Energy tip #1: don’t be a dim bulb

Compact fluorescentIntroducing a new series of conservation tips: How To Finance Your Monthly Coffee Or Yearly TerraPass (HTFYMCOYT).

I’ve been spending a good portion of the budget lately on coffee. Every morning at 8:30, $1.65 goes into the barista’s outstretched palm. Now, I happen to think the coffee is worth it, but I thought I’d do some quick math on what I spend each month. Dang. Twenty days of a small house blend — plus the occasional maple scone when my stomach is growling — means my monthly outlay comes to a cool $50. Amazingly, and only slightly coincidentally, this happens to be price of a Standard TerraPass. How does one finance these purchases?

Tip #1: Use compact flourescent light bulbs (CFLs).

Lighting accounts for 11% of of the average household’s energy bill. Installing CFLs or other new lighting technologies can save between 50-75% on lighting costs. So, breaking down the math….

Average monthly home energy bill: $100
Typical lighting costs per month: $11
Savings/month with new CFLs: $5.50-8.25
Savings/year: $66-99

Of course, it costs money to replace bulbs. However, according to the EnergyStar web site, the difference can be as little as $3 more per bulb. Moreover, their spreadsheet claims that one compact flourescent bulb, including cost, will save you $14 per year and $50 over the lifetime of the bulb.

So there you have it. Commit to replacing one conventional lightbulb with a CFL and you will have put in place the mechanism for financing a TerraPass, or a month’s worth of your morning brew.

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  1. AW - July 4, 2006

    $3/bulb more sounds like a lot. Places like sell CFLs for closer to $2.25/bulb, so maybe $2/bulb difference. Just makes the TerraPass that much more affordable.

  2. Gary - July 5, 2006

    Some of the “big box” stores offer the light bulbs in 3 packs or more, so I have replaced 11 bulbs total in my house (I also replaced the flood lights for recessed lighting). It may cost a little more than the average bulb but I figure it is the least I can do for my part to help the environment.

  3. patty - July 5, 2006

    remember, these bulbs may cost more initially, but, they last forever! i was always replacing the old bulbs. figuring hours per bulb, they do not cost more.

  4. Clara - July 5, 2006

    How do you replace flourescent bulbs, such as the ones that are very long and often used in classrooms? We have a few of those in our house and I don’t know if they are “low energy” bulbs.
    By the way, not spending money on fireworks could potentially be a way to save money. I was thinking to myself yesterday, would we give up fireworks to save the planet?

  5. Susan L Smith - July 5, 2006

    And put one more bulb in to finance your monthly brew…or better drink water…and use the $ 50 to provide safe clean drinking water for two people for life!!! The skeptics frequently point to human needs as an excuse for unsustainable energy and other development. It is nonsense because trickle down does not solve extreme poverty. But…. we do need to find a way to finance achievement of the Millenium Development Goals. Donating that brew money…or the savings from a bulb is a good start.

  6. disdaniel - July 5, 2006

    FYI Home Depot has been selling CFL multi-packs for $1.67/bulb (pack of 6 60Watt eqiv.) and $2.50/bulb (pack of 4 75W and 100W equivs) for months now.

  7. Ken R. - July 5, 2006

    Would definitely consider using CFL around the house. Does anyone know if there are CFLs that emit more of a yellow tint rather than the typical CFL bluish white tint?

  8. Dustin B. - July 6, 2006

    I would like to use CFL. I am also a fanatic of the…”natural light?”… bulbs like GE’s Reveal lightbulb. Do CFL bulbs come in these styles, or do they perhaps emit a similar light wavelength?

  9. pradwastes - July 6, 2006

    My wife uses coupons and shops sales to get the coffee at amost no cost. CFL do not give the same lite as incandecent lamps. As a long-time photogapher I am very familiar with how the human eye can be fooled into thinking the light from CFL bulbs is white (ii is accually quite green compared to sunlight. The overall cost of an incandecent lamp includes much more cost for the electricity it uses. CFLs will have about the same lifetime cost for power but last a lot longer. This makes them less costly than incandecent.
    Some CFL use difffernt gasses inside to give them the appearance of warm colors.

  10. JD Howell - July 7, 2006

    We’ve had lackluster longevity with CFL’s from the big box stores, including Philips brand. I recently learned that Panasonic makes one for enclosed fixtures. My guess is they are designed to withstand heat better than standard/cheaper CFL’s. My only wish is that there were local recycling for CFL’s where you buy them. For the real stewards out there, places like offer a means to keep the mercury and other content out of our biosphere. I cannot find the Panasonic bulbs available locally. Had to order them online.

    I almost forgot, lower your coffee costs further and make it at home, fresh roasted whole bean, fair trade certified & organic. You’ll never regret the extra work, you’ll save lots of money and post consumer waste (i.e. stainless travel mug), you’ll lower your carbon footprint, help provide a fair wage for overseas workers, and you’ll enjoy the best brew you’ve ever had short of being at a coffee roaster that serves. Try Cafe’ Campesino or even Newman’s or Green Mountain varieties.

  11. Orrin - July 9, 2006

    JD, I have in fact switched over to using a mug (made out of 100% corn plastic) for my morning coffee and am trying to avoid the excess disposable cups (though not always successful). But make my own? That means I have to to buy a coffee maker and deal with grounds.

    I will definitley take your recommendations, however, and look to try the brands you suggest at some point.

    Clara, your question got me curious about the options schools/offices have for these strip lights as well. From what I could gather from the U.S. DOE website, you want to look for LERs (Luminair Efficacy Rating) in the range of 70-92. There’s a few companies out there advertising energy efficient strip lights, so I’d recommend having a look around.

    By the way, no fireworks on the 4th? C’mon now. =)

  12. susan - July 12, 2006

    ” That means I have to to buy a coffee maker and deal with grounds.”
    We use drip cones and a thermos coffee pot. And the grinds go into our compost pile. Consider how much electricity goes into the electric coffee makers to keep the coffee warm..a thermos pot does the same thing without the electricity. ‘course need electricity to heat up the water in the tea kettle.Maybe there is a way to make sun coffee like there is sun tea?

  13. Rachel - July 12, 2006

    ” That means I have to to buy a coffee maker and deal with grounds.”
    The best way to brew coffee and also save energy is by using a French Press. You can buy them at Starbucks for $30. You just boil your water, put your grounds in the French Press, add boiling water, let it steep for 4 minutes, and you’re good to go! This way also gives you the best tasting coffee, because the coffee oils do not get trapped in the paper filter (and that’s another thing you are saving on – paper filters.) You can then add your grounds to your garden, or just throw them out on the lawn. They add a lot of nutrients.

  14. Randy - September 29, 2006

    I have recently replaced all of my recessed kitchen and entry ceiling bulbs with CFLs (BR30). Are there any warming filters available to make the light closer to light from the incandescent bulbs that I removed? Alternatively, are there certain types of CFLs that have better color than others for this purpose?

  15. chuck - December 4, 2006

    I purchased my CFLs at Their compact fluorescents are priced starting at under $2.00 a pop!

    I save when I buy them and when that dreaded electric bill hits the mail box!


  16. cfl pro - October 8, 2008

    avoid the phillips bulbs. They burn out way too early. They seem to be higher priced here but are not worth it.

  17. Rich - March 10, 2009

    I took the advice of chuck and bought the CFL’s at and now half of them are already burnt out and they are only 3 months old!! I paid a little more at Express Light Bulbs but they gave me a full year no question asked policy. I have seen a drop in my bills but maybe that is because half of them did not work :)
    Has anybody used Cold Cathodes before? I have heard mix messages about quality.

  18. Carleen - May 20, 2009

    Would someone let me know if the disposal of the CFL’s is more dangerous to the environment than regular bulbs?
    I have CFL’s through out my new home, they seem dull in the amount of light they produce.

  19. Adam Stein - May 20, 2009

    Hi Carleen,
    You should dispose of them properly because of the mercury contained inside, but even if you just throw them in the trash, CFLs are on balance better for the environment than incandescents. The lower energy use results in lower mercury emissions at the power plant.