Editorial

End of the line for the light bulb?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Someone installed a new, hand-blown 4-watt carbon filament light bulb in the hose cart house on L Street in Livermore, Calif., in 1901.

It has moved a couple of times and was off for a week in 1937 when the main firehouse was renovated, and was moved again in 1976, under full police and fire truck escort, to its present location, but other than those brief interruptions, it's been burning ever since, the record holder.

This year, 2009, marks the 130th anniversary of Thomas Edison's most famous invention, but it also marks the start of its demise.

Europe began restricting incandescent light bulbs today, banning the import or purchase of most frosted bulbs by retailers, who can continue selling off their own stock.

The United States will begin the process of banning Edison's light bulbs in 2012, and hopes to have them off the shelves by 2014.

Not all of us like the light given off by the new compact fluorescent lamps -- some even worry that their "flicker" can cause seizures in some people with epilepsy, but studies don't back that up. It takes several minutes for a CFL to reach its full light output, so don't judge it too quickly.

And, properly cleaning up a broken CFL is a tedious task because of the small amount of mercury they contain.

But switching from incandescents to CFLs makes sense. As U.S. News and World Report pointed out in 2007, if you spend $90 changing 30 fixtures to CFLs, you will save $440 to $1,500 over the five-year life of the bulbs, depending on the cost of electricity. That amounts to a 12 percent discount on your utility bill.

There are other technologies on the horizon -- LED lights are becoming available, although price and efficiency are an issue, and there are even improved incandescent bulbs available -- but it looks like, for now, we'll have to adjust to using CFLs.

Some tips from energystar.gov:

* Screw in the CFL by the ballast, the bottom white part, not the glass tubing.

* CFLs will last longer and be more efficient and effective if they're left on for 15 minutes or more at a time.

* Use only bulbs labled as three-way on three-way sockets.

* Use only bulbs labled as dimmable on dimmer switches.

* Most photocells, motion sensors and electric timers are not designed to work with CFLs, so check with the manufacturer.

* CFLs are sensitive to extreme temperatures, so try not to use them in enclosed fixtures indoors.

* Outdoors, protect CFLs from the elements by placing them inside enclosed fixtures.

More information is available at http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=cfls.pr_cfls