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Light Bulb Technology is Changing but We’re Not Ready

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Since 1879 we have all used and loved the incandescent light bulbs developed by Thomas Alva Edison, shown here in his lab with different sizes of light bulbs.

thomas_edison

Sadly, his technology has become obsolete as it wastes colossal amounts of energy. When we turn on an old fashioned light bulb, 90% of the electrical energy dissipates as heat, leaving a mere 10% to provide light. In a cold climate, no one minds adding heat to their space, but in a hot climate that can become intolerable. Ergo, we as a nation have decided to:

Feature_GoGreen

In 2007 the United States officially joined the energy conservation bandwagon when Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed our ENERGY INDEPENDENCE AND SECURITY ACT OF 2007. You can read it in its mighty entirety at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-110publ140/html/PLAW-110publ140.htm, or just let me highlight it for you. Its preamble is plain enough:

An Act – To move the United States toward greater energy independence and security, to increase the production of clean renewable fuels, to protect consumers, to increase the efficiency of products, buildings, and vehicles, to promote research on and deploy greenhouse gas capture and storage options, and to improve the energy performance of the Federal Government, and for other purposes.

We are already familiar with the Act’s Section 325, which created the Energy Star program for home appliances.

EnergyStar

Less familiar to many of us is Section 321, EFFICIENT LIGHT BULBS, where the combination of writing by lawyers and techno geeks scrambles my head every time. Basically it says that by 2020 all general-use light bulbs sold in the US must burn about 200 times as efficiently as their 2007 equivalents. You may have noticed that you can’t buy bulbs of 75 or 100 watts anymore. This handy graphic from http://www.bulbrite.com/eisa.php encapsulates the changes well.

BulbriteAd

The law, however, excludes many specialty bulbs like 3-ways, plant lights, appliance bulbs, and candelabra bulbs of less than 60 watts with the very small, screw-in bases.

Ergo, we must all bid a fond farewell to our beloved incandescent, and start using more energy-efficient bulbs – specifically halogens, CFLs, and LEDs. Our lawmakers based their wisdom on the cost of using a type of bulb + its length of life. Replacing a 40 watt incandescent by an equivalent CFL will save you $1.08 per year for About 10,000 hours; using an LED will save you $0.96 per year. Further, your 40 watt bulb will only last for about 1,000, as opposed to the expected life span of 10 years for a CFL and 25,000 hours for the LED. You can make comparisons of the improved values by using this chart from http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/nhorowitz/new_energy-saving_bulbs_are_co.html

NRDC_JPEGs_chart_1_v3thumb[1]

When the USA completes its transition by 2020, we will have saved billions of dollars and mountains of energy resources. This will be a good thing for our Mother Earth, but naturally every change brings challenges, so let me warn you of some. Incandescents have many built-in features that we haven’t even thought about. In my comments, please remember that my comparison will always be to 60 watt chandelier-style light bulbs. Since Niermann Weeks designs and manufactures lighting fixtures, the chandelier bulb of 60 watts forms my standard.

incandescent

Incandescents work nicely with dimmers from most any company. That’s not true of many alternatives. Some don’t dim – period, because of the physics of their construction. Some will only work with certain dimmers.

dimming

My advice is to buy one dimmer from a reputable company before buying one bulb. For example, if you look on the Lutron website at http://www.lutron.com/en-US/Education-Training/Pages/LCE/DimmingCFLsandLEDs.aspx, you can pull up a list of specific dimmers that work with specific light bulbs. Buy one light bulb and try it. If it works, then invest in a roomful of that type of dimmer and that type of bulbs. Repeat for each room.

Incandescents are cheap, costing well under a $1.00 per bulb. They look normal to our eyes. www.amazon.com today sells for $13.99 a pair of Sylvania 25986 9-Watt Compact Fluorescents that looks like this, with the squiggly CFL component semi-hidden in a frosted glass case. Personally I don’t like the squiggle or the ballast concealed within the white band at the base of this bulb. Incandescents don’t need to include a ballast to convert the electric power within the bulb.

TwoPack

Further, on Amazon today you can get one (1) LED for your chandelier by Bulbrite at $19.45 each. We are used to an incandescent casting its light 360 degrees, but notice how this LED is composed. Individual LEDs are clustered in lines up and around the works of this bulb, as each LED doesn’t cast much light and only casts it straight out. This cluster is contained within a weak, not waterproof or shatterproof plastic cover.

Bulbrite LED

Incandescent chandelier bulbs also cast a better light than most of the alternatives. When you buy an alternative halogen, CFL, or LED, you must specify a warm white light, or you may be deeply unhappy. I know of a kitchen installed in California for a celebrity chef whose new lights turned on into a cold, bluish white, which made all the food look un-appetizing. His designer spent a lot of money replacing all the LED bulbs.

My advice is to buy only one sample of an alternative bulb, and then try it in your location. Save the receipt, so you can return it if it doesn’t look right. When you find the right bulb, then buy more than you need. CFLs were touted as lasting 10 years, but I have discarded some almost immediately. And the discard is a PITA (pain in the a–) because of the mercury within the bulb. Wrap the dead bulb in a plastic bag to dispose of at a Home Depot or other authorized places. Dead LEDs are okay to just trash.

Incandescents measure their energy output in watts, but many of the alternatives measure in volts. I have no idea how much energy a volt equals; do you? In the future, we must all become smarter shoppers with some grasp of the physics of light. I’m going to hate that.

Incandescents screw into their sockets, of which it’s been estimated 4 billion are in use in the USA.

Socket

LEDs, however, are electronics and really don’t need a socket. For and LED to get power, a plug-in will do nicely. The technically-minded think we should eliminate sockets as old-fashioned, but if so, so how can we retrofit all our sockets in all our homes and offices? The esthetically-minded may not approve of the early solutions, and we may need to be really aggressive in pushing for beautiful solutions.

This picture shows some of the ways that an LED can plug into power.

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Overall, my nuggets of advice condense like this:

1. Hoard all the types of incandescent light bulbs you really like to use.

2. Acquire light bulbs and lighting system only from reputable brands and sources, which means you’ll be paying handsomely. No running off to a big box store.

3. Any product which claims to be greener ought to work as well as the original; provide the same qualities; and cost about as much.

4. Ideal light bulbs, regardless of type, should reach a color temperature of 2700 Kelvin as well as a CRI (Color Rendering Index) in the high 70s or above. Wikipedia can explain what that means in agonizing detail.

5. Only buy products with the Energy Star Label.

Whatever your experiences, insights, and reactions to my comments, please share them with me. We’re all in the same learning curve, and good luck to us all!

Thanks for reading my blog,

Eleanor


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