R.I.P. Incandescent Light Bulbs: 1879-2013

Commentary on the gradual loss of incandescent light bulbs.

Have you replaced all your incandescent light bulbs with CFLs yet?  I haven’t, but I have made a start replacing the bulbs as they have burned out.  My guess is that I have about one half of my lighting by CFLs now with more to come.  My conclusion is that CFLs serve the purpose but they flat do not put out the same amount of light even though I am saving energy.  They are terrible for reading, at least in my opinion.  A good old 150 or 200 watt incandescent cannot be beat.

As of the first of the year, the manufacture and sale of 75-watt incandescents is against the law.  That ban happened to 100-watt bulbs last year.  Next year, 60 and 40-watt bulbs go on the no-no list.  All of that is due to the controversial Energy Independence and Security Act (ESIA) of 2007.  The Act does not ban the actual use or purchase of these bulbs, just their manufacture and sale.  As a result, it is hard to find a 100 watt bulb these days.  The same for 75 and 60 watters.  In fact most incandescents are in short supply.  Several key light bulb factories in the U.S. have closed as a result.  The whole idea is to force us all to save energy buy using more expensive CFL and LED bulbs.  I like the energy savings idea but I hate the idea that the government is forcing this on us.  Watch out for the light bulb police.

I had a couple of recessed kitchen floods go out recently.  I really had to shop around for some of these.  It took three stops before I found what I needed in a Home Depot.  I paid just under $10 for a package of three 65-watt floods.  The LED equivalents were $27 a pop.  That make me wonder if light bulb manufacturers are cutting down on all bulbs, banned or not.  I wonder when the light bulb smuggling and black market will begin?

One thing I did notice during bulb shopping was the increase in the number of halogen bulbs.  These are incandescents but with the halogen gas they put out more lumens per watt than your basic incandescent.  These are the legal incandescents.  For example, the legal 72-watt halogen puts out the same lumens as an old style 100 watter.  This is a good interim choice if you are still an incandescent lover.

I think the big question for the home owner is: Am I really saving money?  Probably not.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Department of Energy, residential lighting represents only 9 to 13% of total electrical power usage.  Most electrical energy goes to refrigerators, air conditioning, water heaters, and other appliances.  So if you replace all your bulbs with CFLs or LEDs you are only saving a fraction of your total electrical bill.  Offset that with the higher cost of these high tech bulbs and you may break even.  Since the newer bulbs last much longer, you may eventually come out ahead financially, but you won’t actually feel any difference in the meantime.  Is this saving energy?  Yes, but is a small percentage per home.  But it does add up if others are doing the same.

Am I happy about this?  Yes and no.  I especially like the fact that all the CFL and LED bulbs use lots of electronic parts.  That is good for the industry and all of us.  I just wish the government would not be so heavy handed in bringing about change that would probably have happened anyway.

Discuss this Blog Entry 44

on Feb 12, 2013

I am buying as many incandecent's as I can at Lowe's I won't give up my old fashioned light bulbs easily

on Feb 12, 2013

I eagerly replaced incandescent bulbs with CFL and was mostly disappointed. They are not good replacement for outdoor porch lights in the winter time as then are very dim when cold and take several minutes to warm up enough to be useful. They are not robust enough to be used in the light fixtures of ceiling fans as they fail far faster than incandescent bulbs.
Even in the optimum uses, they have failed to deliver the advertised/promised life times. The savings promised have not materialized. Although I have been using them for several years, it is only in the past year that I have been able to recycle them (in a Dallas, TX suburb) rather than throw their hazardous content in the landfill.

Overall, I would say that CFLs have failed to deliver on their promises. I have not yet seen any LED bulbs at prices that I am willing to pay. Yes, they promise even greater life, but given the reality of the CFL promises, I am reluctant to believe the claims.

on Feb 13, 2013

CFLs stink. I am making bootleg argon filled heating tubes for my friends, that incidentally have a light signal to warn when they are on. That light signal is, coincidentally, what a 100 watt bulb would put out. I reuse the bases.

on Feb 13, 2013

CFL is a big mistake. I don't own a hazmat suit to clean up after them - and that does not even consider environmental damage of putting them in the trash.

CFL are also problematic for those of us who are lulled to sleep by them.

I like the LED, but the price is still too high. However, for that garage light that requires a pole to install, it was a great choice given that it has lasted and lasted , ...

Perhaps if we banned CFL due to hazardous content, enough LED bulbs could be manufactured to bring the prices down to something reasonable.

on Feb 13, 2013

I realize that there is a need to create drama in order to attract a crowd, but is it necessary to use terms like "light bulb police" or to suggest hoarding outdated technology?

You knew that halogen incandescents were on the market, but mentioned that "good old 150 or 200 watt incandescent cannot be beat". Later in the column you state that "the legal 72-watt halogen puts out the same lumens as an old style 100 watter", so clearly you don't think there is a reason to hang on to a less efficient bulb.

If you want to argue that there are aspects of CFLs or LED lights that are suboptimal, that's fine. Point out the fact that CFL's don't like to have frequent power cycling, or that both need a bit of airflow to avoid shortening their life, or maybe indicate that there are some really neat new LEDs light modules that avoid the reliability issues of switching power supplies by driving the LEDs directly with AC (see the Seoul Semiconductor Acrich2).

This is a technology magazine. Let's explore the state of the art without the conspiratorial overtones, okay?

on Feb 13, 2013

If it was outdated, then why would the government need to outlaw them?

It isn't outdated at all. Lightbulbs that are cheaper, and don't create a hazmat condition when they break are an important technology. We don't want to expose our children to mercury.

It is for the children. If it saves only one life...

And besides, I need it to power my easy bake oven.

on Feb 13, 2013

I am not a big fan of CFLs either. One problem is that manufacturers do not put the color temperature on the package and one doesn't find out until getting home that they are the wrong color temp. A bigger issue is that there are many decorative fixtures that use the lightbulb itself as part of the "ambience". For example, in my bathrooms, I have these rather large round bulbs in the light fixture that are exposed. The filament is visible and is part of the effect. At this point, I haven't found any replacements for those bulbs that have the same aesthetics. When I can't buy those bulbs any longer, I will have trash the old fixture and buy a whole new fixture. Doesn't seem like a very carbon friendly approach for bulbs that are on very few hours a day, maybe less than 1-2 hours total.

That said, I have used CFLs successfully for applications where the light is on for many hours a day and with good reliability. CFLs are absolutely the wrong choice for closet lights where they are only on for a few minutes at a time.

But the one-size fits all approach Congress likes to take seems to be the way things are going.

on Feb 13, 2013

DUMB LEGISLATION. Period. Absolutely no NEED for such a law. Ask this question: how many CRT manufacturing plants are open? No legislation needed, eh? Either the new technology makes the old obsolete, or it doesn't. SOMEONE is making a *boatload* of money off this law, find out who. LED will supplant most lighting sources until the next technology matures. The issue of PRICE vs. LIFE vs. "SAVINGS" is one that has not been properly addressed. The issue of DISPOSAL of these somewhat toxic CFL bulbs has not been addressed. CFL is clearly an interim, transitional technology, so perhaps it matters not. LED life is pretty darn good so far. I have a nice looking "flood" that has good color look, but is EXPENSIVE. It would need to last and be used for something like 10+ years for break-even, doing seat-of-the pants estimation.

It's a boondoggle, imho, this legislation. God forbid we ever need plants that can do vacuum and tungsten wire...

on Feb 13, 2013

I'm a fan of CFL and LED lighting (were appropriate), but I agree this legistlation is a complete boondoggle. These energy efficient technologies should win over the market on their own merit, not by outlawing the less efficient option. If you follow the money, you'll find that most CFLs are made in China. If the Chinese are influeincing our government legislation, we are in real trouble as a nation.

on Feb 13, 2013

I have purchased several CFL bolbs over the last few years. Being an engineer, I figured I'd see just how much I was saving. I purchase an inline current meter, and checked an 60 W incandescent bulb, and sure enough= 60 watts. I then replaced it with a 60W (equivalent) CFL, and checked the wattage ==> 60 watts!!! What? I purchased several other brands and wattages and did the same test. It is 60 Watts consumed, even after on for an hour. I've reported this to sveral news agencies, and this very important news simply slips into a black hole. Why isn't this being discussed? I agree Incan. bulbs are inefficient, but the savings (ha ha) isn't worth the cost. I don't like the brightness, the mercury, the fact that they don't fit into the same tight spaces, you can't dim them worth a darn, and they are more expensive. I've also seen the horror stories and pictures of some of the Chinese-manufactured bulbs burning up or exploding. No conspiracy here that I can think of.

on Feb 13, 2013

Something must be wrong with your meter or your CFL. Try measuring the power of a 15W incandescent to make sure the meter doesn't have accuracy issues at lower power. Also, if your CFL was really using 60W, it would either be extremely bright or extremely hot (hot enough to melt the plastic base). As an engineer, you know that energy has to go somewhere, and in this case, either light or heat.

on Feb 13, 2013

You need a power meter. The power factor is not necessarily unity so measuring current only and multiplying by voltage will not necessarily give the real power.

on Feb 13, 2013

In other words, check the voltage across the light bulb (voltage drop due to the load). Then Watts = voltage across load times current through load.

on May 10, 2013

My company is working on a power analyser and I was able to look at the simultaneous V/I waveform for a tungsten and for several CFLs. I doubt that a regular wattmeter would be very accurate at determining the power. Tungsten V/I tracked exactly and were perfect sine waves with a purely resistive load (1.0 power factor) . CFLs had a small voltage distortion when the CFL current started, went high and then off to the sky in a narrow spike. The top level of the current could not be measured since it was clipped.

CFLs do horrible things to power distribution systems. Its not clear to me how the utility's meter measure that current spike since those meters assume sine wave inputs. One thing for sure... they DO NOT UNDER-ESTIMATE the power consumed.

The next time that data is available to me I should calculate the power from first principles and see how far away it is from 15W for a 60W equivalent. Unfortunately, even if the 60W number is right the laws will not be changed.

The ECOnuts have won the day again...

on Feb 13, 2013

and I just noticed I can't spell bulbs.

on Feb 13, 2013

I am EXTREMELY conservative by nature, ironic in some regard for a technical person, and engineer, whose life's work has been to develop new products. Yet, when CFL bulbs first appeared, a local independent hardware store in town had several different styles, INCLUDING "3-way" offerings to replace the standard 30-70-100 watters found in so many table lamps throughout the land. I bought two for our lamps on the endtables in the den. That, I'd say, was about 6 or 7 years ago. Both units are still working, and give off sufficient light to be able to read comfortably, while seated near the lamp. I DO freely admit that they are NOT "instant brightness" however. It is interesting to note that they are connected so that the first switch ON position is the lowest output, the 2nd switch position is the HIGHEST output, and the 3rd switch position is the intermediate level. Not sure WHY that is the case, but it is of no practical comment. As an interesting sidebar, I was in HOME DEPOT once, and asked an associate where the 3-Way CFL bulbs were. I was told quite forcefully that they are made. So, sensing a barbed attitude, I suggested that he follow me to our house, wherein I could show him the existence of about 10 such bulbs. He walked away from me without further comment.

A point was made above about halogen bulbs being a viable, if not temporary substitute for classic filament bulbs. BEFORE too many of you jump on that bandwagon, heed my words of caution. The executive suite (president's office) of my company's facility is laced with high-hat fixtures, all having halogen bulbs installed. They WERE a constant source of irritation since their life duration was considerably LESS than a standard 60 or 75 watt Edison bulb. Now, it may have been that they were positioned base-up, and it may have been that these "cans" did not provide sufficient flow-around ventilation, but the Maintenance Dept. finally removed all of them, and replaced them with a more modern CFL bulb, which seem to be operating much better. It is NOTEWORTHY to mention that the room is NOT as brightly lit as before, but the light that is present is softer. The halogens provided a very BRILLIANT, summer sun-like harsh light. Keep this example in mind, should you consider swapping your existing bulbs for halogen replacements.

on Feb 13, 2013

One minor update to the above....100 W CFLs also took 100 watts. 40 watt bulbs also took 40 watts. I didn't feel I was being clear. P.S. Where are all the sites with scientific comparisons of all these? They seem to be strangely missing. Maybe this would be a good Consumer Reports topic.

on Feb 13, 2013

Have you done a web search? Try "Consumer Reports magazine: October 2011" and "Lightbulbs".

on Feb 13, 2013

So, you've got a source for the 40W bulbs in my kitchen ovens? I think that the incandescent lamp demise is far from a fait accomplit.

Compact fluorescents are far from satisfactory. We have a lot of recessed "cans" in our home--and they're all insulated "IC" type. Stick any kind of non-incandescent floodlight in there and the electronics cook themselves--and the lamp fails prematurely.

I find that I replace CFLs more frequently than incandescents in many cases. In a vestibule near the kitchen, we have 4 R30 cans. Because I need closet illumination immediately, not after 3 or 4 minutes, two of those lamps are 65 watt incandescents and the other two, CFLs. In the last decade, the incandescents have never needed replacing, but I've replaced the CFLs perhaps 4 times.

There are hidden costs with CFLs also. They can't be dumped into the main waste stream, but must be kept for "toxics" disposal--and that can be a problem. The state has organized some retailers to accept used CFLs, but many put a limit on the number one can turn in at any time. On the other hand, a used incandescent is pretty benign--mostly glass and a bit of metal. Use RoHS solder on the bottom contact and you're there.

I suspect that getting an efficient heat pump and water heater more than makes up for the energy lost in using incandescent lamps.

One gripe I have with LEDs is the use of self-rectifying strings in Christmas lighting. I'm very sensitive to flicker and LED displays look like they have ants crawling all over them.

on Feb 13, 2013

Those oven AND refrigerator bulbs are going to be a problem. I've tried the CFLs in my outside porch lights, and on winter nights they are just horrible until they warm up. An LED replacement may work in the fridge, but where are you going to find one to work in the oven?

I have NOT seen the promised longer life in the CFLs either. They seem to burn out just as often as the incandescentnt bulbs they replaced or even faster. I suspect it may be due to power-line surges. Most of my sensitive equipment is already on surge suppressorsrs. Does this mean I'm going to have to add a whole-house suppressor to keep these CFLs from burning out? Most of the light fixtures are wired only to the breaker box. You may have to add that to your "hidden costs" list, and those things aren't cheap!

on Feb 13, 2013

Nice shots Chuck & Dave!!!
I do use these new CFLs where low brightness levels are OK. Every package bought on sale. I've not seen any floods (and you won't find any spots) that are sufficient in brightness to replace incandescents. I could use these in my outdoor lighting, as well. Think of all the present lighting (floor lamps and the like) which use those 500 watt dimmable halogens. Throw 'em all away unless you can convert them. How much savings is there when one has to buy all new fixtures?
For my pets, during the winter, I have used the old style bulbs as heating "elements" for the last 15 years in a safe manner, in their sleeping "homes", keeping the night temps no lower than 65 degrees.
A diode inserted inline lowers bulb temp enough to keep it safe as well as lengthen bulb life time at least 3-4 times. With 8 outdoor landscaping lights all half-waved, I haven't had to replace them in years; and they're on every night of the year for 8-10 hours.
I bet others use old styles for heating purposes as well; there are many applications for this.

on Feb 13, 2013

Yep, I use a couple (One for backup.) in my pump-room. You can get a temperature controled outlet from Home Depot designed to run heat-tape and other things, and clip-on light fixtures work just fine. I've also added an electric heater for the unusual times when the bulbs can't keep up, but one bulb was usually enough for that tiny room inless we got windy, sub-zero days.

on Feb 13, 2013

Where did you get your residential lighting usage numbers? I looked on the U.S. Energy Information Administration website and found that lighting (& other small appliances) makes up 55% of residential usage (http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/images/charts/electricity_use_in_home...). On the DoE site (energy.gov), it states that lighting is 15% of residential usage (http://energy.gov/energysaver/downloads/guide-energy-efficient-lighting). So I think 15-55% is more accurate than 9-13%. Although I don't know why the EIA and DoE have such different numbers. If you live in a home that has an efficient refridgerator and A/C, and gas water heater, but are still using incandescents, I can see where lighting could be 50% of your usage.

on Feb 13, 2013

I wonder how they define (& other small appliances). What about my 1500 Watt frying pan or my 800 Watt toaster? Aren't they small appliances? Maybe that's where the difference comes from. Let's not get onto the topic of 55" TVs.
And how many Forman grills do you think they've sold. I think this will give me something to ponder as a use the vacuum cleaner tonight.

on Feb 13, 2013

One possibiity here: maybe IEA is populated with elder, hairy-eared engineers, and DoE is populated with young up-n-coming engineers. You lose roughly half of your ability to gather light for every two decades of life!

Seriously, though, it is likely that the difference is in criteria and the sample rather than any real difference. As mentioned, "& other small appliances" is a pretty wild wildcard. (Does this include the personal electronics used all day and recharged at night? Music reproduction devices played at 100dB?)

Another possibility is whether the sample was restricted to Northern or Southern states. We have less light overall (especially in winter) than our kids in Flordia. We heat with wood and oil, they heat with electric heaters the little that they need it. Result is, our electrical heating expenditures are pretty close, but our lighting costs are much higher.

on Feb 13, 2013

The positive outcome of the ban is that I discovered halogen. While I am for energy conservation, some lighting, under certain circumstances, requires the light produced from a white hot filament -- glowing phosphorescent light is just not the same. My work desk is right under a large (near floor to ceiling) window because natural light makes it easier to work. I have not found a CFL or FL which can produce the quality of light needed to work without getting a headache.

on Feb 13, 2013

I love my CFL lamps. I replaced all the lamps in my house with CFL and LED lamps. There was a large savings on my electric bill. The lamps generally have lasted many years. I have had some early failures but about 90% have lasted at least 4 years. I have had success with 13 watt spirals replacing 65 watt floods. In a room with 9 recessed floods this makes a huge difference. There is plenty of light to read. The government has to show leadership on the phaseout of incandescents. The comments show why. People do not like change. I store the failed lamps in a tote tray. I have to bring in 3-5 failed lamps every other year to our transfer station where they are disposed of properly. I usually have to go there anyway every few years. We all need to do our part to cut CO2 emissions and operate more efficiently.

on Feb 13, 2013

I am trying to replace my CFL's with incandescents as fast as possible and buying a supply when I can find them. What I have found since I heat my home with firewood with the CFL's I was burning through more wood because the CFL's didn't heat my house during the winter like the incandescents. And also don't even attempt to heat the water in a chicken coop with a CFL your water will freeze solid where a 40W incandescent is plenty to keep the water thawed even well below zero.

on Feb 13, 2013

bccrane's comment is an important explanation as to why incandescent bulbs are not as inefficient as depicted. They heat our homes, which, in cold climates is a desirable side effect. Thus replacing strands of indoor Christmas lights with LED versions here in the north is a waste of money.

on Feb 13, 2013

I agree this should not have been legislated the way it was. However, I did a lot of homework, built a spreadsheet of bulb locations, wattages, and duty cycles in my home, and prioritized about half that were on for long periods of time. I de-prioritized any that were switched on or off a lot, as 3-4 years ago this was still known to shorten CFL lifetime. My research led me to a company called 1000 Bulbs (you can find them online) and some others that list color temperature, suitability for dimmers, suitability for outdoor/cold start, form factor, etc. I matched up everything in my spreadsheet and bought the bulbs.

There were ones in round globes that worked well for my vanity mirror in the bathroom. There were ones for my living room that needed traditional "bulb" shape for aesthetics etc. There were floods for the kitchen.

I have had a few failures but clearly they are lasting longer than the incandescent bulbs did, although I haven't looked at total cost of ownership yet. The highest failure rate is a flood on the front porch; I theorize it is a fixture that shakes in the wind and is killing the bulbs somewhow. The two on the garage have lasted a long time.

If you do your homework you can match the temperature, form factor, and application you want. So I discount all those comments above.

I'm surprised by the alleged power figures. Based on qualitative thermal output, it seems clear to me the CFLs are dissipating much less energy as heat for the same light. I'm guessing the power meter is having a problem with the waveform or some other issue due to the power supply circuitry in the CFLs.

I keep my dead ones in a box; when I have enough I will use a standard shipping kit to send them off to recycle. Not a big deal. In my house, I have not broken a bulb in a long time, so that danger of exposure is minimal to me; however I can understand that is a valid concern for some households.

I do think that the legislation, even if you "agree" with the concept, was way too early. I suspect CFLs will be obsoleted by LED lighting in the not too distant future (need the cost curves to match and to address all the color, form factor, application issues as above).

on Feb 13, 2013

Fluorescent lamps are:
1. Dangerous for they have mercury inside. Don't trust anybody saying they don't.
2. Have built in ballasts of a very bad quality using 85C cheap electrolytic capacitors. All made in China and thus having a short lifetime.
3. Irradiance spectrum is poor - much unlike the solar one we have used to.
4. Very poor efficiency (see comments above).
5. Very expensive - their lifetime is much shorter than was claimed in the campaign of 2007.
6. CFL lamps look like just a product of a detrimental activity of a known ignorant Nobel Prize winner.

on Feb 13, 2013

1. Agree
2. mostly agree
3. Agree - that's why the DOE set up the L-prize, so that LED bulbs wouldn't have off the wall color balance like some CFLs.
4. I have to go read the comments above, they are fairly efficient.
5. yes, but still longer than the 1000 our conspiracy-set lifetime of standard incandescent bulbs.
6. Agree!

So: LED lamps are expensive. True, especially the L-prize winner. I now have five LED bulbs in my home, including two R40 floods out of five in my kitchen. The kitchen was redone less than 2 years ago and 3 of the incandescent floods have already died. I replaced the last two with LED floods. One was generic, the other was Philips. The generic one takes a noticeable fraction of a second to turn on, but is otherwise OK. The Phillips bulb is much faster, really can't tell any difference from the incandescent bulbs. Color is good from both. Both are dimmable by my old dimmer. Full disclosure: when you dim an incandescent bulb, it gets dimmer and its color output changes toward orange. LED bulbs get dimmer, but color output does not shift more than a little, so it's a little different than dimming incandescent bulbs. I have read that at least one company is developing a LED bulb that will shift color when dimmed, so it will really look like an incandescent. Have not seen that available yet.

on Feb 25, 2013

re: Item 6. Didn't realize George W. Bush was a Nobel Prize winner-the guy never ceases to amaze me..(HE signed the energy act banning incandescents in 2007)

on Jul 22, 2013

You are right - George W. Bush has never been a Nobel Prize winner, Al Gore was.

on Feb 13, 2013

I have five specific problems with CFL and LEDs:
1) Costco sold 6-packs of CFLs that often lasted less than a month. I watched one begin smoking and burn out while I stood there shaving. Early quality has been an issue. There have been a number of CFL recalls. I can't recall (sorry, pun intended) an incandescent light recall.
2) I live in a cold climate. Our kitchen has unheated (but insulated) space above it, hence our recessed "can" fixtures are very slow to warm up to full brightness. In the morning, we tend to leave the bathroom lights on accidentally because they don't get up to full brightness during a short trip into the room and we leave without realizing they're turned on.
3) I use X10 and Insteon home automation systems throughout our house. CFLs do not work well with these systems. If I use the non-relay switches, the bulb glows dimly due to the current passed to run the switch, and the CFL dies very quickly. If I use the relay based switches, the cost outlay is much larger and the CFLs switch unreliably.
4) CFLs are not intended to be installed "base-up". Almost all of my fixed installations are base-up (recessed cans, bathroom fixtures, and ceiling fans). This leads to earlier failures, and skews the cost/benefit equation.
5) The LED lights I've tried are dim, expensive, and very "yellow". They've been sold, but have not yet struck me as being ready for prime-time.

In the evening, I watch our exterior CFLs slowly creep up to full brightness when it's below zero Fahrenheit. One glows like a candle for 10 or 15 minutes. I believe that's because it's base down, and because the small amount of mercury in the bulb has to be fully vaporized in order to reach full brightness.

on Feb 13, 2013

Have mostly CLFs in our house but not to 'save the world'. I have had several problems with them not the least of which are form factors (won't fit in current glass globes) and taking long times to warm up to full light output.

The warm up times seem to be very dependent on the brand. Some are quite quick and others take at least several minutes. Long long warm up times are no good for in the bathroom fixture where you go in and get your business done and get back out. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get a handle on which brands are consistantly fast and which one are SLOW so it is a lot of trial and error!

Sorry gang, but when they break or wear out they go in the trash. When we were in high school we played with mercury and over the years have put a lot of florescent tubes in the trash both at home and at work. That was the 'proper way' to dispose of them before some folks got all hyped up about a little mercury. The new CFLs have far less mercury in them than the old 4 ft and 8 ft tubes ever did. There haven't been mass deaths by mercury poison or two headed people, etc. caused by many years of 'trash' disposal.

on Feb 13, 2013

The visual disappointment with CFLs is not hard to understand, but fairly obvious if you take a grating and look at them. Incandescent anything (from filament to star) has a wide, full spectrum, humped up in the middle. The hotter it gets, the closer the hump moves to the blue end. The cooler it is, the more it moves to the red end. That's what our eyes are designed to work with.

CFLs, like all fluorescents, emit in tight bands of discrete color. One byproduct of this (along with some pretty good spectra) can be seen at http://bealecorner.org/best/measure/cf-spectrum/index.html

(A cool and inexpensive grating can be made by tearing the aluminization off a CD or DVD with packing tape. Make a thin rectangular hole in black paper and look at it through the plastic: you'll see the same kind of spectrum.)

There is a tremendous amount of heat in the base of CFLs. I haven't seen many of them made of plastic, by the way: usually some kind of cheap ceramic. And, in fact, cheap seems to have been the byword in CFL manufacture: if they used quality parts, they'd cost many times more.

Our power is dirty. It takes incandescents out while they're still young. CFL's die younger. I'm testing LED bulbs now, and find them quite satisfying on all fronts (although I haven't checked their spectra yet.) They're expensive, yes, but with incandescents going away, they're this photonics guy's only hope.

on Feb 13, 2013

Let's understand that CFLs are not "new" technology. They are just bent around thin fluorescent tubes with electronic ballasts. They come in various quality. Better ones cost a bunch more. They need air for cooling. They will NOT work in some applications. I will have to go and measure the current draw now that someone suggested false claims are going on. The BOTTOM LINE is that there is no NEED to LEGISLATE a BAN on the MANUFACTURE of tungsten light bulbs. Reduced demand - IF competing technologies are cost effective AND the demand is less for tungsten bulbs this alone will drive their price up, drop usage and so reduce demand over a relatively short period of time.

The legislation stinks of a back room deal of some sort, or else incredible ignorance and/or dogmatic belief. What else could explain it?

The CAUSE of short tungsten bulb life was the reduction of *quality* of the bulbs. This was more or less done on purpose. They wanted to make a "whiter" light = thinner filament, shorter life. They needed more profits = shorter life, more frequent purchase. Older manufactured bulbs could and did last decades.

Admittedly, it would be nice to summarily drop electricity consumption by 25%-50% for the country. But in truth it would also be a better goal to put 25% to 50% of the country "off-grid" and producing power by solar or biomass (poop is one source). Yes, it does "cost" more for the initial installation, but that price is more than offset by the reduction in dependency upon "heroin oil" and the foreign sources for it, and all the political consequences that stem from that.

But that doesn't give government enough control, and isn't taxable, unless they tax solar panels... that's next, eh?

China does control the rare earth market, and what to CFLs use? Just another thought... all happy thoughts.

on Feb 14, 2013

Exactly so on the "let the market decide". If there's money to be saved, it will become apparent that CFLs or LEDs pay for themselves. No legal body legislated against the use of oil or gas lamps--electric lighting was better in almost every way. (I still keep a couple of oil lamps around for power failures.)

For what it's worth, there are high-efficiency incandescent replacements--GE offers a 72-watt halogen direct replacement for the traditional 100 watt edison-base bulb.

With LED lamps, there's ROI to consider. Replacing an incandescent in a coat closet or stairwell or a garage will probably not pay for itself in energy savings--and therefore is a waste of money.

How well do modern white LEDs maintain their efficiency and color balance? A couple of years ago, I installed some white "night lights' near stairways as a safety measure. Last week, I looked at them and it was really surprising how dim and yellow they'd become.

I replaced the LEDs in each and they're back to their original brightness.

Does this also happen with modern white LED incandescent replacements?

on Feb 13, 2013

In my experience the new CFL's certainly do NOT last as long as incandescents. We've traded in our proven bulbs for Chinese junk. (not to mention the mercury)

on Feb 14, 2013

I agree with other authors here. And it is pleasant to see some push back. I eagerly installed them and then found that miasma of ugly truths indicated by others!
1. Mercury! Oh pshaw says the govt. Oh pshaw says the council on light bulbs. When
I recently opened a hot bulb enclosure I was greeted by a nifty cloud of the stuff. Once is sixty times too many. Ain't happening twice... if I live thru it! I am changing all my bulbs back to incandescent, one at a time!
2. UV. Government studies reveal a 98% chance of the UV shield on each bulb being compromised. That would be fine if the wavelength was same as sunlight. It isn't, it's more damaging, precisely the wavelengths to damage people and materials.
3. While the lifetime is longer, the number and the types of waste and toxics are large compared to incandescent:
copper-(monovalent copper is more toxic than lead!),
fiberglass-short of a nuclear war, indestructable,
ceramic-more than incandescent, and sure, show me how to recycle that
europium,selenium, cadmium phosphors-ugh! You can get a rash just thinking about it
tantalum capacitors-more of the same
4. Total carbon footprint for production and recycling, the mass is huge and insuperably more toxic than incandescents
5. simplicity and cost. The simplicity and small effort needed to produce filament lights is thousands of times less than the CFL, that means the cost can never be competitive even with the full force of our ignorant nanny state thrown behind it!
6. Heat,-We need it!! Last thing I need is a fake sun without it's most endearing quality, heat. It's not free, but it comes straight off my heating bill for over nine months out of the year and I only pay for it a few brief hours in the summer. Advice, leave it alone unless you can actually do the math or morally do the right thing.
7. Health effects. My wife has already succumbed to cataracts ostensibly because of CFL's and the outgassing from the darn things is super toxic. Why should we foist that off on others as a health care cost. Skin damage, tumors, poisons released, mfg. ills, yuch!!
8. Wasted of resources. Sand and tungsten are cheap, why make every landfill a nightmare in waiting while wasting our future?
9. Electrical noise. Each CFL tube and LED array is equipped with a power supply, often a very noisy power supply. As a result, many appliances and radio sources are corrupted. It is irritating, much like the old dimmer controls. If you want a rational change, up the line frequency from 60Hz to 500 or 1000Hz. This would be no less problematic and would shrink transformer and motor size by a factor of 10 while improving transmission efficiencies.
10. Consistency, CFL's don't have any. They change intensity with on-time, temperature, age, sunbleaching. And they often look like an old B movie out take, a night scene from Bladerunner, showing a stuttering neon sign appearance (because that is what they basically are!), even to blinking on and off as a power supply heats and cools, or as the line conditions and weather varies.

In short, all of the promises made by CFL engineers have sadly become an immoral cacaphony of lies, from poisoning the environment, to wasting power. An expensive (in terms of raw materials, energy, labor, recycling, and poisoned environment), complex, dirty, dangerous, malfunctioning, line emissive device has been substituted for a simple, low cost, low waste, sun-like emitter. Only our government could be that callous and that gloriously ignorant.

on Feb 25, 2013

I don't like the CFLs much. I wish they would have let the market decide instead of pushing it with legislation.

One thing I can't prove but I really feel is that the manufacturers of CFLs are all cheating on specs. I don't think I get the same amount of light for a claimed equivalent 100W light bulb ( and yes it depends upon orientation) and I certainly am not seeing these 20,000 hour lifetimes. I think its much closer to the 1000 hour lifetime of incandescents (which incidentally I can almost prove that those were a lie, too, I typically got 30-50 percent of claimed life). I certainly hope that LEDs are much better, I can't afford them if they put out less light and don't last 10x as long!

on Oct 9, 2013

In my view incandescent has much better quality in compare to CFL lights. Nowadays, incandescent has much in demand as well as in compare to CFL lights. So switch to incandescent because it has more reliable than CFL lights.

on Jan 30, 2014

CFLs light quality is bad, the color temperature varies all over the place making rooms with multiple lamps look mishmash. Slow to come on, lower light output than expected and extremely shorter lifetimes than claimed. I have recessed fixtures (base up and enclosed) that may account for the loss of output and lifetimes. Many CFLs have no mention of color temp on their package.

I like the LEDs (like in BR40) now coming out but they are still quite expensive. I will let you know in a couple of years whether they live up to the claimed lifetimes... again a recessed canister may be deadly to them.

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What's Communiqué?

Blogs on topics such as wired and wireless networking.


Lou Frenzel

Lou Frenzel writes articles and blogs on the wireless, communications and networking sectors for Electronic Design. Formerly, Lou was professor and department head at Austin Community College...
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