There’s been a lot of interest in energy-efficient light bulbs lately, with an emphasis on swapping out older incandescent bulbs for newer fluorescent ones. Unlike the long fluorescent tubes we’re all familiar with, these bulbs, known collectively as compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, resemble a standard light bulb. They are designed to screw directly into the same socket as a standard incandescent bulb, and are available in a variety of sizes to work with virtually any existing fixture you might have in your home.

According to some statistics compiled and presented by the government’s Energy Star program, CFLs can produce an equivalent amount of light to a standard bulb, but they last up to 10 times longer and use about two-thirds less energy. So the cost savings associated with not having to replace your bulbs as often will make up for the higher initial cost of the CFL, and you should save something on the order of $30 per bulb in energy costs over the projected life of the fluorescent bulb.

Some of the other benefits of CFLs include a reduction in heat output. We all know how hot a standard incandescent bulb gets as the filament glows, so they’re more dangerous to use, and all that heat adds to the cooling load in your home. According to Energy Star, a typical CFL puts out only about 30 percent of the heat of an incandescent bulb.

If you’re thinking of starting to replace some of the incandescent bulbs in your house with CFLs, you might want to start with the fixtures that are switched on the most, such as porch lights and lights in the living room and kitchen. And remember that not all fluorescent bulbs are the same, so follow some of these tips for selecting the right bulb:

  • Select a bulb with a lumen rating (lumens are the standard measure of light output) that is equal to the bulb you’re replacing. For example, a 60-watt incandescent puts out about 800 lumens, so if you’re replacing a 60-watt bulb you’ll want a fluorescent bulb that meets or slightly exceeds that lumen output.

  • Fluorescent bulbs are available in warm- and cool-white colors, so select the color of light that best suits where the fixture is used. Warm-white colors most closely mimic standard incandescent bulbs, while cool-whites are more like the color of light from standard fluorescent tubes.

  • If you are replacing bulbs in a fixture that is connected to a dimmer or a three- or four-way switch, be sure that the bulb is rated for that use.

  • Some CFLs may have trouble operating correctly in some types of fully enclosed light fixtures, so read the package carefully for any restrictions on the bulb’s use, or talk with a lighting dealer.


In addition to replacing bulbs, you can minimize energy usage with a few other strategies as well. In the kitchen, consider the use of fluorescent under-cabinet lighting. These glare-free fixtures illuminate the counters for improved viewing with less eye strain, and can save you from having to rely on additional overhead incandescent fixtures.

In fixtures such as multibulb bathroom lights, if you don’t want to switch to CFLs yet you might want to think about reducing the wattage of the bulbs. For example, a fixture with five 60-watt bulbs uses 300 watts of electricity, while replacing the bulbs with 40-watt ones will reduce that to 200 watts, saving you the equivalent of a 100-watt bulb.

You may not have the luxury of rearranging your light switches in an existing home, but if you’re building or remodeling, another great strategy for saving electricity is to pay attention to how your switches are set up. For example, when walking into the kitchen and flipping on the switch, you probably don’t need any more than just one or two overhead lights to see efficiently. For specific tasks, such as washing dishes or preparing food, having the task-light fixtures in each specific area set on a separate switch will allow you to regulate the amount of light — and electricity you use — to the task you’re performing at that time.


In my response to a recent reader question about why her water heater was running out of hot water so quickly, I suggested a couple of possible reasons. Several sharp-eyed readers of the column wrote to point out that I neglected to include replacement of the dip tube as a possible — perhaps even a probable — cause of the problem.

A dip tube is a long plastic tube inside your water heater that carries the cold, incoming water to the bottom of the heater, where it can be warmed more efficiently. If the dip tube is broken or has come loose, cold water sits at the top of the heater and doesn’t circulate through the tank. The result is that only a portion of the water in the tank gets warmed, so you will run out of hot water much more quickly.

It is indeed a likely culprit in the case of the woman with limited hot water, and my thanks to the readers who took the time to write and suggest it!

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at

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