70s House Eco Renovation

Updating Lighting Fixtures

By Kenneth Barbalace

[Last update May 2, 2009]

Note: This is one in a series of articles documenting the eco renovation of our house. See the links at the bottom of this article for other articles in this series.

The previous owner of our house loved small base candelabra light fixtures and used them almost everywhere in the house. There is a five bulb chandler in the kitchen, living room and hallway, and there were two sconces in the living room that used these small bulbs. The living room sconces were very 1970s and not at all our style, and they were way too low on the wall.

The big problem with candelabra light fixtures, besides looking at bare bulbs, is that there is a limited selection of Energy Star rated compact fluorescent lights available for the 12mm candelabra base. What CFLs are available for the candelabra base tend to be limited in light output, expensive and not really all that attractive. Our plan is to work on replacing all of the candelabra light fixtures with fixtures that use standard sized screw in bulbs so that there is a wider selection of CFLs that we can choose from.

For the living room we found two sconces with globes that use one standard sized bulb each. They are simple yet attractive fixtures with glass globes that do a good job of concealing the CFL bulb. Best of all, they were fairly inexpensive at $29 each.

So that I wouldn't end up looking at bare bulbs as I walked around the room, I raised the height of the two living room sconces about one foot such that the base of the globes are at about six feet from the floor. Lighting designers will say that sconces should be lower on the wall so that the light reflects better off a wider area of the ceiling and not create bright spots on the ceiling. Often times, however, those same lighting designers aren't six foot tall and have not suffered the misery of constantly getting blinded by bare light bulbs at eye level.

Since the living room will be the most heavily used room in the house, changing its lights over to compact florescent lights will have the biggest impact on our energy bill. The next light fixture we want to replace will be the dining room chandelier. We found a simple three globe chandelier that uses standard bulbs at Home Depot that we like and are planning to buy it shortly. As the dining room is the second most used room in the house, it makes sense to make replacing this fixture a priority so that we can start using CFLs in this room as soon as possible.

Choosing the right CFL temperature range

Compact florescent lights typically come in three temperature ranges: soft white, bright white and daylight. Soft white CFLs mimic the same colors as would be seen with incandescent bulbs meaning they draw out yellows and are considered a warmer light most people prefer this in a home setting. Bright white CFLs balance between the warmth yellows of incandescent bulbs and the brilliant blues of natural day light. Daylight CFLs mimic natural light and are considered to be a cooler light. When buying CFLs, make sure they display the EPA's Energy Star label. CFLs can use up to 70% less energy than comparable incandescent bulbs.

Words of warning about CFLs

There are a some things one should keep in mind about compact fluorescent lights:

  1. CFLs tend not to live as long in humid environments or in situations where they constantly get turned on and off after only short periods of time. The reason is that the ballast at the bottom of the bulb will go bad more quickly under these conditions shortening their life span and making them less cost effective.
  2. Most CFLs contain mercury and must not be thrown away in the trash. When they go bad CFLs need to be saved along with your dead batteries for your community's household hazardous waste clean up or returned to your local store that sells CFLs if they collect dead CFLs for recycling. CFLs aren't a perfect solution, but they save a lot of energy thereby reducing one's electrical costs significantly. If disposed of properly, the negatives of CFLs are outweighed by their benefits.
  3. Unless labled that they are compatible with dimmer switches, CFLs should not be used on dimmer switches as it is bad for the bulb.
  4. When buying CFLs make sure they contain the US EPA Energy Star logo (assuming you live in the U.S.). This ensures the CFLs you are buying meet the EPA's guidelines for energy efficiency.

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