Energy Efficient Lighting

After simple energy efficiency steps (turning off lighting at night etc.), lighting has the potential to be one of the simplest and most cost effective ways to reduce energy consumption and save money in a foodservice establishment. Lighting represents approximately 11% of a restaurant's energy bill and 40% of energy usage in commercial buildings. When it comes to lights, there are a multitude of different products and manufactures available. So, for this purpose, a general overview of only the most common lights used in foodservice establishments are listed. The National Lighting Product Information Program (NLPIP) has detailed information on virtually every lighting system and component used in a commercial setting.

The following information uses the word "bulb" and "lamp" interchangeably.


While we have all heard the money savings praises of compact fluorescent bulbs, they just don't create the warmth and glow of the old standby incandescent bulb desired in a restaurant setting. More importantly, incandescents can be dimmed, a meaningful need in many full service restaurants. If your facility isn't known for its mood lighting or does not use dimmers, get rid of the incandescents. They use a lot of energy and expell most of the energy as heat which comprises the A/C system. See below for more information on CFLs. The rest are stuck with incandescents until a viable alternative arises. There are however, a couple options for cost savings, but not always energy savings.

After losing the incandescents anywhere mood isn't a necessity like offfices, closets, exhaust hoods, walk-in coolers and storage areas, it comes down to bulb cost and maintenance. Most incandescents have a rated life of 750-1000 hours or about 80 twelve hour days. This makes them a pest for maintenance people as they need changing about ten times as often as a compact fluorescent and two to four times as often as many halogen bulbs. However, there are long-life bulbs available with 2000-20,000 rated hours. These bulbs usually don't cost much more than a standard cheap bulb and save on bulb cost and maintenance in the long run. They should be standard in any hard to reach area. Another option is using 130 volt bulbs. These bulbs are designed for a higher wattage and will last considerably longer when used in standard 120v light sockets. They are a great option if you tend to have spikes in your electrical line which will ruin 120v bulbs before their rated life-span. The down side to 130v bulbs is that they produce less light (about 10%) than their 120v equivilent and also have a decrease in color (they will look like a regular bulb dimmed about 10%). 130v bulbs are again an option for chandeliers or other out of the way spots. In contrast, if you can deal with the reduction in light, a lower wattage long-life bulb, which will save on enegy and cooling costs may be the answer. Hopefully sometime soon advances in LED and compact fluorescent lamps will make the hot, short-lived incandescents a thing of the past.


Many state energy departments and utilities are offering financial incentives for upgrading from T-12 fluorescent lamps to T-8 or T-5 lamps. T-8 lamps, which consume up to 50% less energy, do not flicker and have longer bulb life are the new standard and the most common, easiest and economical retrofit because the lamps use the same housing as T-12 lamps. T-5 lamps are smaller, more efficient bulbs that produce the same amount of light as T-8 lamps and mostly used in new construction.

Fluorescent bulbs come in a huge variety of wattages and color temperatures. Look for electronic ballasts and tubes with a color temperature that suits your needs. Color temperature is measured in degrees of Kelvin. Tubes with higher temperatures K>4000 produce a cooler, bluer color while lower temperatures K<3200 produce warmer tones. Incandescent lamp temperatures are usually about 2700K.

T-8 Systems

A lighting upgrade from a T-12 to T-8 system will require an electrician or lighting specialist because T-8 lamps require different ballasts (electronic vs. magnetic). There are two standard types of electronic ballasts available, instant-start and rapid-start. Rapid-start ballasts have a slight delay on startup and consume more energy than instant-start, while instant-start ballasts have no delay and use less energy but may reduce bulb life. A newer technology called program-start ballasts promises to reduce energy consumption, supply instant-on lights and extend bulb life, but there is little information available outside of the product manufacturers. It is important to note that not all fluorescent bulbs work the same so be sure to use bulbs that are compatible with the type of ballast installed.

If your budget is tight and no tax rebates or incentives are available, there are energy efficient T-12 bulbs that reduce energy consumption by 15%, but also reduce light output by 15% and have reduced bulb life. Manufacturers also market energy efficient T-12 ballasts that claim a 20% savings. However, ballast installation requires an electrician and T-8 ballasts that consume as much as 50% less energy should be installed instead. Fluorescent lighting upgrades usually have a payback period of two years or less.

There are also upgrade options available if you have an older T-8 system installed. High performance T-8 systems, also called "super" or "premium systems" include high performance lamps and ballasts that can save 10 to 20 percent more energy over standard T-8 systems in addition to producing more lumens per watt, better color and longer lamp life. Additionally, reduced wattage T-8 lamps (28w and 25w vs. 32w) are an inexpensive way to reduce your energy use, but also reduce light output. They are a good option if your place is over lit, but may be incompatible with some ballasts and occupancy sensors. In general high performance systems are a better option because of light output and long term savings. NEMA provides a web page with several options for upgrading a T-8 system.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)

For complete information on CFLs, check the Wikipedia CFL entry.

Comparison of incandescent to CFL bulbs
Effect of color temperature differences (left to right): (1) CFL: GE, 13 watt, 6500 K (2) Incandescent: Sylvania 60-Watt Extra Soft White (3) CFL: Bright Effects, 15 watts, 2644 K (4) CFL: Sylvania, 14 watts, 3000 K

Replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs is another simple and effective green change that can save a business a considerable amount of money. Many restaurant operators have been reluctant to use CFLs because the lamps first on the market produced an unsavory fluorescent light. However, modern CFLs can produce light similar if not exact to that of incandescent bulbs; look for bulbs labeled as "warm white." If your dining room uses incandescent bulbs that are not on dimmers, try switching one or two of the bulbs with "warm white" CFLs to make sure they produce a desirable light, then expand from there. Dimmable screw-based CFLs are on the market, but currently do not produce a quality dimmed light like that of incandescent bulbs. Pin based CFLs are available that can be dimmed, but require a dimmable electronic ballast. These may be a wise option for a lighting upgrade. Talk to your local lighting contractor or visit the NLPIP site for more information on dimmable fluorescents.

Bulb manufacturers are also producing CFLs that look like standard, round incandescent bulbs. These are great for vanities in bathrooms, fixtures that a standard twist CFL may not fit and anywhere the bulb is exposed.

CFLs should replace incandescent bulbs everywhere that lights are not dimmed. Walk-in coolers (CFLs produce very little heat), exhaust hoods, hallways, offices and storage rooms are areas that should be using CFL bulbs. Also, spend the extra money for quality compact fluorescent bulbs. Cheap CFLs often do not last as long as the more expensive, quality bulbs.

The Environmental Defense Fund has a web page that helps users choose CFLs based on several criteria and Green Seal has published a list of recommended CFLs.

Energy Star provides a CFL savings calculator that estimates annual savings using CFLs. Each bulb running six hours a day saves about $30 a year in energy costs.

One important note, CFLs contain mercury and cannot be thrown in the garbage. Many hardware stores and light shops will collect the spent bulbs at no cost. Check with or your local waste management department for disposal options in your area.

Cold Cathode Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CCCFLs)

Cold Cathode Fluorescent A-LampCCCFLs have been in use in laptop screens and similar devices for some time and are now moving into use with standard applications. They offer advantages over standard CFLs with 25,000 hour life-spans compared to 10,000, reduced energy consumption, dimming ability, colored bulbs and the instant-on ability making them great where flashing bulbs are needed. They look a lot like an enclosed CFLs and come in a variety of shapes and colors between 2 and 8-watts to replace 20 to 40-watt incandescent lamps. They are best used in decorative applications, accent lighting, emergency lighting, signage and flashing applications. Vegas will save millions with these things.


High Wattage Compact Fluorescents were developed for retrofits in high-ceiling environments such as factories, warehouses and retail stores. They are designed to work with luminaries normally used with High Intensity Discharge and high-wattage incandescent lights and offer the same energy efficiency, long life and color as regular CFLs. HW-CFLs range in size from 55 to 200 watts that replace 200 and 500-watt incandescent bulbs.

Like regular fluorescents HW-CFLs life span is reduced with frequent switching on and off so some manufacturers recommend not using occupancy sensors with these bulbs. They also have faster starts compared to HID lamps, but are not useful in concentrated lighting situations. Be sure to check with the manufacturer on specifics on each bulb and its recommended uses.


LEDs have normally been used for lighted toys and a few other gadgets like headlamps, but are starting to appear in standard bulb configurations. LEDs are a promising household and commercial lighting technology, but have not caught up with the needed quality of light, lumen output or cost to compete with CFLs or incandescent bulbs. Once the technology catches up, we should see bulbs that consume a fraction of the energy standard incandescent or even compact fluorescent bulbs use and last 10-15 years. LED technology is currently acceptable for low lighting conditions, architectural and landscaping uses, display lighitng and some outdoor lighting. Restaurants will see LED lamps being used in refrigeration display cases in the near future.

Multifaceted Reflectors (MR lamps)

MR lamps are halogen bulbs made with a reflective material to direct the light into a concentrated area. They are most often used in decorative pendant fixtures and track lighting for accent, direct and task lighting. The MR16 is the most commonly used bulb.

MR16 bulb

There are really no highly efficient lamps on the market that can replace these bulbs. They offer great color, can be dimmed and work well in foodservice applications. However, there are infrared MR16 or MR16-IR lamps that offer a small energy savings over the standard lamps. The IR lamps use a dichroic or non-metallic film (compared to aluminum in standard) that redirects the infrared heat back to the filament making them emit less heat and slightly more efficient with the same amount of light. A 37W MR16-IR lamp replaces the standard 50W MR16 lamp and a 50W-IR replaces a standard 65W MR. The IR lamps still reach extremely high temperatures that can add to an establishments cooling bill, but produce about 60% less heat than a standard MR16. The IR lamps are of course more expensive and harder to find than the standard lamps, but often last longer and reduce energy bills over their lifecycle. There are also a number of MR bulbs with average lives of 4000-5000 hours compared to 1000 hours for standard bulbs. These are a wise maintenance option if you can find the longer life bulbs at a reasonable cost. One final note: MR lamps without a glass cover are pressurized with a quartz capsule that should not be touched by bare hands when installing the lamp. Oils and salts from your hands can undermine the quartz leading to defects and the possibility of the lamp shattering when is burns out.

Exit Signs

Modern lighted exit signs are made with LED lights that use about 1/10 the energy of standard incandescent bulbs and can last 10 years without needing to replace the LED bulbs. The simple fact of never climbing a ladder to replace a burnt out bulb that you soon discover you do not have is reason enough to replace exit signs. Energy Star estimates a life cycle (10 years) savings of over $300 and 1.6-year payback period. Also, check under our Rebate Programs link to see if your state or municipality offers tax credits or rebates for replacing incandescent exit signs. Some programs offer rebates for retrofiting older incandescent signs with cold cathode CFL bulbs or LED kits. The CCCFLs and retrofit kits are very economical options that do not require an electrician.

Occupancy Sensors

Occupancy sensors use motion, infrared, audio or a hybrid of these sensors to turn lights and equipment on or off in response to the presence or absence of a person in the area. In the foodservice industry, they are great energy savers in spaces like walk-in coolers, bathrooms and storerooms where the lights (especially incandescent) tend to be left on, but have little activity throughout the day. Occupancy sensors come in a variety of technologies, wattage capacities and programming options for uses in different areas and needs. Green Seal has published a report on occupancy sensors with recommendations based on specific needs.

Lighting Fixtures / Ceiling Fans

Energy Star has developed standards for energy efficient lighting fixtures and ceiling fans. Most of these fixtures were developed for residential use, but with thousands of qualified options, many could easily be used in a dining room setting.

Lighting Specialists / Electricians

When finding a lighting contractor, look for one with experience in energy efficiency and one that can answer questions regarding product qualities and efficiencies rather than simply install the cheapest and most familiar system. Many lighting companies in states with energy efficiency incentives specialize in lighting efficiency upgrades and will help with rebate forms, tax credits, payback schedules and most importantly choosing the correct lighting system. As with finding any good contractor, get bids from several companies and do not just choose the cheapest. The US Green Building Council publishes a list of member companies that currently does not contain a "Lighting" category. However, a local "Contractor and Builder" member may be able to help with upgrades or suggestions on other lighting contractors.

Many local utilities and non-profit organizations have programs to help businesses conduct energy use and lighting audits. These services are usually free and provide professional, experienced knowledge on energy efficient lighting systems.

Additional Lighting Information

CRI - Color Rendition Index. This number based on a scale of 100 refers to an object's perceived color under a light source compared to that of daylight or an ideal incandescent. Look for fluorescent lamps with high CRI ratings that will simulate an incandescent bulb.

Color Temperature - Often labeled as "cool white," "warm white" or some various there of, the temperature refers to a lights tone. Warm colors emit more warm colors like red, orange and yellow, while cool light emits more blue tones.

Jerry's Home Improvement(TM) Fluorescent Lamp Selection Guide

Effect on "Atmosphere"

Colors Strengthened

Colors Weakened or Grayed


Cool White

Neutral to fairly cool

Orange, yellow, blue


Blends with natural light

Deluxe Cool White

Neutral to fairly cool

All nearly equal


Simulates natural daylight

Warm White


Orange, yellow

Red, blue, green

Blends with incandescent

Deluxe Warm White


Red, orange, yellow, green


Simulates incandescent light

Additional Green Lighting Resources

Lighting Research Center
Research and education organization devoted to lighting - from technologies to applications and energy use, from design to health and vision.

The National Lighting Product Information Program
Their site provides in-depth information on a wide variety of lighting types. Their reports provide basic information for the layman and more complex information for building professionals.

Lighting Tax Deduction
A web site developed by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the Commercial Building Tax Deduction Coalition, which provides info on federal tax deductions for lighting upgrades and useful information on current energy efficient technologies.

Green Seal
Green Seal is a non-profit organization that certifies environmentally responsible products. They have published a few reports on CFLs, occupancy sensors and luminaries for different lamp types and recommendations for each product type.

Energy Star
Energy Star is a government program developed by the EPA and Department of Energy that provides information on energy efficient CFLs, light fixtures, ceiling fans, exit signs and numerous other household items.

GE's web site provides several different calculators to help determine everything from how many fixtures a space needs to cost of waiting to replace lamps, along with a plethora of additional informational on lighting. A great site for designers and architects.

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