Fluorescents are often, but not always, best

Posted Nov. 28, 2008, at 4:06 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:46 a.m.

The incandescent light, invented by Thomas Edison more than 100 years ago, has not been in great favor lately.

Amory Lovins, the self-anointed energy guru, has dissed incandescents for years, stating that we can eliminate a lot of power plants if we all use compact fluorescents in their place. Well-meaning municipal, state and federal programs offer major discounts for compact fluorescents or have even given compact fluorescents away for free.

And they do save a lot of energy. There are almost no incandescent lights in my home. Most are compact fluorescents.

Some people want to outlaw incandescent light bulbs. Edison is probably rolling over in his grave, especially since the fluorescent light ballast (the component that made fluorescents commercially viable) was invented by his technological nemesis, Nikola Tesla.

There are always some peculiarities related to technological wonders, and compacts are not exempt.

You have probably seen the news clips about the trace amount of mercury in fluorescents. This is not an environmental catastrophe, but it means that if you break one, you need to exercise some care in handling the dust.

If you break a fluorescent bulb, you are supposed to leave the room and open the windows to ventilate for 15 minutes. No vacuuming it up! Carefully pick up all the pieces and use sticky tape and-or some damp paper towels to gather the balance.

Some municipalities want used bulbs, broken or not, disposed of in a special disposal site. In that case, they should not go in the household garbage.

This brings up an interesting issue, longevity. Compact fluorescents are sold as being very long-lived. Unfortunately, every time you turn it on and off you diminish its life.

I have been told that each time a compact is turned on and off, it loses one hour of life.

That means that many of these bulbs will not last the 10 years we are told, especially if they are endlessly cycled.

Here in Maine, we have a reason to keep some incandescent light bulbs. The electrical inefficiency that we are so miffed about contributes some space heating this time of year. That is a good thing in the winter. It is not so good in the summer, making a warm house even hotter.

We now have another potentially more efficient alternative looming. LED lights are replacing incandescents in such applications as Christmas lights and flashlights. LEDs have an extremely long life cycle and are very energy-efficient. Unfortunately, their use for room illumination is presently limited to small applications.

I am absolutely smitten with LEDs for Christmas lights since they are quite unlikely to burn out and will save me from the rigors of trying to find the burnt-out bulb in that burnt-out string of Christmas lights. LED nightlights use so little power that you can almost make the case for leaving them on 24-7. But don’t do that — energy is energy.

Car manufacturers have jumped on the LED bandwagon, replacing much of the newest cars’ lighting with LEDs. Most of the brake lights on new cars are LEDs.

They can and are being used in very fancy lighting patterns to jazz up a car’s look.

I guess that now both Edison and Tesla are spinning.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be sent to homefront@bangordailynews.net or mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.

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