The advent of global warming has brought many aspects of the way in which we live to the fore. And not least of these is our demand for electricity. We can blame Eskom for bad planning to a certain extent, but we can’t defer our responsibility for continuing to drive the demand for energy that directly contributes to green house emissions and global warming. For a country that receives as much sunlight as we do in South Africa, we’re rather careless in our approach to the design of our homes – it would pay us to pay more attention to the planet’s vulnerability. And the easiest and cheapest place to start, is with our lighting.
The best source of light, obviously, is natural light – the sun. And the better use one makes of it, the less lighting you need. Use passive design by making sure, that your windows are north facing, which allows as much natural light into the house as possible; keep the blinds up, open the curtains, and put in the odd skylight.
The merits of the CFL
Before 2006, and Eskom’s infamous energy-saving campaign, very few of us even knew what a CFL was... let alone used them in our homes. Florescent bulbs (CFLs or low-energy light bulbs) may cost a bit more than incandescent light bulbs, but they use a quarter of the energy and last a lot longer (some 10 000 hours or 12 times longer than an ordinary light bulb). Most stores in South Africa stock CFLs. Warning: On the downside, CFLs contain mercury and if you don't have a recycling box at your local Woolworths or Pick n Pay store, then wrap them carefully in a plastic bag. Disposing of them in this way does mean mercury is leaching into landfill sites on a daily basis! Find out more about the question of mercury in CFLs [Treehugger]
Up until recently you couldn’t recycle CFLs at all in South Africa. However Philips have teamed up with Pick n Pay to facilitate the collection of CFLs in their stores countrywide. Philips have a recycling plant going up in Lesotho. Find out where to recycle CFLs. Woolworths supply a similar programme in their stores. See EWASA for a list of recyclers of ewaste, including CFLs - click on your area.
Halogen bulbs use less electricity than conventional light bulbs however; they still use more than CFLs. The halogen is commonly found in recessed lights in bathroom, kitchens, bedrooms etc and it will pay to replace these with slightly larger recessed CFLs. If halogens are not wired correctly, they can still draw current whilst ‘off’. They need a transformer to do the trick. If they don’t have, then even if your light switch is ‘off’, the switch isn’t turning the transformer off. And here’s the thing: halogen based standing lamps – they’ll have long thin bulbs – are the worst electricity guzzlers imaginable.
Enter the LED (light emitting diode)
Still not bright enough to light the home (it’s a new technology, and only good for ambient or direct lighting), we’re counting on technology, and the burning need for ‘green’ lighting alternatives to bring LEDs into the limelight soon – something called ‘Moore’s Law’ accounts for the fact that LEDs are becoming roughly twice as bright every 18 months. Early LEDs were only bright enough for displays in calculators and digital watches, but they’ve started appearing in the car industry - that has sworn to replace all incandescent bulbs in cars by the end of the decade. In USA they’ve just begun to enter the consumer market, but still cost quite a bit more than CFLs. However, they use less energy, last far longer (have a lifespan of between 60 000 and 100 000 hours) and are far safer and ‘green’. They also fit both halogen and normal bulb sockets. You can buy them on bid or buy or from Osram.
Dimming the CFL
Until recently, the CFL has earned itself the reputation as the ‘cinderella’ of the lighting world – scorned by decorators for its cold, blue-white light, better for uplighting where you can’t see the bulb and the light is diffused. Dimming, which saves further on energy, wasn’t possible with CFLs but Osram has introduced a small range that is due on the market, at a price, which allows you to dim the fluorescent.
Used mainly for lighting your garden, nonetheless, these little solar lights are cute and do well at night for lighting up enough so that you don’t trip over your feet on the way to the shed. You can get them from Builder’s Warehouse, Dions, Makro and Hyperama.
For solar energy suppliers see our ubergreen directory
Green light fittings
Sculpture meets art in a hybrid of recycled materials used in exotic light fittings allowing one to completely re-assess the role of lighting in your house – Heath Nash has managed to use recycled materials in a whole new take on light fittings. The local artist now produces these from his Woodstock factory in Cape Town. They’re not an imperative if you’re going green, but they do look very pretty, and it does sound good to say ‘I’ve got a Heath Nash, darling’, when people ask. Keep your eyes peeled for light fittings and lamps made from natural or recycled materials such as metal, glass, plastic and natural materials like wood, cloth, or even reclaimed materials like bottle tops.
Turning it off
This is a no-brainer: leaving electrical appliances on ‘standby’ mode or double adapters and chargers hooked into the wall, all still continue to draw electricity. Switch them off at the wall and unplug any adapters, even when devices aren’t switched on. And get into the habit of switching off lights in any room in which you’re not, even if you’re stepping out for only a few minutes.
According to sustainable home design, light from outside lamps should shine from the fitting at a 30 degree angle, so that no direct light shines up into the sky or onto neighbours. Apparently a flight over a city like Frankfurt reveals very little light pollution by comparison with South African cities.
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