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Product Reviews

Choosing the best energy-saving bulbs

Proliferation of new technologies makes it a bit difficult

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Daylight savings ended this weekend, meaning the lights will be on longer. Energy-saving LED technology is evolving rapidly, and changes have made buying a bulb more challenging. Consumer Reports offers advice on how to find the right bulb for every room, and save money and energy.

Family or living room. Getting the lighting right in these rooms can be complicated because so many activities go on. Standard ceiling fixtures and recessed or track lights provide general lighting. Table and floor lamps deliver task and accent light. Aim accent and task lights away from shiny surfaces, such as TV screens and glass-framed artwork, to prevent reflected glare. Remember, most compact fluorescent lights aren’t dimmable, though halogen bulbs and many LEDs are.

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Shopping tip: For the biggest savings, replace the most frequently used bulbs first. Buy just one or two bulbs to try them out. If you like the light, buy more.

Kitchen and dining. A centrally placed ceiling fixture or recessed lights usually provide general lighting here, supplemented by under-cabinet lighting for tasks. A fixture or two over the island and the table boost general lighting, and dimming lets you switch moods and move from homework to dining.

Shopping tip: Some compact fluorescents and LEDs are bigger or heavier than incandescents. Bring your old bulb when you shop to prevent getting a bulb that will stick out.

Bathrooms. Task lighting is tricky in the bathroom. Cool light is often recommended, but it can distort colors when applying makeup. So you may have to choose one characteristic over the other or consider halogen bulbs here. Decorative incandescents, such as some globe lights, aren’t part of the phase-out.

Shopping tip: On/off cycling, common in bathrooms, will shorten a compact fluorescent’s life.

Bedrooms. Relaxation and romance are key. Dimmers and warm lighting can help, so look for bulbs in the 2,700 to 2,900 Kelvin range. This is noted on the bulb package. Consider cooler lighting, which has a higher Kelvin number, for reading lamps or fixtures.

Position those higher than the bed to minimize shadows. Skip compact fluorescents in lamps in children’s rooms, where rough-housing is more likely to lead to broken bulbs. Compact fluorescent bulbs release small amounts of mercury when they’re broken.

Shopping tip: Reduce noticeable differences in the light color in a room by choosing compact fluorescents or LEDs within a 200-degree Kelvin range of other bulbs in the room. Incandescents usually are 2,700 to 2.900K.

Outdoors. Safety, security, and ambience are important, but you’ll also need to consider climate. Compact fluorescent lights take longer to brighten the colder it gets and may not work in frigid temperatures. Check the packaging. On the other hand, cold temperatures don’t affect LEDs.

Use floodlights or spotlights on the eaves or on the ground to illuminate dark areas for added security. Bulbs in the 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin range emit a warm light that’s flattering to warm-colored exteriors, and cooler light 3,500K or higher complements grays and can appear brighter.

Shopping tip: Save energy with a motion sensor or photocell that turns lights on at dusk and off at dawn.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.
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