Monthly Archives: May 2014

“For someone who is as concerned about energy efficiency as you are, it’s surprising how many incandescent bulbs you have around the house.” It was 2010. My son was visiting for the first time after a major renovation.

That correct observation of a lacuna in my practices hurt. I subsequently did an inventory; about 80 percent of my light bulbs were incandescent.

I love the warmth, but only figuratively, of the incandescent bulb. Obey the wattage constraints of the fixture and buying incandescent bulbs is cheap and mindless. Flip the switch and enjoy beautiful light. Also be careful not to touch a lighted or recently switched off bulb; incandescents generate light but also a waste product called heat.

For years, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) were the only alternative to the energy guzzling incandescent, and I was never was a fan. Ugly, cool spectrum light, CFLs take their time to light up, and then never getting really bright. I had installed a few over time and at some expense in places where usage was heavy but the quality of the light did not matter: out-of-the-way lamps on timers for instance.

Then along came LED bulbs with warm white color indistinguishable from incandescents. When I first started buying them, at the time of the back house renovation (2008), CREE had just marketed a warm white, 800 lumens, Edison base, dimmable downlight. It fit in a standard can and could be tucked into a 6 inch ceiling. Despite the $100 price tag, I installed 8 of them. Two years later when I renovated the front house, the price had fallen about 40 percent. I installed another 8. But these bulbs would not fit in the old part of the house were the ceilings are too shallow. An LED light bulb for a lamp cost about $50. Eight of about 40 light bulbs doesn’t make for much energy conservation. But 40 times $50 did not make for economic efficiency.

Neither does replacing CFLs — with many more years worth of energy saving light not to mention mercury still in them — with LEDs. But aesthetics and rapidly declining prices for better quality light trumps both energy and economic efficiency in my house.

Mostly incandescent light bulbs recently replaced with LEDs

Mostly incandescent light bulbs recently replaced with LEDs

It has taken four years. Waiting has paid off. Fifty dollar bulbs now cost $5. Electric companies subsidize the LEDs and big hardware chains sell them in enough versions to be totally confusing. I have made the mistake of not reading the fine print to know whether a bulb can be used in an enclosed fixture, for example.  And what exactly is a lumen? After reading and re-reading the signs in the hardware stores that now sell LED light bulbs, I now know lumens are the lighting industry’s standard measuring the brightness the light. Sunlight is 100,000 lumens; a 60-watt bulb is between 750 and 850 lumens.

I’ll have to outlive Methuselah for my bulb swapping to make economic or environmental sense. By then, newer technologies will make my current products obsolete. This is an early adopter’s risk. But there has been no gamble lost on the quality of the light around the house. I trust Joshua will see the difference.