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Friday, February 09, 2007

The Great Light Bulb Debate

There's pending legislation in California right now looking to make incandescent bulbs illegal by 2012. The argument being that consumers should just switch over, and they won't do it as long as the cheaper bulbs are available. The SFGate article says:
...when it comes to buying a light bulb, it's all about the price at retail stores, said Jorge Moreno, an analyst at the market research firm Frost & Sullivan that's headquartered in Palo Alto.

"People just are not willing to pay more money," he said.

That is why despite many years of utility companies offering discounts and rebates for the energy-efficient lamps, one study released last summer showed only 2 percent of the nation's lighting market is made up of compact fluorescents.

California's numbers are better, but only comes in around 5 percent, according to the report prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy.

"This is a very highly price-sensitive market where the end-user has control," Moreno said. "But of course a new legislation could change that."

Unfortunately, it's just not that simple. For me, I can work out the basic math about how it's cheaper over the life of the bulb. I can also see how my saving energy is good for the environment. However, ultimately the deal breaker for me has nothing to do with cost; it has everything to do with the quality of light. Fluorescent bulbs throw a light that offends my senses.

My grandparents have switched over to compact fluorescents all over their house. In the kitchen over the counter, they blaze with their weirdly bright but grey light. It simultaneously makes me want to squint from brightness and want to turn on a light to get the rest of the color spectrum. The same goes for in their bathroom.

At home, I've settled for fluorescents in my front and back porch lights, but the back porch one really does cast a ghastly pall over the back deck. I don't know what is missing from the compact fluorescents that exists in the incandescents, but it's something critical. I certainly would never want it in my dining room or kitchen over my food, or in my bathroom while putting on make-up, or in my bedroom while matching colors for an outfit.

At work I've spent years with the warm glow of desk and floor lamps, never turning on the overhead fluorescents that seem to guarantee me a headache after a full day of the frequency vibrations of the monitor dueling with the fluorescent light.

So really, I'm all for a more energy efficient bulb. I'm even willing to pay more money to have it. But it has to be as good as or better than the incandescent. If not, I won't buy it. And yes, I'd be willing to order illegal incandescents for my home from online retailers in other states if things went that way. And you have to know that paying for shipping on top of my light bulbs certainly wouldn't be cheaper than getting a fluorescent from Target or IKEA. Fluorescents have never been a solid solution. Perhaps it's time to look at a new technology like a compact LED cluster bulb or something. In the meantime, please don't take my good old fashioned soft white bulbs away!


  • Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFL) bulbs vary widely in quality of light. Many do emit a harsh light color or even noticeably flicker.

    But there are good ones too. I have a torch lamp with 3 CFLs in it that pump out 300 watts worth of light for 66 watts, and the light is a nice warm color. Same for a couple of other CFLs I have installed in fixtures. All are very similar to a standard incandescent bulb.

    On the other hand, my wife re-did our bathroom and bought 4 CFLs with a harsh blueish light. Fortunately, I'm not in there very often.

    My suggestion to you is to shop around for bulbs, maybe at OSH or Home Depot. Read the labels and look for ones with a warmer light spectrum.

    By Blogger Kevin, at 4:21 PM  

  • I thought of you when I read about this legislation in the paper. I think you should write a letter to your legislator explaining your concerns. I have been lucky with CFL until I got one for my kitchen. I was suprised by the difference between the warm pinkish light of the torchiere in my bedroom and the cold blue light now in the kitchen. I have been actually meaning to get another one, but haven't gotten around it.

    If the worse happens, you can smuggle incandescants in from Canada along with prescription drugs, bobble-headed dolls and food rations that will feed a family for a week.

    By Blogger Chris S, at 5:28 PM  

  • Something else to consider: CFL bulbs contain mercury. Broken bulbs are an environmental hazard, and bulbs should not be disposed of with the garbage.

    By Blogger Michael, at 12:19 AM  

  • Oh, and:

    overhead fluorescents that seem to guarantee me a headache after a full day of the frequency vibrations of the monitor dueling with the fluorescent light.

    Try setting your monitor to refresh at 85 Hz.

    By Blogger Michael, at 12:51 AM  

  • One must consider the following. A) How much more it cost in energy to manufacture the CFLs as opposed to the incandescent.3x? 4x?. B) Environmental impact of disposal (ie: mercury and other nasty chemicals). Conclusion, It is a perverse lie that these new bulbs are cheaper ALL things considered. Follow the money...there is a huge profit margin on the CFLs. Incandescent is by far the clearly the best choice.

    By Blogger Bc, at 9:45 AM  

  • Here is my opinion on the matter.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 11:52 AM  

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