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Residential Lighting

Lighting accounts for about 12 percent of the electric bill of an average US home. 

The easiest way to start saving energy is to change out light bulbs for more energy efficient models. A high-quality Light-emitting Diode (LED) will use 75%-80% less energy and will last 10 to 20 times longer than an incandescent or halogen lamp.

Nationwide, the energy savings potential is significant. According to the U.S. government’s ENERGY STAR program, if every U.S. home replaced just one incandescent bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb, it would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year and reduce energy costs by $600 million.

Some energy efficient lamps, however – like CFLs, and other fluorescent bulbs – require mercury to function. The content is small:  The average mercury content of a CFL is less than 4 milligrams, about enough to cover the tip of a ballpoint pen.  But because they contain mercury they should be recycled when taken out of service. 

All states – as well as the Federal Government – encourage residential consumers to recycle lamps.

Seven states have enacted laws that make residential lamp recycling mandatory: 

Local waste disposal and public works authorities should be consulted for lamp recycling requirements and opportunities. Some retail stores now provide opportunities for consumers to return a spent mercury-added lamp for recycling.

You can find recycling locations in your area by visiting the following web sites.

  • – This is a useful resource for information on all aspects of recycling.  Click on “RECYCLE SEARCH” at the top menu bar to migrate to the search engine, which allows users to choose a product category and plug in their zip code to find nearby recycling locations.
  • – Operated by Veolia North America Corp., this site also provides a search engine for finding nearby “return centers” for mercury-added lamps, located at the bottom left of the main page.
  • Where to Recycle CFLs– This is an information resource on recycling compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Broken bulbs

Mercury-containing lamps such as CFLs and linear fluorescents should be handled with care. Precautions should be taken to avoid breakage and ensure than broken fluorescent lamps are handled properly.

Guidance on proper methods of handling broken fluorescent lamps is available from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and from many state agencies and local health and environmental authorities.

Energy Efficient Lighting

Energy-efficient residential lighting products currently on the market present a variety of opportunities for reducing electricity consumption and consumer electricity bills. Fluorescent lamps convert electric power from the electric utility to useful light more efficiently than incandescent lamps. While linear fluorescent lamps are more common in commercial and industrial settings, various types of fluorescent lamps are used in homes in areas such as garages, basements, bathrooms and kitchens. Screw-base compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are used for general room lighting and reading light lamps. A small number of highly efficient high intensity discharge (HID) lamps are used in households as well.

Fluorescent lamps use 25%-35% of the energy used by incandescent lamps to provide the same amount of illumination. They also last about 10 times longer (7,000-32,000 hours) than incandescent lamps. According to the US Department of Energy, after accounting for the total cost of buying a CFL and operating it, a 27-watt CFL will save a consumer $62.95 over the life of the CFL compared to the ten incandescent lamps that would be used during the same lifespan. Replace several incandescent lamps with CFLs, and there can be hundreds of dollars in savings in lower utility bills for a single residence. These utility savings also translate into less electricity consumption and a reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases from coal-fired power plants.

The comparative energy-efficiency of household fluorescent lamps and HID lamps is made possible because an electric arc converts a tiny amount of mercury in the lamp tube to a gas and the mercury atoms give off ultraviolet photons which becomes visible light when the photons hit a phosphor coating on the inside of the tube. Mercury is the only known element that will provide the energy-efficiency experienced by fluorescent lamps.

To keep the small amount of remaining mercury out of landfills, consumers should dispose of fluorescent lamps separately from regular household waste. Some states mandate that households recycle mercury-added lamps. The homepage on this website provides consumers with an opportunity to find locations for lamp recycling in their area.

Consumers can identify mercury-added fluorescent and HID lamps by the Hg symbol – the chemical symbol for mercury – on the lamp and/or its packaging.