Residential Energy Saving Lighting Strategies

One of the biggest consumers of electricity in your home is lighting (see our post on home energy consumption).  There are two ways to save energy and money with better use and control of lighting in your home:

  1. Install the most efficient lights possible
  2. Control those lights as efficiently as possible

Efficient Lighting


In order to install the most efficient lights as possible, you first have to accept the fact that you have to get rid of those century-old technology incandescent lights!  You can do this by switching to a CFL or LED.  CFLs have improved over the last decade to offer better light output, but some people are wary of the tiny amount of mercury in them.  If that is the case, check out the LEDs that are just now coming on the market and are actually affordable.  Check out the post Best Lighting Cost comparison for more info on why you need to switch to CFL or LED immediately.

Natural Lighting

Even better than using light bulbs, what about using the light that the sun gives us?  Make sure that you always consider opening blinds and using natural light before flipping on the switch.  Even better, what about installing or building your home with a skylight.  Or even easier, how about a Solatube which actually funnels sunlight directly into the room that needs it.  If you're building a home, use an open floor-plan, like what we recommended in our post on Money Saving Tips for Green Building.

Lighting Control


One option for reducing the amount of power that lights consume is a lighting dimmer.  Sometimes you may just need a little light and not full light output.  For instance, in our dining room we have a small chandelier that uses 5, 40-watt bulbs.  This is on a dimmer (that looks just like a regular light switch with a sliding dimmer that slides up and down) so that if we just need a little light to eat by we can reduce the power to the chandelier.  This lighting dimmer is seen on the right at the image on the top of this post and it has the same footprint as a regular light switch.

Lighting Timer

If your children love to leave lights on in the bathroom or playroom, or if they like to go to sleep with a light on, what about installing a lighting timer that will turn off after a certain amount of time?  Or in another example, say you are going on vacation but want to leave a lamp on for a pet or to keep away potential burglars.  You don't have to leave the lamp on when it's daylight if you have an electronic timer!

Automatic Light Sensor - Occupancy and Vacancy Sensors

Finally, consider installing an occupancy or vacancy sensor. I have an automatic occupancy sensor in my kitchen that turns our recessed lights on (they are CFLs).  When I walk into the kitchen the lights go on, and once they don't sense anyone in the kitchen, they will go off.  Now occasionally the lights will go off if I'm cleaning dishes or chopping vegetables, but a simple wave of the arm turns the lights back on (the sensor works off a temperature difference that is caused by movement).

A vacancy sensor is similar to an occupancy sensor, but unlike an occupancy sensor that automatically turns the lights on when it senses a person in the room, a vacancy sensor is turned on manually, but then turns off when someone leaves the room.

I wrote about Occupancy and Vacancy sensors in the Home Automation Guide I helped put together for Green By Design.  When discussing the difference about the two technologies I wrote:

While they both turn off in the same manner, the Occupancy sensor is an automatic on, while the Vacancy sensor is manually turned on. The difference between these two seems minor, but the distinction is important.

For example, if a household has pets, there is a chance that they could constantly trigger an Occupancy sensor, but since the Vacancy sensor has to be turned on manually they would not affect it. Think about which control strategy would work best for each room that needs lighting and choose an occupancy or vacancy sensor based on each room’s specific conditions.

Note: If you live in California, Title 24 may require that you install Occupancy/Vacancy sensors as part of your home lighting strategy. From the California energy code: “In bathrooms, garages, laundry rooms, and utility rooms, manual-on / automatic off occupant sensors are allowed as an alternate compliance option to high efficacy lighting.”
More information can be found here.

Did I miss any other strategies to save money and energy on lighting your home?

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Why not a dimmer in the kitchen? What happens at night when your dog walks into the kitchen and the lights come on?
ckmapawatt's picture
A dimmer wouldn't be practical in my situation because we usually either need the lights 100% on or 100% off. A dimmer would be nice if we need a little light in the afternoon, but we are usually only in the kitchen after dark. Plus, the sensor is nice because we can walk into the other room with our hands full of food and the lights will go out automatically. Finally, we don't have a dog :)
Only one thing that i would add is the use of a photo sensitive sensors which can be used mainly in the courtyards and landscaped area around the house. the lights would slowly turn on during sun down and will be completely on once its dark. the advantage with such lights are that they can be charged thru a solar panel hence they would not even count on your electricity bills.
ckmapawatt's picture
Great point Rajitha! I didnt even consider outdoor lighting but you could also include outdoor motion sensors as well. Thanks!
When you buy an occupancy sensor or timer, read the package carefully. Many of these units are not compatible with CFLs. I have been going to the electrical supply store and paying about $45 per occupancy sensor since the $16 varieties at the big box home improvement stores don't work. That's become a big price difference for us. ...John

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