Just one month ago today I started this blog with a report on my own personal green efforts. I wrote about changing all the dimmable spot and “can” lights throughout our home and offices. The 27 old bulbs I took out can be seen above. That’s one of the new PAR 20 dimmables in my office to the right.
If changing just one bulb really helps change the world, then I’m doing pretty good
In a moment of lunacy I reported that we’d be saving over $300 per bulb in in electricity costs over the bulb’s life. As if… If anyone were actually reading this stuff and thinking about it, they would have set me straight, but maybe you were all too busy laughing.
The savings are more like $36 per bulb (for the PAR 30 size on the left) which still ain’t bad, but still my math was way off. After changing fifteen PAR 30 and eight PAR 20 interior lights (saving $34 per bulb) and my four exterior flood lights (saving $45 per bulb) my savings should add up to about $992.
So we’re saving lots of energy and we’re saving significant money, but what’s the quality of the lighting like? Can I tell the difference? Are today’s CFLs indistinguishable from the incandescents they replaced?
In a word, no. The new lights take some getting used to. But I’m already over it – mostly. Hey, I’ve got to tell it like it is, and I’ve learned a few things I can pass along to you.
First off on the dimmable Par 30 can lights we replaced in our kitchen, living room, and home office: We went from 65 watt incandescents to 15 watt CFLs. But the wattage only tells part of the story because the quality of the lighting comes from the color temperature.
If you want a warm white/soft white light, the kind most comparable to incandescent bulbs that accentuate warm colors, (the look preferred in homes and restaurants) then you want a bulb that’s in the 2500k to 3000k temp range. We went with 2550k temp bulbs in the living room and 2850k in my office/studio.
So how do I like the light? I love it. It looks great in the kitchen, the pantry, the living room, the bathroom, and the offices. The color temperature feels warmer and more pleasant than the bulbs they replaced. I do not miss the old bulbs.
For white/natural white/bright light comparable to halogen bulbs, the kind that will show accurate colors and the best light for bathrooms, showing artwork and retail displays, then you’ll want a bulb in the 3000k to 3500k temp range.
4000k gives you cool white light often used for hospitals and big office lighting.
And finally, 5000k gets you daylight-like lighting best for reading and working on fine detail projects.
I especially dig buying these bulbs from manufacturers other than the bad boys of GE, Phillips and Sylvania. These legacy light makers have been raking in billions by producing one of the most inefficient products ever made.
The average incandescent light bulb loses more than 70% of the energy it uses in heat. How’s that for helping to warm the globe? Those bulbs not only waste money and produces more carbon in the air, but all that heat comes with other high prices. It deteriorates the materials that surround the light bulb and worse than that, during the summer that heat drives up cooling costs.
Legacy light makers could have given us energy saving bulbs many years ago but they dragged their heels and stayed behind the curve because their priority has always been healthy profits over a healthy planet. And now these same Legacy light makers are pushing their new CFLs -but they’re also pushing their old planet cooking bulbs just as hard. I say cross them off your list and do not buy CFLs made by GE, Phillips, Westinghouse, Sylvania or the other names you know form the 20th Century.
I recommend buying your bulbs from manufacturers like Neptun, Overdrive, Durabright and MicroBrite all of whom are leading the way with CFL technology that keeps improving, and all of whom have made CFLs and energy saving lighting their priority and specialty.
I ordered my bulbs at 1000bulbs.com. There are plenty of other retailers on line so you can search for the best prices. Lowes and Home Depot are both now carrying a wide selection of CFL bulbs. The selection at OSH (owned by Sears) sucks and the shelves are typically in disarray. Maybe it’s different where you live.
One thing you’ll lose by making this switch is the full range of dimmability you get with incandescent bulbs. These lights seem to dim to about 50% of the full power. The box says it’s actually 20%, but I don’t know how they’re measuring that. Either way, I can live with the dimming because I don’t dim my lights more than that anyway. But the more you dim your lights, the less energy they use, so dimming is important.
And I’m definitely not digging the buzzing sound that comes from the light switch when I do dim the lights. I don’t know if it’s caused by my new bulbs or my existing fixtures. The info on the bulbs says they’re compatible with all dimmable lights made from 1995 onward. That’s right around the time I had all these lighting fixtures and dimmer switches put in. So maybe it’s my fixtures giving me the buzz.
The buzzing isn’t on the level of a swarm of bees, (which means that idea I had about a cross promotion with BEE Movie won’t fly) but it will make the bulbs a tougher sell with the average American. So far I haven’t seen this complaint from other users – but maybe now that I’m putting this out there, I will.
Another big difference is the fact that these bulbs take about 20-45 seconds to warm up to full power. I’ve read comments from others who’ve made this switch and some of them talk about how cool and mellow it is to have the lights gradually get brighter instead of the instant full intensity. That’s a nice way to spin it, but I’m not sure that will fly with the average consumer either.
This is a tough creative challenge because the whole concept of time today has become so condensed. Less than a minute was a short period of time 15 years ago, but today 30 seconds is dial-up speed and that won’t cut it for anyone under 40. Make that under 50.
So I don’t think we’re going to sell people on the concept of “it’s not too long to wait in order to help save the planet” no matter how much sense that makes.
Right now the CFL Manufacturers are using phrases like “FastStart Technology” but the technology will need to cut or eliminate that warm up time and I have no doubt that they will. They’ve already made huge advances in just the last couple of years.
In the meantime, I’d focus on the cost savings and the green benefits and target homeowners over 50 as well as kids in grammar and junior high schools. I’d push the kids to “Make your parents do the right thing to help save YOUR planet and help save them lots of money at the same time.” We can easily activate those kids into advocates armed with the simple facts and have them evangelize the issue with their parents and grandparents. Today’s kids can guilt their pushover parents into anything and I say turn them loose.
For me these bulbs should work for the next five to seven years and save us at least a grand in electric costs – probably a lot more than that because electric rates are just going to keep going up. When the time comes to replace them I’m betting we’ll do so with LED bulbs. That will cut my lighting energy use by 70% over these fluorescents. More about LED bulbs in another post to come.