Why should I avoid incandescent light bulbs in my home?
Avoid incandescent, tungsten, or filament light bulb as it is known, isn’t energy-efficient at all. It converts very little of the electricity it uses into light, most of it is wasted as heat, which also tends to shorten the life of light fittings and shades.
The other downside of an incandescent light bulb is its short life. The typical incandescent light bulb (known as GLS – or general lighting service) will last 1,000 hours or one year’s typical use. Turning them on and off regularly shortens their lives even more.
Avoid ncandescent light bulbs are being phased out by the end of 2011 under a government initiative.
It used to be that the cartoon indicator for a good idea was an incandescent bulb over somebody’s head. Not anymore. Avoid incandescent are outdated, wasteful, and about to go the way of the buffalo. In January 2014, new lighting efficiency standards are going to force 40- and 60-watt incandescent-type lights to get about 25 % more efficient. Under the Energy Efficiency and Security Act of 2007, signed into law by then-President Bush, light bulbs must become more efficient in terms of energy used for lumen generated. The typical 60-watt bulb can use no more than 43 watts and the 40-watt bulb must drop to 29 watts. The 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs have already met their fate. But the impact of standards on 40- and 60-watt bulbs is more important, as they represent about 80% of all incandescent bulbs.
This means we will be buying a lot more efficient luminaires in the near future. Many of us will buy the efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) curly cue bulbs, but smart consumers will take a long hard look at LEDs, which are becoming more affordable.
There’s been a lot of news about low-cost LEDs recently, stimulated by Cree’s unveiling of its $12.97 60-watt equivalent, dimmable, omnidirectional LED bulb in March. In October, Walmart unveiled its $8.88 Great Value 60-watt equivalent non-dimmable, and $9.88 dimmable LEDs. The latter are not omni-directional, i.e., the light is not evenly dispersed in all directions, and relatively little light gets focused toward the base of the bulb (ENERGY STAR defines omni-directional light as light evenly produced over 270 degrees). However, with their low price point, the Walmart bulbs nonetheless represent a significant step in the development of affordable LED technology.
For even casual observers of lighting technologies, it’s obvious that real change is afoot here. That same casual observer (if he or she is old enough) will probably remember the arrival of the (CFL) bulb some 20 years ago. That was a decidedly confusing entrance of a new technology, and one that was marked by many false starts. The CFL transition was also marked by some pretty poor entrants. Lights flickered. The color renditions were often very poor – especially in the early years. And many of the bulbs did not last as long as their much-touted 7-year lifespan.
Given the impending standards, and the growing potential of LEDs to become the next low-cost lighting technology, it’s important to avoid the mistakes made in the early years of CFLs. Consumers need to know what to look for, and what to avoid.
David Elien, vice president of marketing and business development for Cree – one of the industry leaders in LED technology – has significant insight into this area.
Elien commented that, despite the new opportunities offered by affordable LEDs, it’s a very confusing marketplace out there right now. “There are so many different choices for the consumer that people need a bit of a decoder ring. This holds not only in shopping for an LED bub but also for lighting in general.”
There are a number of features in particular that consumers should look for when making the LED investment. Elien notes that the customer needs to ask “Does the light do the job it is intended to do? Will the LED bulb I buy be as good as or better than the bulbs I am replacing?”
Aside from cost, he notes there are three key issues to focus on:
1) How bright is it?
2) How is the light distributed? Omni-directionality is important. You want the light to be dispersed like an incandescent.
3) Is the quality of the light acceptable?
The latter covers both the shade of white (on a spectrum from soft white to daylight) as well as the color quality (the ability of the light to reproduce colors of various objects relative to how they look in natural light), known as CRI or color rendering index.
Elien reflects back to the old days of the bad CFLs (and some that are still out there on the market). Just as with poor quality CFLs, savings are simply not enough to get the bulb to stay in the socket. “If the bulb doesn’t do the job, you’re not going to use it. If color quality, brightness or light distribution is poor, consumers will leave the bulbs in the box. Saving energy is important but if the experience is not there, its all for naught.”
He notes that the quality issue of LEDs is one of the big challenges the industry has to address, and that “it was really important to us that our bulb looked like an incandescent bulb and provided light like an incandescent bulb. There are a lot of bulbs that have been rushed to the market but many are falling short.” He cites in particular what is referred to in the industry as ‘snow cones’ – LEDs in which only the top half of the bulb is illuminated and the light is unidirectional, as technologies to be generally avoided (though they may be good in cans, or where you want focused light).
Elien suggests that the consumer should look for a product that is ENERGY STAR qualified. ENERGY STAR testing involves a 6,000-hour test and looks at a lot of different factors, including brightness, distribution of light, performance under high temperatures and overall efficiency of the bulb. The ENERGY STAR qualification serves to provide the customer with a higher degree of comfort and is generally necessary in order to qualify for many local utility rebates.
The soft white Cree LED Bulbs are ENERGY STAR version 1.0 certified – enabling consumers to buy the Cree bulb at a significant discount. In some markets, you can find them for less than $5.00 (at my local Home Depot HD -0.12% in MA, the price has been cut to $7.97). John Prince, Walmart’s senior buyer of hardware consumables, noted in a recent conversation that many of the LEDs in Walmart’s Great Value line of bulbs just got ENERGY STAR 1.4 certification, including the 40, 60, and 90-watt equivalents, which should qualify them for utility discounts.
For customers who do buy quality LEDs, avoid incandescent the economics are impressive. It’s all about thinking longer term. Elien notes that the Cree 60-watt equivalent LED Bulbs cost about $1 a year to operate assuming an electricity rate of $.11 per kilowatt-hour and usage of six hours per day. Other LEDs will yield similar economics. This compares to $7 per year for an incandescent, and doesn’t include bulb replacement costs. To cover the lifetime of a Cree LED Bulb which may last as long as 25 years (with a warranty for 10), you’d need to buy somewhere around 25 standard light bulbs.
Elien also comments that the consumer should consider dimming capability in many cases. There are about five billion sockets in the U.S. that are general service and can take a traditional bulb, with an estimated 25-35 percent on dimmable circuits.
Finally Elien highlighted the potential broad societal economic benefits that will come from the switch over from avoid incandescent to LEDs on a broad scale. “Just in California, there are 500 million incandescent bulbs still in use. More than $3.5 billion would be saved just in California.”