Light bulbs certainly can heat up controversy. After reading last month's FAQ on the coming phase-out of today's incandescent light bulbs, many readers wrote to defend the old bulbs or ask about the finer points of the switchover. Here are some of their comments and questions about the transition to more energy-efficient lighting, which Congress has set to begin in 2012:
I have an incandescent light in my oven that withstands the extreme temperatures there. Is a compact fluorescent light bulb safe for use in an oven? How about in the refrigerator or freezer?
No, those swirly, efficient CFL bulbs will be great for most light fixtures, but they can't withstand extreme hot or cold. However, appliance lamps up to 40 watts are exempt from the new energy law and will not be phased out.
I have incandescent spotlights outside to light up my yard. Fluorescent lights are known to work poorly in the cold. Will CFLs work in subzero conditions?
Outdoor spotlights will still be available as halogen spot or halogen floodlights. These products are on the market today. Halogen bulbs also are becoming more efficient—wasting less energy as heat—than used to be the case.
I have lighting fixtures in my home designed to show the bulb as decoration—like candle, flame-shaped, or clear decorative spheres. Are all these fixtures going to be obsolete?
Decorative lamps with small candelabra bases are exempt from the phase-out up to 60 watts. Decorative lamps with standard or medium-screw bases are exempt up to 40 watts. Large globe lights used in bathroom vanities will still be available.
I have heard that we will not be able to use our existing light sockets with these new bulbs, nor use lampshades, and that we will have to have all light sockets in our homes replaced.
The manufacturers say that CFLs are substantially shorter and smaller than they were just a few years ago. While some light bulbs had difficulty fitting certain lampshades in the past, most CFLs will fit in almost all table lamps today. Consumers are already making the switch. The federal Energy Star program says sales of CFLs, which use 75 percent less energy and last up to 10 times as long as incandescents, doubled in 2007 and now account for 20 percent of the light bulb market.
Banning incandescent light bulbs entirely would be a big mistake. Seldom mentioned is the fact (proved in my home) that CFLs cause interference in TV pictures and AM radio.
Strange, but apparently this used to be true! Some CFLs created "radio frequency interference," but this is rare today. Manufacturers tell me you can avoid the problem if you choose bulbs with the government's Energy Star rating, indicating that they've met a standard set by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC also requires CFL manufacturers to supply information (on or inside the package) that informs consumers what to do in the event that any interference is encountered (move your light bulb and your AM radio apart from each other).
As a matter of fact, many of the consumers who are worried about light quality and long life should also be sure they are using products that carry the Energy Star. The few CFLs on the market that don't carry the star don't meet the minimum government standards.
There are many locations where the extra cost of a fluorescent will never be repaid, such as little-used closets and attics.
The payback period may indeed be so slow as to be imperceptible in these locations. At least you won't have to crawl up there and replace those bulbs too often. CFLs should last a long time.
Like a lot of problems, there is no "silver bullet" to solve every problem. The idea of banningincandescent bulbs needs to be re-evaluated to produce a more sensible approach.
Ah, but the United States isn't really banning incandescent bulbs, as Australia recently did. All the major manufacturers—including General Electric, Osram Sylvania, and Philips—emphasize that, very much at their urging, Congress instead set new standards for greater efficiency in lighting. It doesn't matter what technology the light bulb makers use to get to reach the goals. The practical effect, indeed, will be to phase out most of the incandescent bulbs that we know. But in the coming years, you most likely will see manufacturers come out with next-generation, efficient incandescent bulbs. These may end up being a transitional technology that will not meet the standards in the later years of the phase-out, when light-emitting diodes become more economical, but manufacturers are confident these new standards are workable.
Sure, it's easy (and fun) to rail against Congress. But the bright side of all those loopholes and compromises is that you will still be able to light your oven, freezer, outdoor walkway, and candelabra fixture with little upheaval, while saving kilowatts with more modern lighting in the rest of your home.