Lighting plays an important part in peoples' lives. It can help establish a mood. It can highlight objects in a room. It can help people focus on the smallest details. And it can help everyone live more comfortably.
The power of lighting also can greatly affect an electric bill. In fact, studies show that lighting can account for up to 40 percent of a home's energy expenses. That amount, of course, varies according to the number of lights in use, how much power they require to operate and the habits of the occupants.
Energy use can be controlled through a variety of simple techniques, strategies and products that can be combined to reduce demand and maximize efficiency. According to a report by the Safe Energy Communication Council, simply replacing standard light bulbs with more advanced versions can result in annual savings of $50 to $100.
While that figure might seem miniscule stacked against a home's total energy expense, the effect of retrofitting a residence can have environmental benefits that extend beyond the home.
Because every home is unique, each consists of varied electrical configurations. Increasing lighting effectiveness and efficiency is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Instead, efforts often are tailored to specific situations as well as the needs of the individual homeowner.
An environmentally concious population has forced many builders to re-examine their approaches to construction, from the types of equipment they sue to the material they install to the design they implement. Those changes, in many cases, contribute significantly to a structure's marketability and appeal.
"In the eyes of many homeowners, light is there and they ignore it for the most part," said Thomas Farin, president of Beaver Falls, Pa.-based Pegaus Lighting, an e-commerce company that sells lighting products. "They don't appreciate what good lighting can do for them."
Light stands as the primary element of design. Without it, there is no color, no form, no texture. Light makes objects look and feel attractive.
The confluence of several factors — environmental protection, maintenance and rising energy rates — has created a cultural shift, changing the public mindset about lighting and inspiring a serious interest in efficiency.
"They're finally getting it," Farin said. "They're understanding that energy-efficiency is indeed efficient."
When it comes to residential improvements, new construction projects provide an easier means for those desiring to implement increased efficiencies. Creating a blueprint for lighting and a strategy for how best to power an illumination system before the first walls ever go up gives buyers an advantage, because they can smoothly incorporate technological advancements and easily make changes the project progresses.
Owners of existing structures aren't so fortunate. Oftentimes, installing new systems comes at the cost of ripping down walls, running new wiring and purchasing new equipment to create a grid that functions in the best way possible.
But the road to better efficiency isn't one that necessarily needs to be traveled at break-neck speed, a misconception held by countless homeowners. Most advances are made in incremental steps, adding individual components that collectively produce significant savings over time.
Few successful projects, however, are carried through without a plan. Creating an atmosphere that saves energy does not have to come at the expense of comfort in the home. Creating a system of lighting that best leverages resources while balancing a homeowner's desire for both energy savings and comfort now can be achieved in a variety of ways.
In developing a viable plan, it helps to understand the various types of lighting techniques, what types work in certain environments, what bulbs function best and the products that work best in new or existing structures.