When the first home improvement box store opened in Bangor, many moons ago, the best feature to me was the lighting department. On a cold winter day, walking into that store brought you directly into the lighting department. All the display lights had incandescent bulbs in them and the radiant heat coming off all those lights was almost like being in Arizona.
This was a big treat for me in Bangor in January.
Incandescent lights are not very efficient. They make light but also produce a lot of heat. That is OK in the wintertime since the radiant heat is comfortable, but it can really overheat a house in the summer. They are inexpensive and they are inefficient. Incandescent light bulbs will last about 1,000 hours.
The poor energy efficiency of incandescent lighting has led to the development of compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs.
Back in the early 1980s, Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. hired Amory Lovins, the energy guru, to help guide its energy efficiency management plans.
I went to a public meeting that he had for Bangor Hydro.
It was there that I got my first glimpse of a CFL. They were a little cumbersome and would not fit in all light fixtures, and of course, they were expensive.
Lovins preached that we could create “nega-watts” by using CFLs. His premise was that changing light bulbs from incandescents to CFLs would eliminate the need for new power plants.
Since then, CFL use has become pervasive and I think his original claim is probably true. There is, however, the fact that we have a whole bunch of new electronic toys that we are now using and we also have bigger houses with more lights.
There are some negatives about CFLs.
First, CFLs contain mercury and when they break, you need to clean them up carefully and dispose of them properly.
Second, although CFLs can last up to 8,000 hours, they can lose about an hour of life every time you switch them on and off.
I have proved this in my kitchen.
We have six recessed ceiling lights that are all CFLs. They all go on and off at the same time. And they all fail pretty close to the same time and it is nowhere near 8,000 hours of actual use. This was upsetting until I realized that I had actually been proving this fact. Now, changing the bulbs twice in six years has not been near as aggravating.
There is another way to use even less energy in lighting: LED lights. These are made from high-power light emitting diodes similar to the control panels of everything electronic.
An LED light that can deliver the incandescent light equivalent of 60 watts only uses about 6-8 watts, which is about half the usage of a CFL.
LED lights are showing up in home improvement stores but they are not inexpensive. A 60 watt equivalent LED costs over $45. The good news is that their life expectancy is about 50,000 hours. They are also fairly rugged and contain no hazardous materials.
LED lights, like most CFLs, do not like light dimmers, so don’t install them in a circuit with a dimmer.
At current cost, there are places where LEDs will make sense. Recessed lights that currently use halogen bulbs would be an excellent upgrade. Lights in inaccessible locations would be another consideration. LED lights are still a little anemic, the largest commonly available is a 40-60 watt equivalent.
LED lights are where CFLs were back in the 1980s. They are not quite ready for prime time, but they are worth a try. Costs will drop with competition and volume and the quality of the light will improve.
I think I can wait for lower prices. In the meantime, I will just handle the CFLs carefully and try to get a deal on LED Christmas lights. Imagine never having to replace Christmas light bulbs.
Questions for Tom Gocze should be 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 www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.