Exit the light bulb


If you want to see the future, look toward Europe.

On Tuesday, the ban on incandescent light bulbs begins in the EU, the New York Times reports. It’s part of an attempt to limit greenhouse gases but the debate continues over whether the cure is just as bad.

The U.S. is headed toward a similar de facto ban. I wrote about it in the infant days of News Cut. (And here.)

Any substantive conversation about the U.S. ban disappeared when Rep. Michele Bachmann filed a bill to delay implementation, not so much because there aren’t some legitimate concerns about the replacement, but — let’s face it — because it was Michele Bachmann.

But there are some concerns about the CFL bulb, even beyond the mercury content. Stick one in your garage door opener bulb socket sometime. It doesn’t last very long. I tried. Several times. What about the little light bulb in your fridge? Or your oven? Or work lights (Don’t talk to me about those LED work lights; I tested one of those — for $35 — this year and next to the day I got married and the day my children were born, the day I tossed that junk in the trash was the happiest day of my life)? CFL bulbs have improved, but not by a lot. LEDs may be the answer in some applications — autos, traffic signals, Christmas lights — but not a lot of everyday ones.

There maybe be a solution on the way. NPR has the story this evening about a firm that is making a hybrid incandescent bulb that uses less electricity than the the CFL. Expensive? You bet.

But back to the UK for a minute. The government has asked people to keep an eye on shopkeepers who still sell incandescents. Some are said to be importing the “illegal” bulbs from China. And that brings up another likely problem when it disappears from the U.S. scene — the underground bootlegged incandescents. Incandescent speakeasies. Mysterious men in overcoats who whisper, “Psst, buddy. Want to buy a light bulb?”

Which is why I’m stocking up. It could be the answer to my 403B woes.

(Light bulb photo above:

  • Tricia

    So here’s a thought…what about all those “antique” lamps that were wired for incandescent? Do folks in the UK now rewire for CFL’s? (no, they don’t always fit existing fixtures) Does that bring down the value of those lamps that once held kerosene? I say let’s just go back to good old fashioned candle power!

  • Bobbydole

    Not much of a ban…

    “E.U. officials sought to reassure consumers that they still would have plenty of choice, and that the changes would be gradual. The clear 60-watt bulb, one of the most commonly used, would remain available until at least September 2011, and clear 40-watt bulbs until 2012.”

  • Brad

    Incandescent light is the only light to relax to. LEDs – great for traffic. Fluorescent – great for the warehouse. It’s like a pencil sharpener, matches, a can opener, or newspaper… It just won’t be the same if they’re replaced by wash-out alternative lights.

  • MNguy

    CFLs and LEDs don’t work in dimmers. I’ve tried both types that were specifically designed for dimmers and the range is very narrow, the CFLs go out at low settings and the LEDs are wicked expensive and also have a very narrow range of control.

    Having said that I have as many CFLs in the house as I can in on/off style fixtures. They do save money and you can pick the color temperature to match the warm white of incandescent bulbs.

    In Sweden they still have lots of incandescent lamps as well as CFLs. It all depends on the application. The best way to promote CFL use is to raise the price of electricity. Incentives would also be a useful government intervention. An outright ban will probably be counter productive.

  • Duke Powell

    First, it will be interesting to see if the American public puts up with this nonsense.

    Secondly, you just gave me a great idea for a youth soccer fundraiser.

  • Rob

    Fluorsescent bulbs die quickly when put on a blinker circuit.

    A well-known department store chain switched to CFL bulbs for their blinking “Blue Light Special” lights, which were supplied by a local lightbulb wholesaler. They were upset that the bulbs needed to be replaced about every two weeks. They switched back to incandescent bulbs for blinking light applications.

    Many fluorescent bulbs take about 30 minutes to reach full brightness. Some are a dim pink color for the first few minutes.

    Also, when I switched to electronic ballast CFL bulbs to replace the old magnetic ballast CFL bulbs, the electronics have been burning out in well under a year in my house, even for name-brand bulbs.

    CFL in my garage burn out quickly in the winter in Minnesota. I rarely get more than a few dozen hours out of a CFL bulb in the garage.

    And it is recommended to CUT OUT a piece of carpet that had a CFL break on it, which results in hazardous waste. Yeah, right. When I was a kid the gradeschool Science teacher would demonstrate how a pool of mercury held in your hand would “suck onto” a silver dime, and make it shiny again. Kids played with mercury back then, and we did not suffer too much brain damage.

    Regarding mercury toxicity — “Mad Hatter Syndrome” was the result of inhaling large quantities of mercury fumes on a daily basis, while making felt hats. Wearing a biohazard suit to clean up a broken CFL bulb is extreme overkill, but has been known to happen these days…

    If incandescents are banned, blinking lights (such as traffic signals) will need to be changed to LEDs…

  • Peter Schuman

    CFLs are nice, but they will NOT do the job when you need a light that comes on at full intensity immediately. The hybrid bulb may help, but probably not until it is a good deal more efficient user of power. Certainly CFLs have improved markedly; when they came out, they were little more than an expensive curiosity that didn’t work very long (and didn’t produce a good spectrum).

    I was also surprised that the Consumer Reports commentator didn’t mention the slow growth to full brightness of CFLs, especially outside, and even more so in the winter.

  • Jim!!!

    An LED bulb could certainly be made to work well in a dimmer, there’s really no limit to the range of color and brightness that can be produced. Someone is probably working on one that warms in color like an incandescent when dimmed too. The ban will certainly spur innovation in this area.

    Incandescents will certainly always be around in some form, like heat lamps, which is something they’re notoriously good for.

  • Bob Collins

    //Having said that I have as many CFLs in the house as I can in on/off style fixtures.

    Ditto. I know when we kicked this around last year, someone said CFLs wouldn’t work in the bathroom. So I’ve been experimenting with a handful of CFLs and so far they work great.

    BTW, has anyone ever tried taking back a CFL? All of those “guaranteed” brands have a few asterisks to them. I started saving sales receipts and a record of which go with the location of a particular bulb, but when they burn out, the cost of packing them and sending them makes it a dumb idea.

  • Bob Moffitt

    I started used CFLs 20 years ago, when the technology had just started (and the bulbs were huge and expensive), so I guess I was an early adapter. Our electric utility is going to do a feature on us in their newsletter this week.

    Had to love this comment from Bob’s early News Cut story, from “Patriot.”

    “I for one am not falling for this socialist propaganda…”

    Heh! Resistance is futile, Patriot!

  • Mary

    This is a technical problem and it needs a technical solution, not a legislative one. LED lighting is still very much in development. From what I’ve seen, there is every chance that LEDs will become the default lighting solution within the next ten or twenty years, as their performance improves. CFLs seem likelty to meet the same fate as audio tape, a flawed “intermediate” technology which barely had time to fluorish in the decade or two between the record and the CD. (I guess that would make today’s LED lighting options the equivalent of the early laser disc…)

    I think once a genuinely better lightbulb is invented, the world will beat a path to the inventor’s door without government intervention.

  • Tyler

    There’s a secret problem to CFL’s that very few people know about – it’s called “power factor.” It’s a difficult concept to grasp, and usually only applies to factories with lots of electric motors; but what it comes down to is this:

    CFLs have HORRIBLE power factor, which means that when they’re turned on, they draw more power than they should. Now, it’s only a lightbulb here and there, but as more and more are used, it will become an increasing problem.

    Hopefully the CFL power factor issue will be corrected by the time they’re mainstream (shudder), or else the energy savings of switching to CFLs from incandescents will compensate for the problem.

    Nonetheless, I get a very general feeling that the green-washing our economy is using MORE resources, rather than LESS. What’s wrong with conservation?

  • sm

    Could you get a prescription for incandescent bulbs? Anything that can be marketed by the medical industrial complex has a better chance of survival.

    I personally dislike CFLs. They burn out too fast, the light is horrible and makes me cranky. And the best way to “recycle” them? Smash them into bitty pieces on the garage floor. How many people will be trotting these things to a recycle location without a $5 deposit on each one?