Preventing Confusion in the Lighting Aisle Starts with Planning

A simple tally of the number and types of lightbulbs in your house can prepare you for a trip to the lighting aisle. | Photo courtesy of Allison Casey

A simple tally of the number and types of lightbulbs in your house can prepare you for a trip to the lighting aisle. | Photo courtesy of Allison Casey

We often talk about the small improvements you can make in your home to save energy. These are things that may not cost you much time or money, but that can make a difference in the overall energy used by your home. 

Lighting is one of these changes—it's so easy to change a lightbulb, right? Not unless you do a little planning first. 

My family moved to a new house last year, and it wasn't long before we realized just how many lights are in this house. Hallways! Closets! Nooks! Lamps! Some were burning out, some were obviously old traditional incandescents, and some were types I couldn't determine at first glance. We needed to review them all. 

Because of the variety of lights and fixtures in the house, I kept ending up in the lighting aisle of the store without a clue about what I actually needed. I had to create a full inventory before I could even think of buying new lightbulbs.

So, I grabbed a clipboard and a blank sheet of paper and started at one corner of my house. As I worked my way through, I wrote down the name of each room on the left side of the paper. Across the top, I started listing the types of bulbs: standard size, globes, recessed, small base, halogen, etc. (At some point, we may replace fixtures with ENERGY STAR-certified ones, but for now we're just doing bulbs.)

As I walked through the house, I made tally marks in each row and column, adding new rooms or lighting types as I went.  I also made notes where efficient working bulbs were already present. The whole walk-through took about 10 minutes, which included removing and examining several fixtures to determine the bulb type. We had a couple of surprise halogens. Be sure to check if you're not sure! By the end of my walkthrough, I had tallied more than 80 lightbulbs!

My next step was prioritizing which bulbs to replace immediately. I wasn't going to buy or replace 80 bulbs all at once, but I thought I could start with about 20. I looked over my list and decided which rooms to prioritize, based on how often the lights were on. Our kitchen and living room needed attention first. But looking more closely at my list, I also realized that some of the lights we tended to leave on weren't actually in a "room." They were hallway lights, especially those leading down dark stairs to the basement.

Obviously, we have habits we need to work on as well. (Note to kids: stop leaving a trail of lights on everywhere you go!) But changing out those bulbs for efficient LEDs was a good start. Once I knew the sizes and types of bulbs I needed, a quick read of the Lighting Facts label ensured I got the brightness and color I wanted.

Changing out the bulbs took a little longer than my walkthrough did, but I am now more conscientious about turning off lights. I also have a ready-made list of bulbs to buy when we're ready for our next round of bulb updates—no more clueless visits to the lighting aisle for me!

This article by Allison Casey, Senior Communicator, NREL, was originally published on

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