Choosing a Light Bulb: Not Quite as Easy as Turning on the Lights

Choosing a Light Bulb: Not Quite as Easy as Turning on the Lights

One of the easiest and most cost effective ways for hotels to “green” up their operations is to switch to more energy efficient light bulbs. While the federal government’s decision to phase out traditional incandescent bulbs has pushed many hotels into doing this, they’re still left with the decision of switching to compact fluorescent lights bulbs (CFLs) or Light Emitting Diode Bulbs (LEDs). Both types provide financial and environmental benefits compared to an incandescent. And our “In the Limelight” feature has highlighted hotels going in each direction. However, there are distinct differences between these efficient bulbs that may influence which ones your hotel chooses to utilize.

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

LEDs have long been around in single-bulb applications, such as electronics and Christmas lights. Now, with the ability to cluster these small bulbs and encase them in lenses that promote the diffusion of light, they can be used for traditional lighting, as well.  LEDs work by passing an electrical current through some type of semiconductor material which then emits light.  On average, LEDs will provide 50,000 hours of light, over 40 times that of an incandescent. And throughout that life they will use about a tenth of the energy used by an incandescent, requiring only six to eight watts. This will reduce your energy bill, which is always good, but also limit fossil fuel emissions, which is even better. And because LEDs are not made of glass, they are very durable. They also give off very little heat, which can actually help your hotel save on heating and cooling costs. The one issue with LEDs currently, however, is their costs.  An LED bulb on average will be about 10 times as expensive as a comparable CFL bulb.

LED Bulb Providers:

Compact Fluorescents (CFLs)

CFLs are probably more familiar to hotels than LEDs because they’ve been on the market longer. They consist of tubes, which may come in a variety of shapes and ballast, and are usually similar in size to incandescent bulbs. There is no filament, however, as light is produced when an electric current is passed through the tube which contains argon and mercury vapor.  Because this process takes several seconds to happen, CFLs often times don’t illuminate immediately. Generally, CFLs will provide about 8,000 to 10,000 hours of illumination and use at least 75% less energy than an incandescent, using about 13 to 15 watts.  CFLs are made of glass and contain a small amount of mercury, which makes them dangerous if they break, while also complicating their disposal. Temperature and humidity have also been shown to impact the performance of CFLs, though it usually requires extreme circumstances. There is also some heat emitted by CFLs, but it is only about a third of the amount given off by an incandescent. An average CFL bulb will cost around four dollars.

CFL Bulb Providers:

The Light Choice

As your hotel assesses which light bulbs to choose, the choice essentially comes down to short term gains versus long term benefits. Installing LED bulbs throughout your hotel certainly has the potential to get quite pricy, especially if you’re a large establishment. But in the long run, those LED bulbs will provide increased savings on your energy costs compared to CFLs.  And because LED bulbs last longer and are more durable, the cost to replace CFL bulbs will neutralize much of their upfront cost advantage.  There’s also a fairly large discrepancy between LEDs and CFLs in terms of environmental impact.  As LEDs use only half the energy of CFLs they hold much greater potential in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that result from energy production. And because they give off less heat, they allow heating and cooling systems to operate more efficiently, saving energy – something that can’t be understated in a hotel environment. There’s also the issue of potential mercury exposure in CFLs, which is harmful to human health and the environment.

Now, while LEDs certainly seem more advantageous, especially to the environment than CFLs, that doesn’t mean CFLs don’t have a place in hotels. For lights that don’t get used very often, it may be more cost effective to use CFLs than LEDs.  For hotels that simply can’t afford a complete investment in LED bulbs, CFLs are certainly a more cost effective and environmentally positive alternative than continuing to use incandescent bulbs. As with most things, each hotel needs to individually evaluate their own goals, needs and resources before deciding which technology to invest in. But all things being equal, hotels would certainly be wise to pursue LED lighting. What is YOUR choice in lighting?

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David Thurnau

Community Relations at Community Green Energy
David Thurnau has a background in political science, municipal government, and agriculture with an emphasis in environmental issues.

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