Cut your energy bill with smart new lighting choices

One of the chief culprits in driving up our energy bills turns out to be the most innocent-looking: an incandescent lightbulb. In parts of the West, lighting accounts for as much as 28 percent of a typical household’s annual electric bill. In an effort to reduce the cost of electricity while lowering the overall demand, California’s new Title 24 energy code – which took effect October 1 – has changed the rules about what kinds of lightbulbs, fixtures, and sensors the state’s homeowners can use in new construction and remodeling.

But it’s not just a California thing: New lighting products are making it easier for anyone to conserve energy, and understanding these options will help reduce your electric bill.

A new energy code

One of the goals of California’s new Title 24 energy code is to increase the use of energy-efficient bulbs, which largely means using fluorescent lightbulbs in permanently installed (hardwired) light fixtures. New, more efficient sensors and dimmer switches are also coming onto the market.

One area under the magnifying glass is the kitchen, where at least 50 percent of the total wattage from permanent lighting must be high-efficiency. This includes ceiling cans, sconces, hanging fixtures, and under- and over-cabinet fixtures.

Visit for an overview of the Title 24 energy code from the University of California at Davis’s California Lighting Technology Center.

Flourescent bulbs

The basics. A fluorescent bulb uses about one-quarter to one-third the amount of energy to produce the same amount of light as its incandescent counterpart. This means a 26-watt compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) can replace a 100-watt incandescent one, and a 13-watt CFL can replace a 40-watt incandescent. Although more costly, fluorescent bulbs last 10 times longer and cut operating costs by three-quarters.

New bases. To ensure compliance with the new code, the high-efficiency CFL must have a pin base, such as the one pictured at near left (Sylvania Dulux, $12-$15;, which fits into a corresponding fixture. Homeowners with traditional fixtures – and California homeowners who aren’t remodeling – can switch from incandescent to fluorescent by using screw-in bulbs like the one at far left (MaxLite MiniCandle, from $6;

Bulb color and shapes. There are more options than ever in the color of light emitted from fluorescent bulbs: You can select ones that match the warmth of incandescent bulbs, the cooler blues of halogens, or the full spectrum of sunlight. Bulbs are also available in an increasing variety of shapes. 

Sensors and dimmers

The basics. Vacancy sensors are manual-on, automatic-off switches that turn lights off when the room is vacant. Some, such as the one at far left (Vacancy Sensor switch, $44;, include an LED night-light. Dimmers may be the least expensive code-compliant product. Choices range from a simple on/off slide to the one at near left (Maestro IR remote-control dimmer, $53;, which lets you change preset light levels from up to 30 feet away.

Where to install. In California, new or remodeled bathrooms, garages, laundry rooms, and utility rooms must have either permanently installed high-efficiency lighting or manual-on, automatic-off vacancy sensors. The sensors can be used with either fluorescent or incandescent bulbs. Dimmers are another option for all other interior rooms, such as hallways, living rooms, and bedrooms.

Add a fan. It makes sense to couple vacancy sensors with exhaust fans, allowing them to run for up to 30 minutes after the room is empty – great for moisture removal in a bathroom or laundry room. In the garage, couple the sensor switch with a fan that runs for 10 minutes after a car enters or exits the space to remove carbon monoxide fumes.


The basics. Forget the boxy, utilitarian styles of the past – now that CFLs are the same size as incandescents, new fluorescent fixtures are appearing all the time. These mostly pin-based products include everything from chandeliers and recessed lighting to wall sconces and pendants.

Decorative choices. Traditional and modern options are available, including the Salem Chandelier (top of page) and the interior and exterior sconces at left. All three are from American Fluorescent; to order, contact Lamps Plus (800/782-1967) or Alexander Lighting (206/624-7357). Specify chandelier (model SAP513EC; $249), traditional interior sconce (model MNS118RBEC; $108), or modern exterior sconce (model BRS226RBEC; $212). Visit for other compliant fixtures.

Outdoor lighting. Exterior light fixtures attached to a building must be high-efficiency or use a motion-activated sensor with a photocontrol that senses sunlight (so lights stay off in daytime). Building-mounted outdoor sensors must comply with the 30-minute shutoff requirement, but the rules do not apply to detached landscape lighting.