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BATTLE OF THE BULBS: CFL vs. LED

0317
 2015


Michael Breddin, left, and Ed Fulkerson, co-owners of the Brenham-area store, were pleased with the LEDs used in the study. (Sarah Beal photos)

By Lisa Ogle 
 
A lovely mix of American and European country antique furniture, plush new bedding and one-of-a-kind accessories fill the open space inside Leftovers Antiques on U.S. 290 just west of Brenham. The room-like displays are illuminated by an equally graceful mix of compact fluorescent, light-emitting diode and other bulbs in track lighting, lamps and even chandeliers. 
 
With hundreds of bulbs throughout the store, it can be time consuming to change them when they burn out. And in the case of this and other Bluebonnet-area businesses, some of which have thousands of light bulbs, it’s also a matter of cost. It takes up workers’ time, and the expense of frequently changing that many bulbs adds up. 
 
Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative wanted to know whether LEDs could make a difference to the bottom line. So in August 2013, the co-op launched a yearlong study in which Leftovers Antiques and the San Marcos Premium Outlet Restoration Hardware each agreed to replace 120 incandescent or CFL bulbs with LED bulbs. 
 
Consider this a battle of the bulbs: traditional incandescent lights versus energy-efficient bulbs that are becoming widely available and more affordable because of long-term energy savings. 
 
“I was hoping to show that LED lights can both provide the color and brightness that a business needs as well as be a value proposition that pays for itself in two years,” said Wesley Brinkmeyer, manager of energy programs at Bluebonnet. “The results were better than expected.” 
 
Leftovers Antiques wanted long-lasting bulbs that would reduce maintenance, heat output and electric use costs in its 10,000-square-foot store. The business, which has been a Bluebonnet member for eight years, saved nearly $210 a month on average during the study. 

(Sarah Beal photo)Leftovers Antiques
 
“I think (the study) was amazing, just our overall cost savings for the year and the next coming year,” said Ed Fulkerson, co-owner of the antiques store. “It’s a real eye-opener for us.” 
 
The study results motivated the store owners to replace remaining incandescents and CFLs, as they burn out, with new LEDs. 
 
“We’d rather spend a little more and save over the years,” he said. “The benefits far outweigh the cost.” 
 
In San Marcos, the light bulb study produced similar results. Eight months into the experiment, only one of Restoration Hardware’s LED bulbs had gone out, which impressed the company enough that it replaced the other half of its bulbs in the outlet store with LEDs. As a result, the 10,000-square-foot store’s savings — nearly $373 a month on average during the study — were greater than those of Leftovers Antiques. 
 
Restoration Hardware is a national retailer that sells luxury home furnishings and has several locations in Texas, including Austin and San Antonio. The San Marcos location has been a Bluebonnet member for nine years. 
 
“With the hours of operation that the two businesses keep, the payback period on the bulbs was quite astounding,” Brinkmeyer said. “Both businesses found a payback period under two years, and based on the businesses’ usage patterns, the bulbs have seven years of projected life. That is five years of reduced energy costs and maintenance costs that will be saved by each business.” 
 
It took a little convincing to get the businesses to participate in the study. 
 
“We were concerned because we’re all about light out here and we weren’t sure how the LEDs would reflect on the furniture, but we did a test,” Leftovers Antiques’ Fulkerson said. After the test, they agreed to participate. “We picked the clear white ones, and we quickly realized that it was a benefit.”
 
LEDs come in an array of colors, with options such as being dimmable and even “connected,” meaning they can be controlled through an app on a smartphone or tablet. (Read more about that technology in the Consumer Electronics Show article that starts on Page 20 of this issue.) 
 
Restoration Hardware, like the antiques store, is particular about lighting to ensure that products are displayed in the best light. Both businesses were pleased with the color and brightness of the new LED bulbs. 
 
“The outcome definitely dispels the rumors about LED bulbs,” Brinkmeyer said. “They can provide the color needed — in fact, you can almost pick your color from the spectrum. They can pay for themselves and provide valuable savings for a long time. LEDs do project less heat, too.” 
 
For homeowners and renters today, CFLs could provide lower-cost alternatives to LEDs, Brinkmeyer said. Those bulbs use less electricity than incandescents and can be found for less than $2. A recent Internet check of prices found many household LED bulbs for less than $10. But for businesses with larger lighting requirements, even the cost of a $20 to $40 LED bulb will pay off over time.
 

7 fun facts about LEDs 

In 2012, about 49 million LEDs were installed in the United States, saving about $675 million in annual energy costs. 
 
Today’s LED bulbs can be six to seven times more energy efficient than conventional incandescent lights and can reduce energy use by more than 80 percent. 
 
Good-quality LED bulbs can last more than 25 times longer than traditional light bulbs. If the bulb is burned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it would last three years.
 
From vehicle brake lights to TVs, LEDs are used for their compact size, ease of maintenance, resistance to breakage and ability to focus light in a single direction. 
 
LEDs contain no mercury, and a recent U.S. Department of Energy study determined that LEDs have a much smaller environmental impact than incandescent bulbs.
 
By 2030, LEDs are expected to account for 75 percent of all lighting sales globally. 
 
Switching entirely to LED lights over the next 20 years could save $250 billion in U.S. energy costs. 
 
Source: energy.gov
 

Want an LED security light? 

Did you know that Bluebonnet uses LED fixtures in all of its new security lights, as well as old ones that need to be replaced? Now, 1,732 of the co-op’s 28,797 security lights are LEDs. The average savings per LED light on a system-wide basis is 2.12 kWh per month and growing. The total energy savings for Bluebonnet is equivalent to the annual consumption of 50 homes. 
 
Members who request a security light, or whose existing lights can no longer be repaired, will receive one of three LED fixture sizes offered at no charge. Members can also request that a working security light be replaced with an LED for $125. To learn more, call a member service representative at 800-842-7708 during business hours or email memberservices@bluebonnet.coop.
 

Inside the study 

The businesses featured in our study, Leftovers Antiques and Restoration Hardware, were allowed to select the LED bulbs they wanted to replace 120 old incandescents or CFLs. Here’s what they picked: 
 
Tested by: Leftovers Antiques 
Type of bulb: Philips PAR38 Series 1200 dimmable LED 
Use: Track and recessed lighting 
Rated average life: 45,000 hours 
Wattage equivalent: 90 W 
Rated wattage: 18 W 
Cost: $40 


 
Tested by: Restoration Hardware 
Type of bulb: Philips PAR20 dimmable LED 
Use: Safe in damp locations 
Rated average life: 45,000 hours 
Wattage equivalent: 50 W 
Rated wattage: 8 W 
Cost: $22.50

 

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