed, plan to replace every light in the house with CFs.

  36. phoenixcat says:

    I say anything you can do to lowerer your bill at a reasonable cost is a good idea… of course the bulbs are just a portion of your bill.. turning the lights off is the best way to save dough…

    The water heater, fridge, AC and dryer are what kill my bill ( and every appliance is Energy Star rated) – $350 this month- but with 32 days over 110 degrees this summer, I could sit in the dark and still have a high bill- I conserve where I can! ( Insulation, caulking, Energy Star windows and doors etc.)

  37. phoenixcat says:

    Sorry- lower– not lowerer– I got excited!!

  38. Myron says:

    He made two changes at once: replaced bulbs and unplugged a freezer. When his electricity bill is lower, there is no way of knowing which the two changes is responsible or to what extent. All of the savings could be due to the freezer.

  39. bohemian says:

    We have flood type cfl’s in our recessed lighting. The light is actually better than with incandescents. We found some rated for indoor/outdoor and put them in our outdoor fixtures since we leave those on all night for a crime deterrent.
    I just wish they would get more LED lights to market. You can find them online but most of the sites are vague about how to compare a traditional bulb to the LED version to make sure you get the right one. Is it that hard to label them as the replacement for such and such incandescent model and equal to such and such wattage?
    I wish one of the big box stores would take the leap into LEDs. We would start converting over the entire house to LED.

  40. G-Dog says:

    Same here. Even our porch light is cfl. Combine this with the new windows we had put in last fall, and the fact that I put my computer to sleep when I’m not using it, and my wife and I pay about $20-$50 less a month in make-stuff-worky juice!

  41. FLConsumer says:

    @EtherealStrife & Schmee: Actually, I use quite a bit of air conditioning. “Occupied” conditions are set for 76F/45% humidity. When the house is set to “Away”, the temperature is more-or-less unregulated (55-85F), humidity is kept under 50%. The HVAC system here consists of a multistage heat pumpC, variable speed air handler, and central dehumidifier, commercial controls installed. I spent about a month designing it, took the crew about a week for them to install it. Not exactly cheap, but it’ll pay for itself within the first two years and the increased comfort is amazing. 18 decibels A-weighted when running so it’s quiet enough to record classical music or vocals in my home w/o shutting off the air con and the tight humidity control makes all the difference down here in Florida.

    My electric bill prior to the AC changeout was running close to $400/mo, using as much as 80kWh/day. I’ve changed a few other things while I was at it (more efficient washer, dryer, lighting, stove, etc) and killed off many phantom/standby loads. The two “worst” loads for me are the water heater (100% electric, costs ~$0.55/hr to run while it’s heating) and my computer which is an absolute beast with it’s 8 hard drives. My 30 minute showers with my non-water-saver Speakman showerhead certainly kill off quite a few $ that I would otherwise save…BUT, that’s a price I’m willing to pay for a shower like that.

    @SimonSwegles: It’s not 100% stable, proven by the fact that people with amalgam fillings have higher blood levels of mercury than those without. They do emit tiny amounts of mercury vapors from wear & tear. It’s nothing like drinking mercury, but it still adds to one’s exposure.

    @STrRedWolf: Good CFLs run at 20,000Hz or more. It’s the traditional fluorescents (or the PL-14 “stick” bulbs) which run at 60Hz. Even the old linear fluorescent fixtures can be retrofitted with electronic ballasts which eliminate the buzzing & flickering issues. There’s no issue with an electronically-ballasted fluorescent (linear or compact) and refresh rates. Most TV studio lighting down here in FL is electronically-driven, color-corrected fluorescent lighting. If you think your eye’s picky about Hz, video cameras are far worse. No such issues with the electronic ballasts.

    @Shadowman615: Get better quality CFLs. The cheap ones use cheap phosphors and will have a very sickly appearance to what they illuminate. The higher the CRI (color rendering index), the better the light quality. You can also try some theatrical/studio color correction “gel”(acetate). This stuff’s cheap and gives you a whole new way to control & decorate with light. I color corrected my PAR36 incandescent lights with a “1/8th minus green” filter which is subtle but makes a huge difference. I usually use a 1/4 minus green filter on regular incandescents to get rid of their sickly yellow color. Skin tones look amazing under these conditions, pretty much across the entire spectrum. Even very dark skin tones will show an improvement in color-corrected light.

  42. FLConsumer says:

    I should also point out that 76F / 45% humidity feels VERY cool if not cold. Indoor humidity in most Florida homes is >55%, often 60-65%. Under those conditions, 76F would feel warmish/muggy. “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” is a saying the oldtimers have about the heat outside, but most air conditioning contractors in Florida still haven’t figured out that it applies to indoors as well. To be honest, I actually feel quite comfortable at 81F / 45%RH, but my electric usage is so little that I might as well just let it run at 76F / 45%RH.

  43. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @FLConsumer: If you know of an efficient portable dehumdifier that I can use in my apartment, please let me know?

  44. ARP says:

    Agree with others on the mecury.

    You contribute more to mercury emissions by using a regular light bulbs, and otherwise being inefficient with electricity.

    They’re much harder to break than standard bulbs. If you do break them, air the place out for a few minutes, sweep/vacuum it up, put it in a ziplock, and throw it away.

    I’m sorry kids, Faux News and that nutjob housewife who called Hazmat when she broke her bulb are just trying to sow FUD.

    If you have a recycling center nearby, try to use that for burnt out bulbs.

    LED bulbs are on the market, but still too expensive and aren’t bright enough for all your needs. But, if you have a few low wattage bulbs that you run all the time (nighlights, porchlights, etc.), the return on investment is very fast.

  45. orielbean says:

    Don’t forget to grab the special power strip for your computer and entertainment clusters. They worked great for me, parents, and friends. It reduces the problem of those wall warts that don’t understand the standby concept. You have one device that stays powered on, like the cable box. Turn it off, (or on standby), and the strip cuts power to all other items on the strip. I love the damn things.

  46. Chicago7 says:

    @jellycow:

    I’m DONALD TRUMP, dammit! Didn’t you know?

  47. forever_knight says:

    did i really just read posts from people that are either unsure or unclear if CFL save money? what year is it again, 2007?

  48. jellycow says:

    @Chicago7: Hopefully, minus the comb over, right?

  49. kodi21 says:

    If you’re looking to save energy and money, there’s actually a better option than using CFLs. By using a standard dimmer switch you save energy, extend the lamp life of your incandescent bulbs and you have a much better quality light. Flourescent Bulbs have a blue color temperature that most people don’t care for. If you take a standard dimmer and dim the light down 10%, you save 10% energy and double the life of your bulbs. The naked eye can’t tell the difference between 90 and 100%. Dim the light to 50% and you save 40% energy and your bulbs last 20 times longer!!! All the energy/green benefits of CFLs with a much better light quality.

  50. FLConsumer says:

    @forever_knight: Yes, such is the state of our educational system in America. People aren’t sure if 13 watts is than 100 watts.

  51. FLConsumer says:

    Hmm..that post didn’t show my greater than or less than signs…

  52. FLConsumer says:

    @speedwell: Thermastor makes the most efficient self-contained models, but you’ll pay some serious $$ for the privilege. They’re quiet too. If you go to [www.energystar.gov] ,they have an Excel spreadsheet of Energy Star rated dehumidifiers, with energy ratings. You can then use Excel to sort them by efficiency.

    Not sure what climate you’re in, but if you’re in a warm, humid climate such as Florida, it’s better to get a split-system dehumidifier, where the humidity goes down the drain and the heat gets pumped outside. These are a bit difficult to find, but can easily be made by splitting a dehumidifier so the cold coil’s inside and warm coil’s outside. In very humid climates, you can build a great dehumidifier by installing a small 0.5 to 1-ton AC evaporator coil in the existing AC ductwork, with a 3 ton condensing unit outside. Of course, you’ll need to do some modifications to the components to make them work together and you’ll need someone who actually understands refrigeration to pull it off, but the results are worth it. As an easier alternative, Carrier, Bryant, and Lennox make an integrated central AC/heatpump/dehumidifier system that does the job quite well.