Energy Efficient Lighting: What Are Your Options?

Energy Efficiency

When it comes to sustainability, one of the easiest ways to save energy – and money – is to make sure that your lighting is efficient.

For most offices, it’s also quite easy to evaluate what you have and what your options are. The two most common types of lighting in a business setting are fluorescent tubes and screw-in light bulbs, and there are excellent energy efficient lighting options available for each of these.

Replacing Incandescents with CFLs and LEDS

Changing your screw-in light bulbs is quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive. There are three different kinds of lights that will fit a standard light fixture:


Incandescents – these are the traditional light bulbs that we’ve used since the time of Thomas Edison. The problem with them is that they’re quite inefficient. Because of their inefficiency, the U.S., the EU, Australia and Canada have phased them out.

Compact fluorescent lights

CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) – these are the light bulbs that have become more popular in recent years. CFLs do contain small amounts of mercury, but their overall efficiency makes the benefits outweigh any potential drawbacks.

Energy efficient LEDs

LEDs (light emitting diodes) – they’re energy efficient and they don’t have mercury – a win-win! Note that LEDs now also come in a variety of different sizes, including the MR16 size commonly used for track lighting, so that they can replace almost any kind of light that you might have.

You’ll save energy and money just by changing your incandescents to CFLs or LEDs. If you use Energy Star certified light bulbs, your savings will be even greater.

Energy efficient lighting comparison

Your best bet is to replace both your incandescents and CFLs with LEDs. They are much more energy efficient, and affordable, than they were a few years ago. They’re definitely the light bulbs of the future: in fact, GE phased out CFLs in the U.S.

Replacing T12s with T8s or LEDs

Once you’ve checked your screw-in light bulbs, you should also check your fluorescent tubes. There are a couple of different types that are most common: T8s and T12s.

The combination of letters and numbers sounds technical, but the letter simply refers to the type of fluorescent light (T for tubular) and the numbers refer to the diameter of the tube (a T8 is 1″ in diameter and a T12 is 1 1/2″). T8s are the more efficient option. Like incandescents, T12s were phased out due to inefficiency.

If you’re not sure about what type of lights you have, you can do a few things to find out:

  1. Check the tubes themselves. On one end, you’ll see a series of letters and numbers that begin with something like “F32T8.” The “F32” tells you that this is a 32 watt fluorescent lamp. The “T8” tells you that this is a T8 lamp. Because the numbers refer to the diameters, the T8 lamps will also be thinner than the T12s.
  2. Check with the building manager or facilities manager. If you’re a tenant in a building or if your company has a facilities manager, track down the person who would be responsible for changing the lights when they burn out; he or she will be able to tell you what kind of lights you have.
  3. Check the replacement lights. In some offices, a stock of replacement lights might be kept on hand in a supply closet. If you have access to that area (again, the building manager or facilities manager can probably help you), you can check the boxes of the replacement lights to see what kind they are.
  4. Use a ballast discriminator. A ballast discriminator is a small device that tells you if the ballasts are magnetic (often used in T12 lamps) or electronic (often used in T8 lamps). Most energy auditors will have one of these – I use one quite often!
  5. Schedule a lighting audit. Most utilities will offer free energy audits to customers to help them identify the types of lights that they have and what their options are for increasing energy efficiency.

Although energy efficient lighting has been growing in popularity in recent years, many older buildings still have T12 fluorescent lights. If you find that the lights in your office are T12s, you should upgrade to T8s or even tubular LEDs. There will be an initial cost upfront, but the upgrade will pay for itself over time as you save money through reduced energy bills. Plus, there are often good rebates available; some businesses that I’ve worked with recently have found that the payback was great, often within 2-3 years or less.

Next Steps

Do an audit of your lighting! Depending upon the size of your office, you might be able to do it yourself using the information about. Otherwise, contact your energy company for local resources.