Incandescent Bulbs Vs Fluorescent Bulbs: What’s The Deal?

In the US, much of the legislation that was written in 2007 which would make the incandescent obsolete because they do not meet the energy efficiency standards was recently overturned in December 2011. What’s left is efficiency standards for 40-100Watt bulbs will require implementation by October 2012. All other bulbs will be exempt from adhering to efficiency standards.

International governments have begun banning incandescents and promoting the use of more energy-efficient lighting alternatives such as CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and LEDs. Countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, the EU, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Russia, China, India and the US have started or have plans to phase out the incandescent light bulb. Many consumers have reacted negatively to the decision to ban the bulbs as the CFL or LED light quality can be much harsher than traditional bulbs, but alternative bulb makers have begun to create a variety of color choices in lighting temperatures.

By 2020, a second tier of restrictions would become effective, which requires all general-purpose bulbs to produce at least 45 lumens per watt (similar to current CFLs). Exemptions from the Act include reflector flood, 3-way, candelabra, colored, and other specialty bulbs. In the US it looks like we will still be able to get our incandescent bulbs for the near future, but the way forward for lighting may be in CFLs and eventually LEDs. As the new alternative bulbs improve in lighting quality, they offer consumers power savings.

In a way, the overturning of the 2007 legislation is good news for customers that like the look and feel of the current incandescent bulbs. Perhaps by the time the 2020 legislation is in place, the CFL bulbs may offer even higher quality light.

Are there new bulb alternatives?

CFL: These bulbs use 1/5 to 1/3 the amount of energy as regular bulbs and have a much longer life span (5-18 times!). CFL’s last 6,000-15,000 hours vs 750-1,000 hours by incandescents. CFLs do have a higher purchase price than incandescents, but the lower energy costs can save over five times its purchase price over the bulb’s life. The light spectrum of CFLs is different than that of incandescents, but recent imprevements in phosphor formulations have improved the perceived color of light emitted by them. “Soft white” CFLs are supposed to have a light color that is similar to standard incandescents.

LEDs: First introduced in 1962, LEDs have increasingly become used as lighting. They are commonly used in displays, televisions, and automotive lighting. Recently they have begun being used as room lighting for higher end or specialty lighting. LEDs can produce light over the entire spectrum. Benefits of LED lighting including lower energy use and longer lifetime. LED lifetimes can be 35,000-50,000 hours. They can also emit varying colors of light without the need for any color filters. However, LEDs for room lighting tend to be quite expensive. While they have the advantage over CFLs of not containing mercury, LEDs could also contain other harmful materials such as arsenic or lead. This is more common in colored LEDs, particularly red or yellow.

Disposal of bulbs – Most CFLs have 3-5mg of mercury, and states such as California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin have bans of disposing CFL bulbs as universal waste. In the US, The Home Depot is the first retailer to make CFL recycling available. The EPA website has advice on avoiding breakage and also how to deal with breakage of a CFL bulb including airing out a room and putting broken peices in a jar.

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Compact Fluorescent Lighting

Lighting accounts for about 7% of a home’s energy costs. CFL bulbs use 66% less energy and last up to ten times as long as incandescent bulbs. They now come in a range of sizes, so they’ll fit almost any type of fixture, and styles, including full-spectrum, which mimics natural sunlight.

Test out one of each – Soft white, Daylight, and Bright White, and see which ones work best in your house. Traditional incandescent bulbs use more energy because the majority of electricity generates heat vs. light. Also consider choosing the CFL bulbs that have a ‘covered’ dome over the spiral bulb for safety and a better looking fixture – especially for recessed lighting.

Sample performance: Replace 20 incandescent bulbs that are 60 Watts with a life expectancy of 1,500 hours, with CFLs that only use 14 Watts and last 8,000 to 10,000 hours.

The ROI Calculation is based on replacing 20 bulbs that typically burn 750 hours per year with dimmable CFLs that cost between $1.00 and $3.00 and the average cost of electricity that is $2.76 per day. Each bulb saves on average $4 to $7 per year. Dome ‘covered’ and Dimmable CFLs are still higher in cost than the ‘corkscrew’ typical models, so the Light Emitting Diode (LED) market is picking up traction quickly. LEDs also do not contain mercury and they last between 50,000 and 80,000 hours!

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