Among all of the lighting options available on the market, lighting designer Gary Gordon says there is one that pros should dismiss entirely from their repertoire: “There’s no reason anyone should be using the standard household incandescent bulb anymore,” says the principal of New York City–based Gary Gordon Lighting. “It’s far too energy-inefficient to be used anywhere.”

As residential appliances and HVAC systems become more efficient, lighting is making up a larger portion of a home’s electric bill, according to Jeff Dross, senior product manager for Kichler Lighting. So both the building industry and legislators are looking for ways to reduce the energy consumed by residential lighting. In fact, the federal government recently passed a bill that will outlaw many popular wattages of incandescent bulbs in 2012 because they are so inefficient.

But once you’ve sent the old-fashioned bulb packing, choosing a new lighting strategy becomes a trickier decision. While there are plenty of energy-efficient options and lots of high-quality lighting, it can be difficult to find products that meet both criteria. We’ve sorted through the major lighting options to identify their environmental attributes and help you decide what fits best in your next project.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps

The most cost-effective and energy-efficient alternative to incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) have been capturing the most mainstream attention the past few years. The lamps have an efficacy (a measurement of the light produced compared with the energy used to produce it) of 60 lumens per watt to 70 lumens per watt, making them about four to five times more efficient than incandescents.

It’s important to note that these fluorescents are not the ones with the greenish cast that lit hospitals and high-school science classes in decades past. The hums, buzzes, and flutters are gone, along with the magnetic ballast that made the lights run. Today’s fluorescents use an electronic ballast that runs silently. They also feature three phosphors, instead of two, so they can offer a range of color temperatures, including colors very close to traditional incandescents.

Bulbs that screw into a traditional socket are available, and you can even buy a screw-in CFL that dims with a standard incandescent dimmer, though CFLs that dim well may be too expensive for some homeowners.

But to qualify for Energy Star, compact fluorescent fixtures must have specific pin-type bases, called GU24, that fit only CFLs; these fixtures prevent homeowners from reverting to incandescents. While slightly more expensive, pin-based CFLs withstand heat better than screw-in CFLs, and should last for 10,000 hours, or about seven years of normal use, versus about 6,000 hours for screw-in lamps.