Some folks are stockpiling light bulbs in anticipation of the future phase-out of standard incandescents, according to USA Today.  It seems hoarders are doing it for one or two reasons: cost and/or lighting concerns.  But these shouldn’t be concerns.  With a little bit of math (initial cost + operating cost) and an understanding of basic lighting terms (lumen, watt, color accuracy, color temperature), I think the switch is a no-brainer.  So here’s a five-step program for the hoarder:

Step 1: Recognize the Potential

Standard incandescent bulbs provide great light at the flip of a switch, but they don’t last long and use a lot of energy.  They run hot, too.  By hoarding these lights, you’re ignoring technological advancement in favor of a few factors — initial cost and light quality — to the exclusion of other factors — operating life and energy efficiency.  You might as well tattoo your forehead with the term “laggard,” tell everyone you’re proud of it, and then explain why the world is still flat.  Why not go for a light that maximizes your needs for low initial cost, low operating cost, high light quality, and high efficiency?

Step 2: Understand the Options

Incandescents are usually cheaper to buy, but they’re also more expensive to operate, according to the Department of Energy.  So, what are your other options?  CFLs, LEDs, halogens, ESLs, etc.

A false dilemma is being presented by conflicted businesses and legislators posturing to reverse new efficiency standards.  CFLs are *not* the only option — frankly, and generally speaking, their light quality is weak, performance is poor, and mercury vapors can be a problem.  New LEDs, while expensive, last something like 25,000-50,000 hours (cf. incandescent bulbs, 750-2500 hours), and the light quality is fantastic.  Also, keep an eye on a new breed of lighting, ESLs.

Step 3: Sample the Options

If, like me, you’ve had a bad experience with CFLs, take some time to brush up on this lighting facts label.  This will help you find a satisfactory replacement light.  For example, perhaps you prefer a warm, incandescent-like 2700 Kelvin temperature.  If that’s the case, you’ll want to find an energy-efficient replacement with the same temperature.  As opposed to watts, get a feel for brightness, or lumens, and get the right amount of light for the right application.

I replaced some irritating CFLs in my entry with Philips Ambient LEDs from Home Depot.  They cost $40 each, and I love them: instant light, great color, no maintenance.  If these lights work as tested, I’ll change them out when my baby goes to college.

Step 4: Assess the Results

Everyone has different sensitivities to lighting, so it pays to test a few brands and models.  Take some time to make sure you’re getting the best-looking, most energy-efficient lighting for your situation.  It’s better to do that than to blow your income on a box of lights that won’t work.  After some experimentation, you’ll know what lights work and what lights don’t.  You’ll also get to test out new lighting technology as it becomes available.

Step 5: Recycle, Replace, Repeat

As old lights go out, recycle them, and install the new energy-efficient ones you now know will work well.  And that’s pretty much all it takes.  In the end, keep in mind the idea that about 11% of your home energy use comes from lighting.  Sticking with standard bulbs may feel affordable, but it’s not.  As energy-efficient lighting gets better and cheaper, the case for letting go of incandescents becomes more undeniable.