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The lighting, as well as the architecture, of our houses of worship can make a significant contribution to our sense of reverence and focus, not to mention the ability to comfortably read the weekly bulletin and hymnal. Too much light can be as discomforting as too little light, and may lead to eye strain, as well as financial and environmental costs.

Competition and innovation are bringing many new choices for attractive, abundant and efficient lighting for houses of worship. What are the alternatives to incandescent bulbs?

New fluorescent and light-emitting diode (LED) products are more expensive to purchase than incandescents, but cost far less to operate and last much longer. Incandescents are inefficient and generate far more pollution from energy waste. Assuming three hours use daily, fluorescents last about nine years, and LEDs will last 22 years or more according to independent testing. Incandescents are rated for hours of use, and last a few months. Waste heat (energy that does not become light) which adds to cooling bills is far less from fluorescents and even less still for LEDs.

What are LEDs? You may have had them on your Christmas tree. LEDs are small light sources illuminated by the movement of electrons through a semiconductor material. There are a limited number of Energy Star-qualified LED products today, but more are coming in 2009.

Both fluorescents and LEDs use at least 75% less electricity than incandescent bulbs, so lighting costs and environmental impacts are significantly less. However, these better bulbs are not perfect. Fluorescents contain a small amount of mercury, but some retailers now recycle compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). LEDs contain electronics that should be recycled (like computers or cell phones), but not for 20+ years.

Does efficient mean “less attractive”? No—fluorescent lighting fixtures are available in a wide range of decorative styles with many options in illumination quality. LEDs are typically used in recessed “cans” in ceilings, spotlights and indirectly under cabinets—even in porch lights and in large roadway signs. You may recall the amazing use of LEDs at the Olympics in China this past summer.

Visit Energy Star for more information on efficient lighting, a purchasing guide, a “store-finder” and special deals, and how to plan a lighting upgrade. You can also sign up for Frequently Asked Questions updates, and e-mail your lighting questions. For more information, visit www.energystar.gov/lighting.

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