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Get the Green Light

Jul 11, 2006 | by Wendy Weinert

Imagine two lamps sitting on a table. One is fitted with a traditional incandescent bulb, the other with a high-efficiency compact fluorescent bulb. Both bulbs are readily available in stores. Both bulbs fit into standard sockets and fixtures. Both bulbs give off a warm, pleasing light. The difference? The compact fluorescent bulb will use about one-fourth the energy and last more than 10 times longer than the incandescent bulb.

This year's NeoCon World Trade Fair in Chicago was all about "green" products - environmentally friendly items from fabrics and floor coverings to lighting and fixtures. Green products feature positive environmental attributes such as significant recycled content, low emissions, energy efficiency and savings, as well as completing the renewable loop by also being able to be easily recycled.

Light fixtures and bulbs should be among the first products that come to mind when "designing green." Using environmentally friendly lighting and high-efficiency bulbs are simple ways to improve energy efficiency in homes, offices and businesses.

To incorporate eco-friendly products, designers must choose from a number of factors including the initial cost, the amount of savings over the product's life cycle, the styles offered and lead times in getting a product. In the past, many green products were unsuccessful because their only asset was being efficient - they were unattractive, offered few options and were sometimes difficult to find. In order to succeed, green products must fit seamlessly into project schemes, enhancing their functionality, their aesthetics - as well as their sustainability.

Today's energy efficient products offer a wide variety of styles and options and are also readily available. The ENERGY STAR program has promoted the development of efficient products since 1992, so choosing to use light bulbs or entire light fixtures that are ENERGY STAR approved is an easy way to preserve energy, save money and contribute to a cleaner environment.

Tips for Designing Green

Where do you start when creating environmentally friendly designs? Here are just a few tips on how to design green for your projects.

Create targeted, layered lighting. The idea that kitchens and work areas need to be super-bright has gotten out of hand. Instead of creating high light levels for an entire room, selectively brighten high-use areas with targeted task lights that focus in on the activity.

Using layered lighting is also an effective technique. By combining different types of lights - such as recessed lights for overall room lighting, pendant lights for task lighting and under cabinet fixtures for ambient lighting - you allow easy adjustment of a room's light level for a variety of tasks, simply by choosing which fixtures to turn on.

Turn it off; turn it down - save energy. "Turn off that light - you're wasting energy." Isn't this what parents tell their kids? Flipping the "off" switch seems an obvious way to save energy, but sometimes it's not that simple, especially for offices or outdoor lighting.

A practical solution is to make it automatic - add dimmers, timers or sensors to help lower energy usage and costs. Occupant sensors can automatically turn off the office lights when no one is in a room. Motion sensors can switch on the outdoor lights when you drive near the garage. A timer switch can turn the sidewalk lights on at dusk, off at dawn.

Balance energy efficiency and economics. There's no doubt; green fixtures and bulbs will have a higher up-front cost. But compare it to the overall savings, and green products will ultimately give you a better return on the investment by reducing energy bills, lasting significantly longer and saving time by not needing to be replaced as often.

If you are working with a tight budget, you can still add energy efficiency to your project by giving priority to the fixtures that are most frequently used. Areas where the lights are used daily or are left on for long periods of time (such as the kitchen or outdoor security lights) will certainly result in significant energy and cost savings.

For more information or to learn more about energy-efficient products, check out the Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network website at, or the ENERGY STAR website at