Environmentalist Whacko!

Thursday, August 31, 2006
Instapundit points to How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change the World? One. And You're Looking At It. Changing the world is, to say the least, a bit of hyperventilation. This does, however, represent a very simple and painless way to save some money by consuming less electricity and if done on a large scale can surely matter in some measurable way. Over the past few months I have replaced the 12 most frequently "on" bulbs in my home with these.

I have only 3 complaints and they are minor.

One, of course, is that the purchase price of these bulbs is very high compared with ordinary bulbs - but the cost is $3 - $4 per bulb so it is not out of reach for anyone to replace some as needed. If the savings claims are inflated only double, however, that is money recouped in both electricity bills and longevity. I haven't tracked the electrical consumption but I presume the claims must have some basis in fact.

Longevity remains to be seen but the only other flourescent bulbs I have in my house have lifetimes that are downright astonishing. About eight or more years ago I had installed a ceiling fixture that used some funky looking U-shaped flourescent bulbs. They finally went bye-bye and when I went to replace them I could no longer remember how to extract them. That was a pain in the arse since I wound up tearing the bubs apart figuring out how to extract them. That is obviously not an issue with the bulbs that screw in like any other bulb and will be a benefit with a couple of the fixtures I chose since they are decorative and make changing bulbs a bit of a chore.

My second complaint, and the biggest, is that these bulbs are still slow to reach their maximum output. They take a few moments to "spin up" when you flip the switch. It isn't very long and one becomes accustomed to it but you can flip the switch and be in bed before the light is on.

My final complaint is that these are not yet (or at least I haven't found them) available in 40 watt variety. Sixty watt is the lowest I've found. In multibulb fixtures (kitchen for example) I prefer using 40 watt bulbs. Three forty watt bulbs is perfect, three sixties is too much light. Once I find some 40's I'll move the 60's out of those fixtures and replace some other bulbs. This also means I can't quite get the maximum savings since I'm still burning a watt or three more than I need and prefer.

It is a small thing but well worth the initial cost and minor irritatation of slow startup.


Knucklehead said...

Oops! For some reason I can't get in to modify the post so I'll mention something I neglected.

The fine print on the packaging for these bulbs mentions that they cannot be used with a rheostat (a dimmer switch). That doesn't impact me personally but dimmer swithces are popular so it will surely impact the overall acceptance of these and one would be disappointed to drop $6 or $10 on them and find one couldn't use them where one wanted to.

On the packaging for some it says they are also unsuitable for lights switched by motion or light sensors (fixtures that come on when you walk up near them or when it gets dark). I use one with a motion sensor and it seems to work fine. It might impact longevity but hasn't killed the poor bugger yet.

David Thomson said...

I plan on buying the new bulbs from here on end. We have everything to gain by embracing proven fuel efficient technologies. I am only against environmentalist extremism---not common sense.

Syl said...

A few years ago I had my pupils dilated for an eye test. It was in the evening and I was driven home after. When I walked in the front door of my apt everything was WAY TOO BRIGHT.

So other solutions to this problem might be:

Everyone using eyedrops after sunset to dilate their pupils.


Everyone smokes some MJ same timeframe.


Mating with cats.

truepeers said...


A big advantage of compact fluorescents is that if you like to leave lights on at night or when you are out of the house, you can have your sense of security without feeling you are burning dollars only out of insecurity.

chuck said...

The fine print on the packaging for these bulbs mentions that they cannot be used with a rheostat (a dimmer switch).

That, and the time it takes them to come up to speed, are what keeps me from using them everywhere. I use them in the garage, where in winter it takes them a *really* long time to spin up. They don't work in the my garage door opener fixture either, which is annoying.

Knucklehead said...


I thought I was a bit of a nutjob when it came to these CFL bulbs.

Here's a guy, Alchemic-Spot, who did a pretty rigourous cost and "quality of life" analysis. He calculates he'll save about $185/yr with the changes. But he did figure that for some of the bulbs in his home it would take up to 500 years to recover the additional cost! (Very low use lights don't make much sense to bother with.)

Speaking of common sense, it doesn't fit the common sense factor to change out every bulb. For one thing, as good as they are they don't fit into every fixture. If you have small lamps with those shades that clamp on the bulb you can't use them and they just don't fit everywhere - they're still slightly larger in various dimensions.

In my case my females are prone to lighting the world all day and night. I'm a turner-offer. So over the years I'd developed a good idea of which lights I was forever turning off. Those are the ones I replaced with CFLs.

I wouldn't put one in the fixture that lights the stairs into the basement. They spool up too slowly and nobody would think to wait, they'd just head off down the stairs in the dusky light. I will eventually replace them in the utility areas though even though those aren't heavy use. For that though, I'll just wait till I finally find my covetted 40 watters and then move the 60s to those fixtures.

I have no good way to seperate out kilowatt-hours for those lighting to ever have any idea what they'll save me but I was mulling some back of the noggin' calculations based on the packaging claims while screwing them in and I came up with $12 - $15 per month. I'll take it.

One interesting thing that can't be calculated is the heat savings (or loss). Replacing 3 40 watt bulbs with 1 "60 watt" CFL is basically a wash in the heat output from one bulb. So the fixture is putting out only 1/3 as many watts. How many BTUs that is I dunno, but it might be 10 or 20 minutes per summer less AC running ;)

Morgan said...

...if every one of 110 million American households bought just one ice-cream-cone bulb, took it home, and screwed it in the place of an ordinary 60-watt bulb, the energy saved would be enough to power a city of 1.5 million people.

...Last year, U.S. consumers spent about $1 billion to buy about 2 billion lightbulbs--5.5 million every day. Just 5%, 100 million, were compact fluorescents.

So wait, if 110 million of these things were installed, that would be an incredible, glorious thing, but 100 million last year is peanuts?

Skookumchuk said...


You can get the 40 watters in the circular or torus shaped bulbs. GE makes them, maybe others, too. Home Depot should stock them. I know I've seen others that might be more versatile, but can't remember where. Here is one online.

Knucklehead said...


The slow start up (and it is more pronounced when it is cold) can be an issue.

I used my back door light as a test case for that. It needed a new bulb so I tossed a CFL in there. That's the one that is on a motion sensor. It was either always leave the light on or put it on a timer or sensor. Since I don't want it on all danged night I chose a motion sensor. That way when My Better-Half drives up alongside that door (that's "her" parking spot, I get to walk a few extra feet) the light turns on.

I figured the slow start up would be a no-no for that spot. But in the handful of seconds it takes to get out of the car and up to the door it's bright enough, even in winter, to find the keyhole. In fact, when I come home in the dark the light doesn't click on till I walk right up to it and it's enough light to get the key in the lock.

I'm having a bit of chuckle over the "ordinary life" and "common sense" parts of these silly bulbs. I haven't changed a bulb since I replaced the bunch of them. Apparently the lights I didn't change aren't burning enough to have burned out. So the spare bulb supply just sits there waiting. Buying a four-pack of bulbs used to be a standard part of shopping.

I guess its a sign of some mental problem (or maybe just a boring life!) when I can get excited about light bulbs.

Knucklehead said...


Good catch! Just a quick memory scan of my home tells me I won't use them to replace anything more than half the bulbs in my house. If I can't remember ever changing the bulb then it doesn't burn enough to even come close to justifying a CFL.

Reality is probably than no more than 1/3 or 1/2 of household bulbs would qualify for CFLs. And commercial/industrial already uses flourescent by a wide margin.

The nation's electrical use isn't going to be radically altered by CFLs. But if a nation of 300 million people were to eventually use 2/3 less power for 1/3 of it's household lighting, well, that's sumpin'.

In 10 years though we'll probably be hearing about the national disgrace of no more domestic light bulb manufacturers since the market for incandescents dropped by 1/3 and CFLs last so long that no domestic manufacturer can be bothered with making a piddling 4 or 500 million of them per year ;)

Seneca the Younger said...

Three forty watt bulbs is perfect, three sixties is too much light.

If you can't get a suntan, it's not bright enough.

chuck said...

The nation's electrical use isn't going to be radically altered by CFLs.

I mainly use them because they last so long. For outdoor stuff and sockets that are hard to reach, that is a definite plus.

Knucklehead said...

You're one of those "hunnert watters", aren't you! I was once upon a time. I had a 'lectrician buddy over to help me change some lighting around - get rid of some fixtures and put new ones in other spots. We took down the original fixture - a 3 bulb thing that we'd always stuffed with 100 watt bulbs - and the ceiling around it just kept cracking away until the hole was more than twice the size of the fixture.

"What the heck is wrong with this stuff?" wondered me.

"Whattaya mean 'what's wrong with it'? You been baking it with 300 watts, eight or 12 hours a day, year after year. You're lucky it didn't catch fire! There's a reason they put these little labels that say stuff like 'Sixty watts maximum'," answered 'Lectrician Buddy.

A couple other fixtures were similar. I've toned down my lightning preferences since then.

truepeers said...

Of course, before you invest in CFs, you have to wonder how much longer before the LED revolution hits the house. It sure has changed bike lighting - and Knuck, I was really excited when that happened - very cheap, lightweight and pretty bright.

chuck said...

Of course, before you invest in CFs, you have to wonder how much longer before the LED revolution hits the house.

Gas lighting is good and comes with build in dimmers. Hmmm, know of any bike lights that use acetylene?

JB said...

In the bathroom, replacing 4 out of the typical 5 bulbs with CFLs works pretty well. The incandescent powers up immediatelygiving you some light while the others come on in short order. Good for shaving, washing up, etc.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

My wife calls the fluorescents I've put all over the house the "request-a-light"s. THat's the old generation. The truth, though, is that the newest generation of these things come on very fast, fast enough in my opinion to justify using them.

Knucklehead said...


Interesting. I haven't seen LEDs for household use ("haven't seen" means that while I've been looking through the light bulb section of Home Depot no LED bulbs have jumped off the shelf and plopped at my feet).

I did a quick web scan and the lighting seems good, the electrical use is roughly 1/3 - 1/4 of even CFLs (10% or less of a similar incandescent), the lifetime is 6 or so times that of a CFL (we're getting into roughly 40 times the lifetime of an ordinary incandescent lightbulb! You might only change these bulbs once or twice in a lifetime!) but the entry price is still about 9 or 10 times that of a CFL. At $3-4 per bulb people will try it and see if they like it. At $30+/bulb many people will balk.

Use CFLs for their 6 or 7 year life and LEDs will be ready.

But if you have decorative candelabra you can get LED bulbs - not the case yet with CFLs. And with that 17 or so year lifetime if you've got a particularly difficult to reach location - man, that's the way to go!

This is kinda amusing. Every year they publish these cute little lists of things a middle aged person is completely familiar with that a new college frosh aged kid has never even known in their lifetime. In another decade or so the yutes may not ever have seen an ordinary, incandescent lightbulb. They'll learn about Edison inventing the lightbulb but bulb itself will be as odd to them as the Wright brothers flex wing plane is to us.

It will eventually reach the point where a 17 year old kid may never have seen anyone actually change a lightbulb. Mom and Dad, instead of "walked to school uphill, in the snow" stories will be telling them how they had to drag around a kitchen chair every couple of weeks to change one bulb or another.

Nobody will keep spare bulbs if you only need to change one every 20 years. We'll need some out-of-band maintenance net to let us know when a bulb is about to fail so we can arrange to have a new one ready. Will ordinary grocery stores carry lightbulbs anymore?

chuck said...

"walked to school uphill, in the snow"

The way I heard it, it finished with the boys breaking out a window so they could start a fire in the stove. Thank goodness for global warming.

Will ordinary grocery stores carry lightbulbs anymore?

If it goes like it has for appliances, we'll just throw out the house when the lights start to go and get a new one.