Mar 162007

Several places worldwide are currently considering banning the sale of the incandescent light bulb because it wastes energy and contributes to global warming.

It doesn’t take a lot of marbles to look around and deduce that the traditional incandescent’s days are numbered. Compact fluorescent (CF) bulbs have arrived in every sense of the word, and LED bulbs aren’t far behind. I’ll almost certainly have a day in my lifetime during which I don’t see a single incandescent bulb anywhere. That day–indeed, that life–is practically guaranteed for my children.

But I have reservations about whether forcing people to abandon the ubiquitous incandescent is the best way to progress.

If the aim of the effort is to wield control and piss a lot of people off, the bans are a great idea. But for true societal benefit, you can’t just go taking these things off the market. People don’t much like being told what to do, and they really don’t like it when the benefit isn’t obvious to them. Moreover, this is more than a household implement; it’s a cultural icon of the 20th century, pervading everything from our continuing fondness of Thomas Edison, to our views of what “elegance” is in a chandelier, to our shared mental images of what it looks like to have a good idea.

Significant backlash? Bank on it. We need a lot more honey and a lot less vinegar at this point.

I am nobody’s model environmentalist. But I was won over to CF bulbs a few years ago for a fundamental reason: they are in my own best interest because they help me keep more of my own money.

We have 25 CF bulbs in service, and we’re very pleased with them. We can light the kitchen up bright enough to make movies for just 130 watts. Getting there with incandescents would require 760 watts, as well as produce a very large amount of heat (particularly undesirable in the kitchen, as well as expensive in the summer). The kicker is that the CFs do a better job objectively, too. The kitchen is significantly brighter with them than it would be with incandescents consuming almost six times as much power. Slam-dunk; everybody wins.

We’ve got a couple of LED bulbs deployed, too. They’re neat, but while they’re coming along nicely, I don’t think they’re quite ready for prime time. For one thing, they’re still very expensive (30 to 40 times the cost of a comparable incandescent). For another, they’re just not bright enough for most primary applications yet. We have an LED bulb that was sold as an outdoor spot installed in the can fixture over our shower. While the color of the light is really close to daylight and pleasant, the brightness is marginal. The one in my bedroom closet is even dimmer. I’ll probably go back to CF in there when I get around to it.

We do still have a few incandescents in use. Lea prefers the look of them in fixtures in which the bulbs are exposed, so we have them in a couple of ceiling fans and over the vanities. And given the frequent state of (un)dress in the bathroom, the heat isn’t necessarily a bad side effect either. Our outside bulbs are still incandescent as well, but I’d guess the most frequently used of those only sees 50 hours of use a year.

So if we shouldn’t legislate, what then? Well, we talk about it, mainly. I’m doing so now. Others are too. The in-store demos I’ve seen are a good idea. Many people are still walking around with an impression of CF formed ten or more years ago, so they’re expecting a sickly green cast to the light, interminable warmup times, and very high initial costs, for example. When they see that none of that is true of current CFs, the lines will form and the wallets will open.

People just have to understand what they’re getting. It’s an easy sell after that.

Let’s keep working on making the switch from incandescent lighting the consumer’s idea, not that of multiple legislative bodies. “I’m doing this good thing for myself” coming from the consumer’s mind is much preferable to “We’re doing this for your own good” coming from government.

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 Posted by at 4:03 pm

  9 Responses to “On banning the incandescent light bulb”

  1. Nope a ban is a bad idea. Here’s how it goes. The gubment enacts a law to eliminate all incadescent bulbs by the year 2020. As it gets closer to 2020, I realize that, hey, those CF’s don’t fit inside the harp on some of my lamps. What am i supposed to do? Buy all new lamps? Then the government adds a rider to the Corn ethanol act of 2017 to subsidize the purchase of conversion kits for non-CF-ready lamps…

  2. Like you mention, banning an item simply builds resentment and a black market for said item (hello, war on drugs). The answer? Taxes: if you don’t like something, tax it. If you could buy an incandescent for the same price as a CF, you’d have to have a VERY good reason to prefer the incandescent, eh?

    I love our CF bulbs. I don’t even mind them in the ceiling fan, exposed. Thinking the whole house is lit up for the electricity it used to take to light one room…mmm, technology is amazing.

    Here’s hoping LED’s make a similar revolution in the coming decade!

  3. I’ve also switch most of our high use lights to CFL. Caused some fight with my wife but now we are used to them. We also had a few incidents where my wife was complaining about how bad the light looked, and it was an incandescent! The only issue I have now is that the quality variations between manufactureres is very high so you have to try one bulb out before buying many from a given source. Some of the current bulbs sold as CFL are the 10 year old technology with very long startup times and wierd color. We also never use CFL in vanities because it shifts makeup colors.

  4. Dimmable CFLs are awefull. They do not dim to a warm romatic orange. The dim to a grey cold sickly moonlight.

  5. Yes, I should have mentioned that too, (first) anonymous. The large quality difference between manufacturers has been my experience as well. Whatever Costco was selling a year or so ago was pretty bad in terms of life (I think they were labeled “Conserv-Energy”). We’ve had much better service from others we’ve tried.

    (Second) anonymous, thanks for the input. I haven’t tried a dimmable CFL. We do still have incandescents in the two fixtures we ever dim.

  6. Hmmm … wonder if they make a CF bug light for the porch. Guess I’ll head out to my local home builder’s store.

    My place is now about 80% CFs. Love the full spectrum daylight ones … no more sick yellow light!

  7. I have to agree that banning incandescent bulbs is far too extreme. In my case, one of the reasons I don’t use more CF lights in my house is that they are not compatible with my home automation system. If it were a simple matter of the dimming functions on my remote control and/or computer interface not working, that would be one thing. But they won’t turn on or off period. I’ve invested way too much time and money into this stuff to junk it for new light bulbs. I’m hopeful that dimmable CF bulbs would work or perhaps LED, but I have yet to get my hands on either.

    Another reason why a wholesale ban on incandescent bulbs is foolish is that their efficiency can be and has been improved. GE recently announced they have developed incandescents that are twice as efficient as current models on the market. If there is any mandate to be made, it should be on efficiency ratios, not the technology of the bulb itself.

  8. […] Saving the Earth and Shit: We have a programmable thermostat, and we use compact fluorescent bulbs. We also use those water-saving toilets that you have to flush four […]

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