Updated on 03.08.07

Five Minute Finances #8: Replace All Of Your Light Bulbs

Trent Hamm

Five Minute FinancesFive Minute Finances is a series of tips on how you can save significant money or reorganize your financial life in just five minutes. These tips appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on The Simple Dollar.

Most American households still have all of their light sockets filled with old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs and have yet to convert them over to CFLs. If you’re still using traditional light bulbs to light your home, you’re throwing away money every time you flip on a light switch. In the past, I’ve waxed ecstatic about CFLs and how much they can save, but today I go one further: replace all of your bulbs NOW with CFLs, whether they’re burnt out or not.

I’ll use my own situation as an example. I replaced every light bulb in my apartment (a total of 22 bulbs) with CFLs. Almost all of the old bulbs were 60 or 75 watt bulbs; the new bulbs all used 20 watts. We kept track of our light bulb usage over a week or so and discovered that each bulb was on for an average of three and a half hours a day; in other words, an average day sees 77 hours of total light bulb usage, thus we’re saving about 3.45 kilowatt hours a day, or 104 kilowatt hours a month. At a price of about $0.10 per kilowatt hour according to our electric bill, the light bulb replacement saves us $10.40 a month, every month.

You may have to spend $40 or so to get enough bulbs to replace all of the old incandescents in your home, and you’ll have to discard your old bulbs, but it will only take a few months to make that money back. If you don’t feel comfortable pulling bulbs out of your sockets, you can just replace them as they go out, but it only takes a month or two to make up Even better: CFLs have five times the life of old incandescents, so you won’t have to replace them for years.

So, what’s the game plan? All you need to do is go to your local hardware store and buy a couple jumbo packs of CFLs. I recommend using the next higher “watt equivalency” that the packages tell you; for example, CFLs with a 60 watt “equivalence” aren’t quite as bright as real CFLs, so get the 75 watt “equivalence” bulbs – these use just fifteen watts, so you’re still saving 45 watts per hour per bulb. I personally recommend GE’s 20 watt bulbs, which are a 75 watt “equivalent” (meaning you should probably replace your 60 watt bulbs with them – they’ll be just a bit brighter than the old 60 watts) – those are the exact ones we use all over the place at our home and we love them dearly. They light well and they quietly make serious savings on our monthly energy bill.

So take five minutes, get some bulbs, and replace your old lighting today!

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  1. My electric bill is only about $10 a month so it would take a long time for switching to pay off. I don’t plan on switching any of my bulbs unless there is a special deal on CFLs.

  2. morydd says:

    One thing to remember is that you cannot use CFL’s on a dimmer. My problem is I live in a rental and have the Worlds Ugliest Light above my dining table. It uses flame-tip candelabra base bulbs. No CFL’s for that guy.

  3. RazzBari says:

    Does anyone make a 3-way CFL that fits in a regular table lamp or wall-mounted swing-arm lamp? I’ve had to return those because the base of the bulb was way too wide to fit inside the lamp harp.

  4. Dave says:

    I’ve got a general question about CFL’s. Have they improved how quick they turn on? My wife prefers the instant on. Which is why the one I have is used for the porch light, because it’s hard to convince the wife that waiting for 1 second to turn on is acceptable.

  5. Dave Olson says:

    I just purchased about $40 worth of CFL. One set of floodlignts are instant on. They are made by Luminux (I think). One question I have is: we have used CFLs quite a bit but there seems to be a large number of them that are either faulty from the factory or fail within the first couple of days. Any one else experience this?

  6. Nancy says:

    CFL’s, I tried them and was very disappointed. I tried the various light colors, but all of them gave off an unnatural color. Saving the money, but being depressed in my own house just doesn’t make sense.
    Also, a couple of points on the failure rate of these bulbs, they quickly fail in enclosed fixtures and also don’t light correctly in cold areas.
    If you like having a death pallor, you can laugh all the way to the bank with these babies….

  7. samerwriter says:

    I wish I could agree with you, but in my opinion CFLs are a bust.

    Here are my primary gripes:

    * Energy savings: It’s true that CFLs use less energy. On the other hand, I have to heat my house anyway. The heat you save by switching to CFLs just has to be replaced with other heat (it’s certainly true that in hotter climates, you may be cooling your house. In those climates, I agree that CFLs may show some benefit).

    * Lifetime: A good quality incandescent will last a very long time. And when they do go out, you don’t have to worry about hazardous waste disposal.

    * Color: I’ve tried cheap CFLs and I’ve tried expensive CFLs. And I’ve never found a CFL that doesn’t look terrible, at least for a couple minutes before it warms up.

  8. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    We bought GEs (the ones I link to above) and they have been fantastic… great color, plenty bright, and not a single failure out of 20+ bulbs.

  9. Jodi says:

    We live in a old house and our regular bulbs tend to burn out really quickly. I’m not sure if it is the bulbs that we are buying or something with out electrical system. Would CFL’s have a similair burning out problem? Or not?

  10. Nishant says:

    Every time a bulb goes out in our house, we are replacing it with the energy efficient kind. Little by little, we can make a difference.

  11. Ryan Byrne says:

    You know, it really surprises me that the only way to convince people is by stressing the financial benefits. Yes, you will save money by switching to CFL’s. And while that is all good, what about our environment??? Shouldn’t that be the real reason to compel us to make a change in our lighting? If creating less CO2 isn’t enough of a selling point for you, then I guess you won’t be interested at all in changing your light bulbs anyway. Just so everyone that reads this post knows… Australia and the EU have already announced plans to ban incandescent light bulbs.

    I changed my entire house for around $28. Yes, the CFL’s do take a minute to warm up. A minute is not that long people! And it is not that they don’t light up at all, they are just dimmer at first, and gradually warm up. I got the 8 pack of the GE 13watt (60 equivalent), and I actually think they are a little brighter then the old 60 watt incandescent. However, I have had CFL’s in the past that seemed to be dimmer than the incandescent bulbs, but the newer ones seem great. I don’t know if there is an actual difference between older and newer CFLs.

    Anyway, go by the lumen output as the comparison, as that the only accurate measurement for the brightness of the bulb.

  12. mike says:

    Don’t forget to check w/ your power company. Some offer rebates on CFL’s

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