How to screw in a light bulb

An LED bulb provides up to 50,000 hours of lighting and uses much less energy than an incandescent or compact fluorescent bulb. This can add up to savings of $340 over the lifetime of the LED bulb. Photo courtesy of

Have you ever heard the joke, “How many environmentalists does it take to screw in a light bulb?” With recent advancements in lighting technology, an environmentalist might rewrite the joke to ask, “How many light bulbs does a smart consumer use over a lifetime?”. Their answer would be, “Very few, because a smart consumer would use an LED bulb.”

According to EPA’s ENERGY STAR Current, lighting accounts for 12 to 30 percent of energy use in the United States. Lighting uses about 12 percent of the total energy in a home, which is more than a refrigerator, dishwasher and clothes washer use combined. In a commercial building, it accounts for 30 percent (about the same as an air conditioning system).

Although Fermilab’s accelerator complex makes up the majority of the lab’s total energy use, all of the lab’s 362 buildings and 70 trailers require lighting. Using smart lighting is one of the easiest ways to reduce energy use and save money in existing buildings. One can install timers or motion detectors, make maximum use of natural light, or simply use a different type of bulb.

LED, or light-emitting diode, bulbs are gaining popularity as a versatile and energy-efficient product. When LED standard-use light bulbs were first introduced at retail stores a few years back, prices were high, as much as $100 each, and functionality was low. Now companies are making better and more affordable products, at anywhere from $8 to $20 per bulb.

Compact fluorescent bulbs use less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs but contain mercury, have specific disposal rules, are made of glass and are more fragile, take a while to turn on, are not dimmable, and emit ultraviolet light. LEDs use 70 to 90 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than an incandescent light bulb and use half as much energy and last eight times longer than a compact fluorescent bulb. That means you would have to purchase only one LED during the period you would typically buy 25 incandescent light bulbs or eight compact fluorescent bulbs, saving up to $340 in bulb purchases and energy costs over the lifetime of the bulb. Your investment could pay off in less than a year.

When shopping for electronics, appliances and light bulbs, look for the ENERGY STAR symbol. Choosing an ENERGY STAR product can be slightly more expensive up front but can offer savings in electricity bills over the lifetime of the product. In an EPA ENERGY STAR challenge for retailers to promote and sell LEDs over other types of lighting between Earth Day 2013 and Earth Day 2014, 20 million ENERGY STAR-certified LED light bulbs were sold, with a cost savings of $118 million each year in energy costs. This is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of 3.5 million vehicles.

The answer to the original joke above is, “None. An environmentalist uses the sun.” But we all use artificial light, and we all benefit from using less energy, so let’s try to rewrite the joke!

Katie Kosirog