Not Necessarily Bringing Good Things to Light

Let’s talk about light bulbs a little. For the last several years I’ve been surreptitiously replacing our incandescent bulbs with the most cost-effective compact fluorescents I could find, somewhat to my wife’s dismay, I think. Now our nightlights are LEDs and our basement bulbs are mostly CFLs. So far, so good. I haven’t had any problems with any of them.

The first compact fluorescent I ever saw was more than 30 years ago, in the home of the parents of an old friend of mine. We had gone to Philadelphia for a wedding (I had flown out, he had driven) and we all drove back together, stopping overnight in Cleveland to visit his parents.

His dad was an engineer who designed lightbulbs for GE and their entire house was lit with compact fluorescents. The light they produced was beautiful and warm. Their Christmas tree was covered with figural bulbs from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. I think he repaired them himself.

There was one observation of his that I thought I’d share with you. There’s no reason that a lightbulb, particularly a compact fluorescent lightbulb, can’t last for thirty years. It all depends on how they’re made. The issue is production.

One more point. I know that the explanation for the reason that CFLs are nearly all made in China is lower labor costs. I have yet to see that quantified and, frankly, I’m skeptical. I think that environmental and compliance costs are far more likely explanations.

7 comments… add one
  • Drew Link

    I, too, have slowly replaced many of our lightbulbs with CFLs. I find the light a bit too ” white” but you quickly get used to it, and the slow start up can be annoying. But if that is the worst to happen to you in your life thank your lucky stars.

    Despite what preconceived notions certain commenters might have about me, it seems only sensible if you can afford it to use energy efficiently. Further, given that my wife and daughter haven’t turned off a light ( I spend half the day turning off the ones they left on) in years it makes sense to slow down the meter.

    My issue, of course, is choice. I can buy t he bulbs. Some can’t. They arent bad people because of it, and it shouldnt be mandated. So be it. And $50 bulbs? C’mon.

  • steve Link

    We are mostly CFLS, but I am hoping that better LEDs come out. In theory, you should be able to tint them to almost anything you want.


  • That’s pretty much my view, too, Steve. When we were putting on our addition there were some places in which I genuinely wanted to install LEDs which would have simplified some issues but the technology just wasn’t there.

    I’d like to replace the incandescents in our dining room chandelier with LEDs but they’d need to be dimmable and that’s just not there yet, either.

  • We use flourescent tubes in the office and laundry room. Any other light that will be on more than an hour or two are CFLs.

    At my age, we’re very low light around here. Does wonders for lines and wrinkles.

  • Jimbino Link

    The engineer could also explain to Amerikans some things they don’t understand:

    A cheap 100-watt bulb is 100% efficient in heating your house in winter, same as a LED or CFL bulb, same as an electric baseboard heater, and it is more efficient than typical central heating system that suffers losses in the ductwork. So a person who has no access to cheaper gas heat is an idiot if he sacrifices good lighting by switching to either LEDs or CFLs in the winter heating season. Added benefits of incandescents are that they are dimmable and can even give you a tan (Vitamin D!) at the same time.

    Furthermore, if you don’t need much extra light, an even better heater would be a refrigerator with the door left open all winter. Not only would it heat the house with 100% efficiency, but it would also manage to keep beer cold, if only in the freezer. Try chilling beer with a CFL or baseboard heater!

  • I’m all LED and CFL except for some specialty bulbs and a couple of rarely-used lights (not cost effective). Dave, there are dimmable CFL’s and LED’s now – I use LED’s on my dimmable fixtures and they work great.

    There are also many colors available from a cool white through a warm white for both CFL’s and LED’s. The main problem with LED’s especially is price.

  • Watch out for the mercury in CFLs… don’t drop one!! LEDs are the way forward and in the UK at least, 4watt and over, are dimmable! I supply to businesses here with lighting solutions and am daily amazed by the advance of lighting (especially in LEDs) technology! And though prices are coming down and you could wait… but why when you have over 50,000 hours lifespan, your bulbs could easily last well over 12 years and the big savings could start now…!

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