I have a roommate who likes to leave a lot of lights on at night, although I hope I’ve started to break him of this habit by calling him on it every single time.

It might seem cheap and petty on my part, but there’s nothing cheap about wasting electricity, even at our current subsidized rates.

The problem is that most people don’t understand the basics of electricity, and how their meters tick off usage on a daily basis. If they did they would probably take more interest in how their power is used, and the savings that are possible through a little common sense and conservation.

Consider a basic 60-watt incandescent light bulb. They are available for less than a dollar, and last anywhere from 500 to 2,000 hours. Given B.C. Hydro’s current residential rate, 6.27 cents per kilowatt-hour, a bulb that lasts the maximum of 2,000 hours will consume 120,000 watts of electricity over its lifespan at a cost of $7.52.

That might seem like peanuts, but how many bulbs do you have in your home? Twenty? Thirty? And how many of those bulbs are 80 watts? How many are 100 watts or more? How many will last 500 hours and need to be replaced?

Now compare the cost of running that 60-watt bulb with a comparable compact fluorescent bulb that lasts about 8,000 hours and runs at 13 watts. It would take anywhere from four to 16 basic incandescent bulbs to light an area for the same amount of time, but for arguments sake we’ll say that you have the best incandescent bulbs money can buy that last the full 2,000 hours. At a cost of $7.52 at current rates (which are going up) the cumulative cost of running four bulbs to 8,000 hours is $30.08.

Conversely, a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) running at 13 watts will consume just $6.52 over 8,000 hours, a savings of $23.56. If you have 20 bulbs at 60 watts in your house that’s a savings of more than $460 in however long it takes you to turn over all the bulbs in your house. Given that there are 8,760 hours in a year, it probably would take the average household three to four years to save that money.

While compact fluorescents cost four to six times more to purchase, they are actually far cheaper in the long run when you consider the electricity savings and the fact that one bulb will last as long as four to 16 regular bulbs.

My wife and I recently purchased a house, and I’m slowly in the process of changing all my bulbs over to compact fluorescent. When a bulb that came with the house burns out I always replace it with a CFL.