The CERTs Right Light Guide



Learn about lighting options and find the lights you need in a couple easy steps!

Today there are many lighting options available. The CERTs Right Light Guide helps you understand how much light you need, decide what color light you want, and learn about the costs and features of LEDs and CFLs.

Click here to download the Right Light Guide >>

Download the guide

  Use the Right Light app

Looking for the perfect LED bulb? There’s an app for that!

The Right Light App helps you choose the right energy efficient LED bulb for you, from bulb and fixture types to color and brightness suggestions! Access the app from any device at

You can also click here to see a demo of the app in action.


  Frequently Asked Questions


What are the advantages of switching to LEDs?

LEDs use much less electricity than other bulbs, have extremely long-rated lives, produce very little heat, do not emit UV or infrared, contain no mercury, are resistant to shock and vibration, and can operate effectively in extremely cold environments.


How do I get a bulb to fit my fixture?

Bring the bulb that you are replacing with you to the store to match the size to be sure that your new bulb will fit in the fixture when you get home. Also, some recessed fixtures have tabs that allow you to adjust how deeply the socket is set – be sure to turn power off to the lights before making any such adjustments.


How could I prioritize upgrading my bulbs?

If you want to buy more efficient bulbs over time to reduce the cost of buying a whole home’s bulbs at once, you can replace bulbs in high use areas first. If you leave porch lights on overnight, these bulbs could be upgraded to LED bulbs immediately – the savings could be significant if you’re using incandescent bulbs presently and they work better in the cold too! Next, look around your home to see which spaces you use the most, and therefore use the lights the most in those areas. Do you like to leave the light on over the kitchen sink most of the evening? Is the dining or living room a favorite hangout for the family in the evenings? Do you work from home and have a desk lamp or office light on much of a working day? If you said yes to any of these, then they would all be great places to changeout first. One of the last places to change are bulbs located where lights are used very few hours and turned on and off frequently (for example, closets).


Do I need to recycle LEDs?

No, but you can. LED light bulbs do not contain hazardous material and so these bulbs can be placed in the garbage. There are electronics in the base of an LED light bulb (a circuit board), and so you can recycle LED light bulbs at some locations. Use the CERTs Right Light Recycler to find locations near you.


Where can I recycle CFLs?

County hazardous waste drop-off sites as well as stores like Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Lowe’s, Batteries Plus. Use the CERTs Right Light Recycler to find locations near you.


Why do LED light bulb packages say equivalent?

Saying that a LED light bulb is a “60W equivalent”, for example, is the manufacturer’s way of most easily describing the brightness of the bulb in terms with which we might be familiar. Many folks can picture the brightness difference between a 60W incandescent and a 100W incandescent. So, the manufacturers are equating the LED bulb’s brightness to an incandescent bulb’s brightness using power (watts) instead of brightness (lumens). Someday, we might see packaging that says 800 lumens and 1600 lumens instead!


How much do LEDs cost?

Most are between $8 and $20. At Home Depot, Menards, Ace Hardware, Hardware Hank, Batteries Plus, and other locations in Xcel Energy service territory, prices on LED and CFL bulbs reflect the utility rebate, making them less expensive than elsewhere in the state. Find stores in Xcel Energy service territory at Xcel Energy’s website.


Are LEDs and/or CFLs dimmable?

Most LEDs are dimmable using most dimmers—be sure to check lighting packaging labels. Some CFLs are dimmable, but they must be labeled as dimmable bulbs. LEDs dim more fully (nearly the full range of 0-100%) and more smoothly than CFLs (even if the CFL is labeled as dimmable). If your dimmer switch is more than 30 years old and/or gets very hot, you should replace your switch, regardless of what style of bulb you use. Older or incompatible dimmer switches may cause flickering or a dim that is not very smooth dim. Upgrading to a new dimmer switch is easy and inexpensive. Choose a “universal” style and avoid dimmers that are for “incandescent-only.” You can also opt for a dimmer that is specifically for LED or CFLs, but this is not necessary. Also, pay attention to the maximum wattage specified for the new dimmer switch to be sure it is enough to accommodate the sum of current and future light bulb wattages on that switch.


What makes dimming a dimmable LED/CFL bulb different than dimming an incandescent bulb?

Dimmable LED/CFL bulbs contain electronic circuitry not present in incandescent bulbs. Therefore, it is difficult to achieve the same smooth start and complete dimming range as one sees with incandescent bulbs. “Universal dimmers” are designed to interact with the electronic circuitry, providing smooth low level dimming on the majority of bulbs by the major manufacturers. You can also look-up models and brands of dimming switches that are compatible with the brand of dimmable LED or CFL bulbs you have.


Can I use an incandescent-ONLY dimmer switch on dimmable LED/CFL bulbs?

A standard incandescent dimmer can be used to dim dimmable LED/CFL bulbs; however performance may vary. In some instances, it will work perfectly and in others you may experience issues such as flickering, reduced dimming range and fluttering. The “universal dimmers” are a better option because they are specifically designed to optimize performance when paired with dimmable LED and dimmable CFL bulbs. Or look-up models and brands of dimming switches that are compatible with the brand of dimmable LED or CFL bulbs you have.


Can LEDs and/or CFLs work in 3-way fixtures?

Only when labeled as such. A non-3-way CFL or LED bulb will work in a fixture with a 3-way switch, but only at the highest light output level.


Can I use LEDs and/or CFLs in enclosed fixtures?

All light bulbs will have their lives shortened by being in enclosed fixtures, including incandescent, CFL, and LEDs. LEDs being the bulbs that produce the least amount of waste heat are the best choice in enclosed fixtures, but be aware they may not last as long as they are rated. Many new LED bulbs specifically say on the packaging whether they are safe for enclosed fixtures.

Early bulb failure is the only danger here, not safety. On the other hand especially incandescent and to a lesser extent CFLs used in a fully enclosed fixture can present a fire hazard as well as early failure. Many fixtures that seem to be fully enclosed are not actually fully enclosed – Inspect closely for ventilation holes often at the top.

More detail: Most CFLs are A-line bulbs. These can be used in a variety of places, but Dept of Energy recommends using CFLs packaged as ellipsoidal reflectors (type-ER) in recessed fixtures. Use reflector (type-R) or parabolic reflector (type-PAR) CFLs for flood and spotlighting.


Do LEDs work outside?

Yes, LED bulbs work great outside. Unlike CFLs, which take a long time to come on in the cold and can be dimmer or bluish in color, LEDs come on instantly and create the same light level at any temperature.


Do CFLs or LEDs cause fires?

Unfortunately, sensationalized stories have scared many off from the use of high efficiency lighting. CFLs and LEDs are far safer than incandescent and halogen bulbs. 20% of home fires originate from lighting- typically when a flammable item (fabric, dead bugs, wall or ceiling features, etc.) comes in contact with high temperatures from any bulb or when the filament in a halogen or incandescent bulb breaks and causes a spark that ignites flammable vapors or materials. Halogen bulbs present the highest risk, as they have the highest operating temperature, followed by incandescent, followed by the much lower risk of CFLs. Aside from the extremely rare fire from manufacturing defect (8 total fires reported), LEDs present basically no fire risk. (National Fire Protection Association)


Do I heed the sticker inside light fixtures warning not to use bulbs greater than so many watts because of the risk of fire?

These warning stickers are for incandescent bulbs only, and are designed to prevent overheating the light fixture, risking fire. LEDs and CFLs give off much less heat than incandescents, and therefore, the warning does not hold the same meaning for these more efficient and safer bulbs. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to update all those old fixture labels, nor to give people accurate information about how much heat a fixture is actually rated to withstand. While a bulb purchased may say “60 Watt equivalent,” you will see that it is actually using only 9 watts for LEDs and 13 watts for CFLs – values much lower than its incandescent equivalent.


My CFLs never last the 10 years they’re supposed to. Why is that?

It could be a number of reasons. Keep in mind that the 10 year life span is rated on only using the bulbs 3 hours per day. If you use your lights much more than that, the life of the bulb in years will be shorter than what is stated on the box. The most common reason for significantly shorter bulb life is that the bulbs are not very high quality and/ or they are operating at too high of temperatures because of being partially or fully enclosed. Look for ENERGY STAR labeled bulbs, which tend to last longer and be of higher quality. Also, CFLs should not be used with dimmers unless designated as such. CFLs life span will also shorten somewhat if you turn them on and off frequently, but don’t let that stop you from turning the light off!


Will LEDs really last 22 years?

Only time will tell. We have learned a lot why CFL bulbs had shorter lives and the same reasons of using bulbs in fully enclosed fixtures and not being ENERGY STAR labeled are still going to be likely culprits for reduced LED bulb life.


Does the mercury used in CFLs outweigh the environmental good from their use?

The average CFL contains 5 mg of mercury, of which less than 1 mg is released if broken. Even considering this, because electricity generation is also a source of mercury pollution and CFLs use much less electricity, operating a CFL bulb results in a third of the total mercury pollution as powering an incandescent bulb.


  Light Bulb Pros (+) and Cons (-)



Saves 85% on energy costs over incandescent


Lasts 25 times longer than incandescent


Great for dimmed, recessed and enclosed fixtures (low bulb heat)


Performs well in cold temperatures


Instantly turns on at full brightness


Dimmable from 10-100

Contains electronics that make recycling a good idea, though not required by law

Higher bulb cost



Saves 75% on energy costs over incandescent


Lasts 10 times longer than incandescent

Short warm-up period to full brightness (do not turn on instantly)

Contains mercury (recycling required by law; there may be a recycling cost)

Bulb breakage in home requires careful clean-up due to mercury content

Only dimmable if labeled as such

Performs poorly in cold temperatures

Recessed and enclosed fixtures reduce bulb life

Less dimmable range of 20-100

Do not dim as smoothly as LED or incandescent

CFLs strobe/flicker near the end of their life


  Detailed Cost Calculations

Assumptions Units LED CFL Incand Notes
Residential Electric Rate $/kilowatt-hour $0.1235 $0.1235 $0.1235 1
Daily Lighting Use hours/day 3 3 3 2
Cost Comparison Period years 20 20 20 3
Replacement Time Cost $/replacement $5.00 $5.00 $5.00 4
Bulb Lifetime hours 25,000 10,000 1,000 5
Inputs Units LED CFL Incand Notes
Power Consumption watts 10 13 60 6
Product Cost per Bulb $ $8.00 $3.00 $0.75 7
Background Calculations using Assumption and Inputs Units LED CFL Incand Notes
Annual Energy Costs $/year $1.24 $1.62 $7.46 8
Bulb Lifetime years 22.83 9.13 0.91 9
Number of Bulb Replacements during 20-yr Period 0 2 21 10
Over 20 years Units LED CFL Incand Notes
Initial and Replacement Bulb Costs $ $8.00 $9.00 $16.50 11
Replacement Time Costs $ $0 $10.00 $105.00 12
Energy Costs $ $27.05 $35.16 $162.28 13
Total Costs   $35.05 $54.16 $283.78 14


1. Year-to-date September 2015 residential electric retail price for Minnesota. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
2. Standard assumption by bulb manufacturers. This value can go up or down depending on lifestyle, season, etc.
3. CERTs chose a period of 20-years to compare the bulbs because LEDs last that long (or more), and you the benefits can more accurately be compared when LEDs’ entire life are considered.
4. CERTs wants to bring awareness to the cost of replacement since it is a major selling factor for LEDs and will become more so with more efficient lighting
5. Typical assumptions provided by manufacturers’ bulb specifications and noted in agency studies.
6. Typical wattage of bulbs that are advertised as “equivalent” to a 60 watt incandescent light bulb. CERTs checked that the bulbs actually produce a similar light level before averaging several bulbs wattage.
7. Average of costs for bulbs available in small hardware and “big box” stores located in Baxter, Wadena, Slayton and Appleton. Cost data was collected in September 2015 and reflects non-rebated costs. Bulbs for which cost data was collected had to be the standard A19 bulb with medium base (no specialty lighting such as dimming, 3-way, track or recessed lighting).
8. Equals: Power (W) x Daily Use (hr) x 365 days/yr x Electric Rate ($/kWh) x 1kW/1000W
9. Equals: Bulb Lifetime (yr) / (Daily Use (hr) x 365 days/yr)
10. Equals: Roundown(Bulb Lifetime (yr) / Cost Comparison Period (yr))
11. Equals: (Product Cost per Bulb ($) + (Product Cost per Bulb ($) x Number of Bulb Replacements)
12. Equals: Replacement Time Cost ($/replacement) x Number of Bulb Replacements
13. Equals: Annual Energy Costs ($/yr) x Cost Comparison Period (yr)
14. Equals: Initial and Replacement Bulb Costs + Replacement Time Costs + Energy Costs


  Media and Sharing

Right Light Guide in the news

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How many decisions does it take to replace a light bulb?


Want to share this with others?

We’re providing press quality versions so you can print them and share them with your community!

Ideas for sharing:

  • Utilities can get customized guides and send a copy out with their customers’ energy bills (example)
  • Hardware stores can laminate one and hang it in their lighting aisle
  • Local governments can distribute the guide to their citizens—or just include a link to it in their newsletters
  • Organizations can provide printed copies to their audiences, spread the word in their newsletters and at events
  • Individuals can spread the word via email and social media, give copies to friends, family, and co-workers, and hang up a sign in local coffee shops, libraries, and gathering places

Click here for even more resources for sharing >>


  Other Lighting Resources

Great Lighting Links
Ask CERTs a Question
Spread the Word

Minnesotans building a clean energy future


    CERTs Partners:

Minnesota Department of Commerce University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension Great Plains Institute Southwest Regional Development Commission