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You can have my incandescent light bulbs when you pry them from my cold dead hands.

My apologies to Charlton Heston, the National Rifle Association and others who claim the similar expression for guns.  They haven’t taken away our guns yet, but they are planning to take away our light bulbs.  They being the Federal government will begin enforcing a new law that goes into effect January 1, 2012, if Congress does not repeal it.  (Fat chance, although some House members did try.)  Incidentally, most of Europe is doing the same thing.

The light bulb “ban” is part of the Energy Independence and Security Act passed in 2007.  It isn’t really a ban as such but it effectively limits the sales of several types of incandescent bulbs (starting with the popular 100 watt bulb) simply because they are too inefficient.  More specifically, there is a planned phase out starting in 2012 and extending through 2014.  Some special bulbs are exempt such as appliance bulbs, 3-way bulbs and those less than 40 watts or more than 150 watts.  The overall push is for light bulbs in general to get more efficient, not only with the CFLs and LEDs but with better incandescent like those with halogen or xenon.  The government believes we can save energy and reduce global warming if we get rid of the offending light bulb.  It appears that most of us have not been replacing our incandescent fast enough with CFLs to satisfy the EPA.  Get ready for a visit from the light bulb police if your house is lighted too brightly.  And hide your hoarded stash of incandescent bulbs well.

I doubt that there are too many of us who are not implementing some kind of “green” program to cut energy costs and reduce pollution by replacing these retro lights that have been around since Edison and Swan invented them during the 1870s.  Despite being dated technology, these bulbs work great and we are all familiar with them.  They are cheap, reliable and readily available.  But let’s face it, lighting eats up about 8 to 12% of our home energy bills depending upon house size, lighting types, and how frugal we are.  Roughly 50% of that home energy is taken by things with motors like refrigerators, HVAC and other appliances.  But going with a more efficient lighting solution will save some energy and money especially if everyone does it.

I am already on the way to replacing my incandescents with CFLs.  I don’t necessarily like it but I am doing it.  I now use them in porch lights, ceiling/fan lights, and a few lamps.  I still use incandescents in my reading lamps as I prefer the coloring and the fact they are just brighter.  That whitish/blue light is irritating, but I guess that’s just me.  I did recently find a CFL with a more incandescent glow which I am trying out.  Not too bad but still not bright enough even in the highest wattage size.  There are also no good CFL replacements that I have found for recessed floods and spots which are common in kitchens and some light fixtures.

While the CFLs do save energy, they are much more expensive, at least 5 to 10 times what an incandescent costs.  I am sure that those who are less affluent certainly balk at the price when food is more important, even if the CFL is cheaper if amortized over a longer period.  Do most consumers amortize their purchases?  Of course not.

Other CFL downsides besides less overall light and color are the time it takes to come up to full brightness as well as the declining illumination over time.  CFLs also do not work with most dimmers.  There are some CFL dimmers but they are not as good as the old fashion incandescent kind.  I have also heard that CFLs do not work well in cold environments, like outdoors in winter or in refrigerators.

One big issue is that some CFLs really interfere with shortwave and ham radio communications with a horrible noise spectrum that makes listening impossible.  It took me a while to figure that out until my wife turned off a lamp while I was trying to listen one day and suddenly all the radio noise went away.  And let’s not forget the disposal hazard.  CFL disposal recommendations are a real pain and inconvenience.  I doubt that most consumers are going to discard a bad CFL with the local disposal facility as recommended.  I did break a CFL not too long ago and some of that mercury vapor got free.  I didn’t die and I have no ill effects from the clean up but maybe it’s going to get me later somehow.  I am not going to worry about it.

The bottom line is that we are replacing an accepted cheaper product with one that is more complex and expensive and has many downsides.  Doesn’t seem like common sense to me but I keep reminding myself that it is for the collective good.  We all need help with our energy and pollution problems.  CFLs are an easy solution, still it seems like a high price to pay.  Most consumers are short term vs. long term thinkers as they go for the immediate gratification.  They are trading off low price for brighter lights now for the savings over five to ten years.

As for LEDs, they certainly seem to be the best choice as almost any desired intensity and color can be had.  But at a price.  I have only tried one LED bulb ($20) and it is certainly bright enough although I still could not find the color spectrum I wanted.  Even though this bulb will last probably longer than I will, it is still way too expensive for the average person.  We can all assume that the LED will be our future as prices abate.  In the meantime, enjoy your CFLs.  And don’t spend all those savings in one place.

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