Lighting stores offer a dizzying array of lamps–pendants, sconces, chandeliers, ceiling lamps, table lamps, desk lamps, floor lamps, recessed cans, track lights, and on and on. What makes a lamp environmentally friendly? For the most part, it’s the amount of energy it uses–and that primarily depends on the type of bulb and how much time the lamp is on. So pay attention to those factors, and while you’re at it, be thoughtful about the lamps you choose and where you use them.
- Take your lamp to task. Some lamps provide illumination for a particular task, like reading in bed or working at a desk. Others, like ceiling lamps, are designed for general or ambient lighting. Having good task lamps where you need them most will allow you to keep the ambient light levels lower, saving energy and reducing your carbon footprint.
- Pass it forward. Don’t let unused lamps clutter up your house, garage, or attic. If they’re in good shape, donate them to a local thrift store. Your ugly duckling may be another person’s swan.
When shopping, look for
- CFL compatibility. When shopping for a new or used lamp, take your favorite compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) with you to make sure it fits. Say no to lamps that only work with energy-wasting halogen bulbs.
- Appropriate design. Before buying a new lamp, examine its design. Will the lampshade’s color, shape, and material allow light where you need it? Some shades block a lot of light, or direct light where you don’t need it. That means you wind up paying for lighting energy you’re not even using.
- Recycled content. Some eco-friendly companies make lamps with recycled glass, recycled paper or even used (but sterilized!) chopsticks. Favor products made with a high post-consumer recycled content.
- Light/fan combos. Ceiling fans fitted with CFLs are a great energy-saving option. You get the low-energy cooling from the fan, and energy-efficient lighting from the lamp. Always choose Energy Star fans.
- Halogen torchieres. Torchieres are tall floor lamps with a shallow, bowl-shaped light fixture mounted on a pole. Halogen torchieres sold before 2006 may have 300- to 600-watt halogen bulbs that operate at temperatures exceeding 1,200°F. These high-wattage halogens have caused hundreds of fires and at least a dozen deaths. Besides being hazardous, they’re huge energy hogs. If you already have a high-wattage halogen torchiere, replace it with a safe, energy-efficient CFL torchiere. Federal law now requires that all torchieres manufactured after 2006 consume no more than 190 watts–but even that is a lot more than a CFL uses.
- When buying recessed ceiling lights (commonly called “cans”) make sure they are rated “insulation contact-air tight,” or ICAT. Conventional recessed light fixtures are like holes in the ceiling. In the winter, they let warm air leak from your house into the cold attic. That leakage wastes energy and can cause condensation in the attic and other sorts of potentially damaging conditions like ice on the roof. In the summer, recessed light fixtures provide a path for air-conditioned air to leak out of your living spaces. With old-style cans you also have to be careful that attic insulation doesn’t come into contact with the light fixture. ICAT recessed cans solve these problems: they are airtight and can be covered with insulation.
- If you have an energy-saving CFL that’s too big for a particular table lamp or floor lamp, try a harp extender (the harp is the wire that goes around the bulb and supports the lampshade). If the CFL’s ballast (the plastic base that houses its electronic components) is too big for a lamp’s base, try a socket extender. Harp and socket extenders are cheap and sold in the electrical or lighting aisle of hardware stores.
Good quality lighting reduces eyestrain when reading, knitting, and doing other tasks.
…to your wallet
Putting light only where you need it reduces your energy bills.
…to the Earth
Reusing lamps and choosing lamps made with post-consumer recycled content keep useful resources out of landfills. The type of light bulb makes the most difference in your bills and energy usage, but some lamps, like ICAT recessed can lights, can shrink both.
Before you decide you need a new lamp, look for used ones at used furniture stores, flea markets, and thrift stores. If you find one you like, be sure to check that it can accommodate a CFL, and that the wiring, switches, plugs, and other parts are in good condition. If in doubt, skip it or have an electrician check it out.