better bulbs revisited

Feb3,2012 column

Compact fluorescent bulbs are considerably better in terms of light quality and durability now than they were three or four years ago and in my opinion Cecil must have been buying off brand cfl’s if he was still having problems with burnout as recently as two years ago.

But this is a minor quibble.

Lighting consumes an enormous amount of energy and cfl bulbs being mandated have contributed considerably to reducing everybody’s utility bills both by using less electricity and by reducing air conditioning costs in any building where air conditioning is used.

Beyond that reduced electricity consumption means less air and water pollution from burning coal and natural gas to make electricity and fewer public health problems.

There is no need to freak out about the minute amount of mercury used in cfl bulbs although they should be disposed of properly of course. The environmentalists are generally right about dangerous substances but they tend to get carried away with religious fervor like the old prohibitionists who couldn’t stand the thought of anybody having a beer and go overboard and compete with each other to see who can be holier than everybody else.

The best example I can think of in this respect is the incredible fuss over birds killed by wind turbines. I love birds myself and operate my little farm as a wildlife friendly place but the truth is that taken all around wind power is good for birds because it helps preserve the environment. Birds aren’t going to do so well in a runaway greenhouse world.

A similar calculus applies to the mercury in cfl bulbs. If we just threw all of them out in the trash without a second thought they would still be an environmental bargain because each one made and used on the average prevents coal fired power plants from releasing several times as much mercury into the air as is contained in a cfl.

Now about led’s---- they were indeed fifty bucks a couple of years ago but now you can get good name brand led bulbs for as little as ten to twenty bucks if you are a careful shopper.Most people who pay attention to the prices of such new gizmos expect the price of led’s to continue to come down pretty fast for another few years before they hit rock bottom.


I forgot to add this to the above.

How much electricity is used for lighting in the United States?

EIA estimates that in 2011, about 461 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity were used for lighting by the residential and commercial sectors. This was equal to about 17% of the total electricity consumed by both of these sectors and about 12% of total U.S. electricity consumption.

Residential lighting consumption was about 186 billion kWh or 13% of all residential electricity consumption.

The commercial sector, which includes commercial and institutional buildings and public street and highway lighting, consumed about 275 billion kWh for lighting or 21% of commercial sector electricity consumption in 2011.

EIA does not have an estimate for only public street and highway lighting.

Our most recent data available indicates that in 2006, 63 billion kWh were consumed for lighting in manufacturing facilities, which was equal to about 2% of total U.S. electricity consumption in 2006.

Given that lighting consumes about 13% of residential electrical consumption and that cfl’s are roughly three times as efficient as the old fluorescent bulbs most people ares saving considerable money by using them.

I calculated my own savings as about five bucks a month and I haven’t quite averaged replacing one cfl every six months over the last three or four years. I know because I buy things like light bulbs on sale and pack them away so as not to be bothered with running short because I live way out in the boonies and a trip to town and back takes an hour and ten bucks for gasoline.

I have one on a sensor that is still going strong after five years as a security light on my front porch.

I made a bet with a doubting friend and got him the sign the base of it with a magic marker. He has doubled down twice already because he was convinced that it wouldn’t last a year when we made the original bet and I have enjoyed two bottles of our favorite adult beverage at his expense so far and hope to enjoy another pretty soon.

If you put a top name brand cfl in a good cool running fixture and don’t switch in on and off very often it will probably last many thousands of hours.

I’ve done pretty well with CFLs and have recycled the dead ones at Lowes. But I have started the switch to LED in heavy use areas and love the light and the watts vs lumen. The 40w equivalents are now quite affordable, usually around $8 on sale and by careful shopping on Amazon I have been able to improve specific needs and locations.

I recently got 2, 4 packs of 950 lumen, (> 60w incandescent) for only 47.99. Each bulb produced a clean light and only use 9w. They are working great.

I needed some extra bright spotlight for my porch/grill area and bought an inexpensive dual spotlight set to replace the halogen light I had. Between the halogen and the back porch light I was at 260w when I turned on the switch, I now have 2 of Feit Electric Conserv-Energy Dimmable BR40 LED 17 Watt Flood Light Bulb - 100 Watt Equivalent Replacementin a Lithonia OFTH 300PR 120 WH M12 Twin Par Holder Standard Outdoor General Purpose Flood Light, Whiteunit. So from 260w I am down to 34w and have better lighting than I had. This cost me around $60 but in the long run it should pay off nicely.

My wife wanted more light in the kitchen and we were maxed out on the sockets and she did not want CFL for this area, so I got 2 of LEDwholesalers 100 watt incandescent replacement Light bulb with 14 Watt E27 Standard Screw base 100-240VAC,cool white,1028WHfor $32 and went from 120w over the counter to 200w equiv.

Also have an old pole lamp in my living room, rated for 60w and CFL did not working in it, not even a dimmable CFL. So for $26.75 I have a KOBI ELECTRIC LED 18-watt (100 watt) R30 Cool White Light Bulb, Dimmable. Pricey but cheaper than a new lamp and provides a lot of light in a room that was dark.

These newer LEDs are all working great. I have 5 others in the house and all are very good so far.

I agree that LED’s are the future and plan on switching to them myself as my CFL’s burn out.

The original CFL’s never burned out - they were like those original Edison globes that are still burning.

The first CFL I got was in the late 70’s/early 80’s, it cost something like $30, which was a lot for a globe back then, and it went into a parking location, with bad power, because the use case for original CFL’s was lights that stayed on for a very long time, and were difficult to replace. That globe is still going.

When good CFLs came out, I immediately replaced all of my bulbs with them. Before, I would be replacing one or two lights each week. Afterwards, no more weekly bulb replacement. To me, not having to drag a ladder around, and change bulbs was well worth the investment.

Recently, we got tired of the slow warmup time of those florescent bulbs (not to mention the bluish tinge). And I started replacing them all with LEDs. We ended up giving our CFL away on FreeCycle since they still had years of service in them.

I recently realized how much the LEDs save over the old incandescent lights. Our bathroom had five 25 watt bulbs. That’s 125 watts. We replaced them with five 1.7 watt LEDs. That’s only 8.5 watts - less than half of one of the old bulbs. In our living room, the five 60 watt bulbs have been replaced with 9 watt bulbs. With all the lights on in our living room, we still use less power than with one of the old incandescent bulb did.

When I hear stories people buying up 100watt bulbs, I can only think what morons. I gave up on 100 watt bulbs long ago (standardizing on 60 watts) because of the 100 watt bulbs very short life. You practically have to replace them every month. Plus, they get so hot that most fixtures can’t even use them. LEDs are the way to go. I have drunken from the Kool-Ade, and it is tasty.

Going along with the ‘small amount of mercury’ in CFLs, I wonder if there are any hazardous materials in the LED lights (I don’t think so) or just as importantly (even though it is hidden) during the manufacture of LEDs.

Thanks for any insight into this.

LEDs are just semiconductors, which aren’t harmful, at least not like mercury is. You could break open an LED light and handle its guts without fear of harming your health.

The manufacture of LEDs (and other semiconductors) does involve some pretty nasty chemicals though. Semiconductors aren’t made, they are grown. They are crystals. Generally, they are made by growing a crystal substrate while gases containing a doping material are passed over the crystal as it grows. Bits of the doping material’s molecules get locked into the crystal as it grows, creating the various different types of semiconductors. Masking techniques are used so that the doping material only ends up exactly where you want it on the substrate, which allows different types of semiconductors to be grown together on the same crystal substrate. The materials are fairly nasty in their raw form (one type of semiconductor is made out of gallium and arsenic, for example) and the manufacturing is done at high temperatures.

Manufacturing of semiconductors is mostly done overseas, partly because of cheaper labor, but also partly because of the more strict environmental laws of the U.S.

The end products (LEDs, microprocessor chips, etc) are all safe to handle though. The arsenic in a gallium arsenide infrared LED for example is locked within the crystal structure of the LED. You can’t get arsenic poison from handling it.