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Written by Omie Ismail   
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The current rage among the environmentally conscious is installing solar panels on rooftops to cut their electricity bills. While solar is a great way to save money over the long haul, in the short run it sucks up a wad of cash ($20,000 to $30,000) and the payback period, even with incentives, can be 10 plus years. For the average cheapster, that doesn't add up to a great investment. There is no arguing that solar energy is environmentally correct and that alone can make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. But there are cheaper alternatives that don't require you to spend a small fortune cutting your electric bill. Why spend twenty thousand dollars when there you could make a serious dent in your next utility bill by investing $100?


Compact Fluorescents (CFL)

By now, you would think everybody with a grain of environmental conscience would have made the switch to CFLs. But in a casual survey of immediate circle of family and friends,  I found less than half of them had bothered to change the bulbs. And even the minority that had taken the initiative, quite a few still had plenty of incandescent bulbs. Somebody ought to write "Compact Flourescent bulbs for Dummies." It would be the shortest book in history. Because all you have to know is that CFLs produce the same amount of light with 20% of  energy that you consume with a regular bulb. And if that isn't enough of an incentive, you might be able to get your CFLs free from your local  utility. Many utilities run programs to encourage the switch to CFLs by giving out 4 or 8 free bulbs. Our utility gave us $100 worth for free! By all means, take them up on the offer. But even if you have to pay for them, CFLs will pay for themselves in under a year.


Tip #1: If you don't want to change the bulbs at one time, figure out which lights you use the most and start by replacing those because that will have the greatest impact on your electric bill. Save the lights that you use only a few hours a week for later.



Buying CFLs has gotten easier as home improvement stores and they are overstocked with CFLs because consumers have been slow to make the transition. For under three dollars, you should be able to purchase a CFL that consumes 13 watts and delivers the same amount of light as a 60 watt bulb. If you shop around you might be able to buy them for around two dollars. A few years ago the same CFL would have required you to shell out six dollars. If you have a Walmart or a Target near your home, grab a dozen on your next trip.


We replaced about 60% of the lighting in our home and saw our electric bill drop by about 14%. For us, that’s enough to take the family out to dinner.

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lindaspreeman  - water |2011-08-22 16:50:56
This might sound really cheap, but I have a humidifier and use the water when it get full to wash the car and water plants. It saves on the expense per gallon of clean, drinkable water. Why waste "water" by pouring it down the drain when you can recycle it! ~Linda Spreeman~
lindaspreeman  - Linda Spreeman Comment |2010-12-12 08:35:07
I live in Pennsylvania and the utility rates here are scheduled to increase dramatically on 1/1/11. The industry here is also deregulated, so that a consumer can look for, and switch to, another provider whose rates may be a lot less than the two "bigs" (PP&L and PECO). The consumer still gets their monthly billing from the two "bigs" their service is just provided from a lower cost carrier. It's worth looking into because the savings can be significant. Bottom line, PECO and PP&L are not able to have a monopoly. ~Linda Spreeman~
Greg  - Consider Cold Climates |2010-11-20 12:00:51
I live in Wisconsin, and my appartment has electic heat. During the heating season, there are really no savings. The incandescent bulbs help to heat my appartment. If I switch to CFLs, my heaters will run more to make up for the heat the incandescnet bulbs aren't generating. It's a different story if you heat with gas or oil, and during the cooling season.
Valerie aka Dolly Domestic  - CFLs are not the right choice for all fixtures |2010-11-16 15:30:30
CFLs should not be used in fixtures that are only going to be turned on for a few minutes. You complete lose the benefit of the power saving since most of the power in CFLs is used when being turned on. One should also be careful about putting CFLs in enclosed fixtures, some aren't meant to be enclosed.

That said, I replaced most of the incandescent bulbs in my house last year. Not all of the, but most.
Kelley |2010-07-24 19:48:34
I can't use CFL bulbs in several of my rooms as I have an autistic daughter who cannot tolerate those types of lights for long. She gets agitated and fussy. In her high school classroom, they were nice enough to make sure she sat by a large window, and they were able to switch off the nearest flourescent to her. Some people just can't tolerate the minute flickering these bulbs produce.
D |2010-06-15 13:54:21
I'm not a fan of CFLs, because I'm not a fan of fluorescent lights. The spectrum of light emitted by them is in the blue-green range, and has been shown to cause headaches and depressive symptoms in people. Incandescent lights are closer to natural sunlight (in the yellow-orange part of the spectrum) and cause less problems for people.

If CFLs put out light that was warm, (and did not require a HAZMAT crew to come and clean if God forbid you drop one and break it) I'd consider using them. So for now, I'm sticking with incandescent bulbs.
haverwench  - New bulbs are warmer |2010-08-21 17:30:06
Newer CFLs put out a much warmer light than the old-school bulbs. I find it comparable to an incandescent. As for the "hazmat" problem, see my comment below: the dangers are actually greatly exaggerated.
J  - You missed something on water heaters |2010-06-09 12:18:48
If you have an electric water heater, you can put it on a timer. I did this, and my water heater (in its blanket) is only ON 3 hours a day, in the morning, when we take showers. The water stays hot all day, and if you need a bunch of hot water (throwing a party, or massive laundry when the kids come home) there is an override switch. This was recommended to me by my electric company when I had my house audited, and it saves me $30/month.
frugal nomad  - Now there's a tip worth adding to the list |2010-06-09 14:12:06
You get my vote for best tip.
esther  - 10 best cheap articles |2010-05-26 06:29:48
One thing that no one is bringing up is that CFL's contain mercury, diposal of them is hazardous to the environment and needs to be performed with special precautions. If they break in your home, they place mercury well above any approved safety levels. Clean up should only be performed by a professional who understands the clean up of hazardous waste
haverwench  - CFL dangers greatly exaggerated |2010-08-21 17:19:46
Safely disposing of CFLs is much easier than it used to be. Any Home Depot or IKEA store will take them for recycling.

As for cleaning up broken bulbs, people are making this sound much more complicated than it is. The whole procedure is outlined on the EPA website (, but in a nutshell, you first open a window to air out the room, then scoop up the big pieces with a piece of cardboard into a zip-top bag, clear up tiny fragments with a piece of sticky tape, and then wipe the floor down with a damp paper towel. The sealed bag can be put out with the regular trash. Yes, this is all a much bigger nuisance than cleaning up an incandescent bulb, but considering the financial and environmental benefits, I'd say it's well worth the risk.
Vince  - LED |2009-10-23 04:59:16
It seems to me that is not up with the times. Very soon those CFL will be thrown away and replaced by LED which are far superior. LED flood lamps are available at Costco for about $10 a piece. I have replaced all my kitchen recessed lights with LED.
Omiewon  - LED is a great choice, but there is the cost facto |2009-10-23 08:48:12
LED is a great choice. I know a guy that runs a big LED lighting company and the commercial establishments are really able to save a ton with LED. LED is the wave of the future in many ways, but the cost has to come down.
CFL prices have plummeted and in many cases are free or so low cost that it just doesn't make sense to pass it up. LED will go through its cycle and it will drop like CFL, but right now its fairly $$$$ and the ROI isn't as good as CFL at nearly zero cost.

The crazy thing is that when LiveCheap did an informal survey on CFL, more than 50% of people still had 100% incandescent. Cmon people!

We'll take a look at the math on the two. For the environment I think that LED probably is the better choice, but we should evaluate that. Thanks for the good comments. Anyone else out there install LED? Would be good to get some thoughts on the LED/CFL debate.
haverwench  - An analysis |2010-08-21 17:27:04
I did the math on this a couple of years back and found that compared to a CFL, an LED bulb would be unlikely to pay for itself over the course of its useful life. My analysis is here: However, the prices on LEDs have come down a bit since then, and I just now found a 60-watt equivalent on for only $43. So this bulb will pay for itself, but it will take several years to do so. If you've got CFLs in place now, it's not worth replacing them all with LEDs. Wait until they burn out, and then start replacing them with LEDs in highest-use fixtures first.
Nee |2009-10-22 14:36:20
I love saving on my electric bill but CFL don't work with dimmer outlets. Is there a solution? Seems that the only alternative is to use regular bulbs in these fixtures.
Omiewon  - There are dimmable CFLs |2009-10-22 15:04:16
You have to be careful to read their labels but they do exist. We ran into this same problem. Link below will give you more information. adp.php?p_faqid=2565

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