As darkness looms in the early evenings after turning the clocks back, Americans will be flipping the light switches earlier and more often, which is why the Environmental Protection Agency urges us to make energy-efficient choices when it comes to lighting.

The EPA says that if Americans change five light bulbs in their home, some $3 billion per year in electricity costs would be eliminated -- and greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 8 million cars would be spared.

A typical household spends about $100 a year to flip the switch; more than 7 percent of a residential energy bill is spent on lighting. If you replace the five lights you switch on the most with energy-efficient models, you can save $60 a year. The most common culprits are kitchen overhead lighting, living room table and floor lamps, bathroom vanity and outdoor porch lights.

Energy Star fixtures and bulbs last six to 10 times longer than standard models and provide the same amount of light while running on two-thirds less energy. In addition, qualified lighting generates about 70 percent less heat than standard incandescent lighting, which means it's cooler to the touch and can help reduce energy costs associated with cooling the home.

Meanwhile, Energy Star lighting fixtures are becoming more popular and more widely available, with the energy-efficient models accounting for 4 percent of all sales last year. You can find Energy Star fixtures among torchieres, under and over cabinets in the kitchen, ceiling-mounted, wall sconces, suspended fixtures and outdoor lighting, including motion sensor fixtures.

To earn the Energy Star label, fixtures:

  • Will last 10,000 to 20,000 hours, or with regular use of 3.5 hours a day, will last seven years.
  • Distribute the light more efficiently and evenly than standard fixtures.
  • Replace the dangerous halogen torchieres, which have been the root of dozens of fires nationwide. Energy Star torchieres operate at much lower temperatures.
  • Carry a two-year warranty; standard fixtures are guaranteed for just one year.

And energy-efficient doesn't mean unattractive lighting.

"Today, lighting technology permits you to enjoy a comfortable, pleasing and elegant lifestyle without wasting precious natural resources," says Dan Blitzer, consulting technical lighting expert for the American Lighting Association (ALA), a non-profit organization of leading manufacturers, retail lighting showrooms and sales representatives in the U.S. and Canada dedicated to expanding public knowledge about lighting.

The ALA recommends the following:

  • Replace with fluorescents. "Although they're less expensive, they use up a lot more energy and have a short life. This is a good idea for lights in closets, workrooms, home offices, kid's rooms, security area, kitchens," said Blitzer. "Plus it's very easy to replace a bulb or even a fixture that is not fluorescent compatible -- it doesn't require electrical rework of wires."
  • Use dimmers. This allows you to reduce your light when you don't need the full glare. To dim fluorescents, use a special dimming ballast, as well as a dimmer that is compatible with fluorescents. "Dimmers give us complete and intimate control over our lighting systems," said Blitzer. "I say complete because it allows us to adjust the intensity of the light to meet the needs of different individuals and different tasks, to warm the color, and to extend the life of incandescent lamps."
  • Adding motion detector lighting outside. This way, the light only goes on when motion is sensed, providing security and energy efficiency.
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