One of the easiest ways for a household to save energy and money is to install energy-efficient light bulbs in as many sockets as possible. But, according to a new University of Michigan study, the low-income households that benefit most from these savings have a harder time finding CFL and LED bulbs than do households in more affluent neighborhoods. They pay more money for them, too.
For the study, a team led by Tony Reames, assistant professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability and director of the Urban Energy Justice Lab, canvassed 130 stores across Wayne County, Michigan, which encompasses Detroit and surrounding suburbs. Graduate students Michael Reiner and M. Ben Stacey conducted much of the on-the-ground data collection.
The researchers tracked prices and availability for inefficient incandescent and halogen light bulbs as well as high-efficiency CFLs and LEDs at five store types: large big-box retailers (Home Depot, Walmart); hardware stores; variety stores (Family Dollar, Dollar General); pharmacies; and small retail stores (mini marts, corner delis, and liquor stores).
The survey found high-poverty neighborhoods lacked the large retailers offering lower prices and wider selection. CFL and LED bulb prices and availability differed across the county, but more limited availability and higher prices were the norm in high-poverty areas. The most expensive CFLs and LEDs were found at pharmacies and small retail stores located in low-income urban neighborhoods.
In the poorest areas tracked in the study, with 40 percent or more of households living below the federal poverty line, none of the small retail stores carried LEDs. Meanwhile, 92 percent of the same stores carried energy-wasting incandescent and halogen bulbs.
Researchers found a $6.24 mean price difference between incandescent and halogen bulbs and LED replacements in the poorest areas. Perversely, incandescent and halogen light bulbs were less expensive in the high-poverty neighborhoods.
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