How to Give Up Incandescent Light Bulbs

Some folks are stockpiling light bulbs in anticipation of the future phase-out of standard incandescents, according to USA Today.  It seems hoarders are doing it for one or two reasons: cost and/or lighting concerns.  But these shouldn’t be concerns.  With a little bit of math (initial cost + operating cost) and an understanding of basic lighting terms (lumen, watt, color accuracy, color temperature), I think the switch is a no-brainer.  So here’s a five-step program for the hoarder:

Step 1: Recognize the Potential

Standard incandescent bulbs provide great light at the flip of a switch, but they don’t last long and use a lot of energy.  They run hot, too.  By hoarding these lights, you’re ignoring technological advancement in favor of a few factors — initial cost and light quality — to the exclusion of other factors — operating life and energy efficiency.  You might as well tattoo your forehead with the term “laggard,” tell everyone you’re proud of it, and then explain why the world is still flat.  Why not go for a light that maximizes your needs for low initial cost, low operating cost, high light quality, and high efficiency?

Step 2: Understand the Options

Incandescents are usually cheaper to buy, but they’re also more expensive to operate, according to the Department of Energy.  So, what are your other options?  CFLs, LEDs, halogens, ESLs, etc.

A false dilemma is being presented by conflicted businesses and legislators posturing to reverse new efficiency standards.  CFLs are *not* the only option — frankly, and generally speaking, their light quality is weak, performance is poor, and mercury vapors can be a problem.  New LEDs, while expensive, last something like 25,000-50,000 hours (cf. incandescent bulbs, 750-2500 hours), and the light quality is fantastic.  Also, keep an eye on a new breed of lighting, ESLs.

Step 3: Sample the Options

If, like me, you’ve had a bad experience with CFLs, take some time to brush up on this lighting facts label.  This will help you find a satisfactory replacement light.  For example, perhaps you prefer a warm, incandescent-like 2700 Kelvin temperature.  If that’s the case, you’ll want to find an energy-efficient replacement with the same temperature.  As opposed to watts, get a feel for brightness, or lumens, and get the right amount of light for the right application.

I replaced some irritating CFLs in my entry with Philips Ambient LEDs from Home Depot.  They cost $40 each, and I love them: instant light, great color, no maintenance.  If these lights work as tested, I’ll change them out when my baby goes to college.

Step 4: Assess the Results

Everyone has different sensitivities to lighting, so it pays to test a few brands and models.  Take some time to make sure you’re getting the best-looking, most energy-efficient lighting for your situation.  It’s better to do that than to blow your income on a box of lights that won’t work.  After some experimentation, you’ll know what lights work and what lights don’t.  You’ll also get to test out new lighting technology as it becomes available.

Step 5: Recycle, Replace, Repeat

As old lights go out, recycle them, and install the new energy-efficient ones you now know will work well.  And that’s pretty much all it takes.  In the end, keep in mind the idea that about 11% of your home energy use comes from lighting.  Sticking with standard bulbs may feel affordable, but it’s not.  As energy-efficient lighting gets better and cheaper, the case for letting go of incandescents becomes more undeniable.

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  • gerrr!

    In 1999, Gallup conducted a poll of 1,016 Americans, and fully 18% of those polled believed that the Sun revolved around the Earth, and another 3% had no opinion on the matter — as if one could be equivocal on the issue!?! Just last year my friend related to me about this psychiatrist who fervently believes the universe to be geocentric.

    To that point, I suggest that no amount of learning will budge some people into accepting reality, or understanding as to why energy conservation should matter. In fact, there are a group of people whose mindset is such that, political and religious dogma take precedence over reasoned thought. As we have witnessed, these very “laggards” as you call them, will turn on the world and proclaim that their freedoms are at stake.

  • Tylermoney

    One problem. If I’m not mistaken, the new more efficient bulb options still unable to work with fade switches. There are a lot of reasons for fade switches, and until they clear that mess up, a lot of people won’t switch or upgrade on that issue alone.

    • Preston

      Some of them, not all of them.

    • gerrr!

      You mean “dimmable”. LEDs are all dimmable, but only some CFLs are — usually cost double of the cheapest CFLs.

      • Preston

        The first R30 ESL is dimmable, too.

  • Dbull

    While I was an early adopter of both CFL and LED I don’t think it helps to start name calling. I know people that have reactions (migraines) to the flicker in the fluorescent lights. Sure, LED maybe an answer but is calling people names reasoned thought? No! Is it going to help? No, it will hinder the transition. It makes it harder for people like me to convince others to use the new technology. Look what happened with the first generation low flush toilets. There were real problems. Instead of addressing them right away it took longer for people to accept. You’re doing more harm than good with the name calling.

    • Preston

      There’s no name calling, let’s be reasonable.

      • Dbull

        Preston, I was addressing Gerrr! more than you. But still, leave a little room for the people that are affected by the flicker. It’s real. And “laggard” is still a name with negative connotation. Let’s keep it positive. I LOVE this page/blog. I have strongly recommended it to hundreds of people. Perhaps that’s why I’m a being a little extra critical.

        • Preston

          Thanks for your support … totally understand where you’re coming from and just trying to make a broader point with the “laggard” discussion. I’m sympathetic to the light quality issue — as you will note in my article on switching CFLs in my entry to LEDs. We’ll do better, though.

        • gerrr!

          Please, identify the pejorative adjectives used anywhere in my comment, and I’ll remove them.

        • Dbull

          Your using an adhomenin attack. They are neither valid arguments nor productive. As I already said. Keep it positive. If you felt your comments were positive feel free to stand by them.

      • Skysoxwiz

        how about “laggard”?

        • Preston

          Not name calling … just saying: “You might as well …”

      • Bruce A Johnson

        Dbull, it is properly ad homenin, and while I understand and agree, I appreciated gerrr!’s comment. It will take time to change the world, but as we witnessed in Egypt last week, maybe less time than we used to think if our protests and education is done with respect as you suggest.

        • Dbull

          Bruce, not sure if you’re saying Egypt is the right way or not. That it got results for being in your face or that not using respect ends up working against you in the long run. I’m hoping for the latter. I guess if i had to sum up my message it’s that the sustainability movement would be progressing much faster if we broadened the message and lost some of the mysticism or as I have been saying for years: There is something in green for everyone (except maybe if you live in Greenland and you want it to get warmer).

  • Eco Home Store

    I sense this technological/evolutionary change must be similar to what happened when homes were switching from kerosene lamps to light bulbs. Some people really fear change and now we have entire networks who’s stock-in-trade is to peddle fear of change or innovation.

    I think this next year will roll out a number of options that will improve on the early CFLs. I am waiting on the ESLs and looking to work with Vu1 to become a reseller/retailer of their ESLs.

    • megawatts

      if I may comment… was not fear, it was the wallet. The US Gov’t brought electricity, at a reduced cost to the masses, thru the Rural Electrification Project. I AM NOT suggesting that we subsidize these newer bulbs.
      I am critical however of the legislature MANDATING these new bulbs….
      Hopefully the costs will come down……but then where would the incentive be for ‘becoming a lightbulb salesperson’ ???

  • garden

    Human biology has evolved to adapt to the black body radiation of the sun. Incandescent bulbs emit black-body radiation. Fluorescents and LED bulbs do not. See

    We do not yet know the health consequences of relying on alternate spectrums of radiation.

    Some people think incandescents are subjectively more pleasant. The light emitted by incandescents, from a scientific standpoint, is indeed more “natural”.

    As keeping government out of this issue may not be realistic, then why not tax incandescents so that they cost $100 per bulb? Some people would still buy them.

    • Rick

      Taxing the *&^% out of them is keeping the government out of the issue??

      • garden

        Maybe my grammar was not clear. I was trying to say that keeping policy makers away from this issue is not realistic and that the next best thing would be to let incandescents become a highly taxed and high-end product. Some consumers will pay 10x more for healthy light, just as they will pay more for healthy food, even if it is bad for their pocketbook and for the environment.

        A separate but related question — I have often wondered if it is possible to manufacture durable incandescents that last 10x longer than the current junk? I don’t know if this is technically feasible.

  • Barrie Real Estate

    There is no doubt that incandescent bulbs should be gradually phased out. It consumes a lot of energy while not providing the best light quality. The LEDs may have a higher initial cost but will definitely be cheaper in the long term.

    • megawatts

      ….maybe not, I know of an office where a CFL caught fire…..another burst……2 employees were sickened by the mercury and are still undergoing chelation therapy.
      being that I am no scientist, heck, I still wonder what the ‘negligible’ amount of mercury may end up doing in the water……that we drink, wash with etc. Just thinking outloud here, not challenging your assertation that it will definitely be cheaper in the long run.

      • garden

        Just wait until your 2 year old breaks a CFL and starts playing with it.

    • garden

      Wrong. Incandescent bulbs will always provide a better quality of light than CFL and LED bulbs. There is no way around the physics.

      • Skysoxwiz

        Take a digital photo of ANY CFL and then replace it with an IC bulb and shoot that. I did that when considering changing out my dining room chandelier. No comparison, IC’s won, my son who is a smarty pants Home Depot electrician lost but is embarrassed by old Pop. So far no one has satisfactorily responded to the idea that if CFL’s are so great, why do we have to ban IC’s? In a true market economy consumers would make that decision.

        • garden

          No one can answer the question because we’re mostly ignorant about science. We live in a society where basic scientific research is being de-funded and where it takes university research grants to figure out how to build a damned train.

          Your daily ration of high quality CFL light has been increased from 80 to 60 watts.

  • Anonymouspersonguything

    What you fail to understand is that the American consumer has already weighed the options and has chosen the incandescent. You call yourself “tolerant”? I don’t care if YOU like CFLs; I do not. Why should you or anyone else dictate what I can and cannot buy?

    “You might as well tattoo your forehead with the term “laggard,” tell everyone you’re proud of it, and then explain why the world is still flat.”

    You might as well tattoo your forehead with the term ‘despot’, tell everyone you’re proud of it (and that they’d better be proud too or you’re going to tax sodium and force them to buy health insurance), and then explain why the government should make people’s choices for them and la la la la la la you can’t hear them!”

    I like incandescent bulbs. I don’t care what you say. You’re in no position to tell me what I should like and buy. Leave me alone and let me make my own decisions. I know everything I need to know about both bulb types and in spite of your agenda to turn the world into a green utopia where everyone is miserable and the only people who have modern technology are those who know that global warming is a lie (ask Al Gore how much corn his jet uses) I choose incandescents.

  • BB

    How about keep making incandescent and let the public decide; I know it is hard to believe but we do own and run this country?

  • Anders Hoveland

    The very idea of labeling CFLs and LEDs as “green” is just stupid. There are a bunch of gullible simple-minded idiots out there. Sure, if you are too lazy to turn off the light switch when you are not in the room, you might want to get LED lighting. But in many situations, these new “energy efficient” bulbs are actually WORSE for the environment and end up consuming more energy. The problem is your calculations are using false inputs, and neglecting numerous factors.

    You don’t have to give up your incandescent bulbs to help the environment. It’s all just a bunch of hype, churned out by corporate marketing, and perpetuated by naive environmentalists.

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