Here's to a bright -- and less expensive -- future
Here's to a bright -- and less expensive -- future BY TOM KNAPP, Staff Writer
The familiar glow of an incandescent light bulb will soon be a dim memory.
The harsher glare of the compact fluorescent lamp, which was introduced as an energy-saving alternative, also might be on its way to the dustbin of history.
The future of lighting -- in the home, at least -- appears to be the LED.
That means folks will be faced with a new array of choices -- and perhaps some surprising price tags -- when they visit the lighting aisle of their local grocery or home improvement store.
"All the incandescent bulbs are going to go away -- most of them, anyway," says Terry Boyle, a manager in the lighting department at Lowe's Home Improvement store at 25 Rohrerstown Road.
"They're not producing them any more because they're not energy-efficient."
Incandescent bulbs have been the standard ever since Thomas Edison got a patent for the technology in 1880.
But the federal government banned the manufacture of 100-watt incandescent bulbs as of Jan. 1. Boyle says the manufacture of 75-watt bulbs will be discontinued come July.
The future of small incandescents -- 40- and 60-watt options -- is up in the air, he says. "I've heard conflicting stories."
On the plus side, Boyle says, LEDs -- or light-emitting diodes -- have an extremely long life. Twist one into a light fixture at home and you might not have to change it for a few decades.
But higher up-front costs are, for many consumers, a prohibitive factor.
These days, Boyle says, it's not hard to find an incandescent light bulb for less than a dollar. Compact fluorescents -- or CFLs -- are a few dollars more.
An LED runs closer to $15 or $20, although some brands are priced about $10.
But there's little doubt LEDs are the wave of the future, Boyle says.
"Everything is going to go this way eventually -- except maybe for specialty bulbs, like under-cabinet lighting. They're already energy-efficient in their own way," he says.
Even bright outdoor floodlights are going LED, he says -- although big, high-intensity bulbs carry a hefty price tag near $60 each.
The trade-off for the higher cost, Boyle says, is that the newer bulbs last longer and use less energy -- a big savings over time.
"Supposedly, they'll last forever," he says. "But the initial investment is what's getting people."
While "forever" is an exaggeration, LED bulbs are rated to last from 25,000 to 50,000 hours -- which, depending on the amount of daily use, could mean decades without changing a bulb.
Comparatively, according to Eartheasy.com, a typical incandescent bulb lasts 1,200 hours and a CFL lasts 10,000 hours.
Assuming 25 light bulbs in a household, the site says, CFL and LED users stand to save more than $6,500 over 50,000 hours of use by switching from incandescents.
That's because they use considerably less electricity.
An LED bulb, for example, puts out 25 watts of lighting power while using only 41-w watts of electricity, Boyle says.
"That's a lot of energy savings, especially if you're using them all throughout your house," he says.
Looking at bulbs with a similar level of brightness, a 60-watt incandescent costs $7.23 to operate for a year, compared to $1.57 for a 13-watt CFL and 96 cents for an 8-watt LED.
But some people aren't looking at long-term benefits, Boyle says.
"I have a lot of people coming in who did their homework very well ... and know what they're talking about," he says.
Others, however, want to pay $4.98 for a box of light bulbs and don't want to worry about how much electricity they'll burn or how long they'll last, he says.
n The impact on your wallet isn't the only change in store.
Most folks have been using the same sort of light bulb most of their lives, and the adjustment to a new type of lighting isn't going down easy for everyone.
The illumination provided by LED bulbs "can be a little irritating, I think," says Boyle. "I find the quality of light to be -- well, not what it should be."
While Boyle likes the warm light produced by incandescent bulbs, he realizes those are a dwindling option. These days, Boyle uses CFLs at home.
But CFLs have detractors. One reason is the small amount of mercury inside each bulb.
A broken bulb can be dangerous, Boyle warns.
It's not a lot -- according to the website Snopes.com, each CFL bulb contains 4 or 5 mg of mercury, compared to 500 mgs of mercury in one of those old-style thermometers wielded by moms at the first sign of a sniffle.
"Like batteries, used CFLs need to be disposed at a toxic waste depot rather than tossed out with the ordinary household trash," Snopes reports. "Because mercury is cumulative, this poisonous element would add up if all the spent bulbs went into a landfill. Instead, the mercury in dead bulbs is reclaimed ... and recycled."
If a CFL bulb is broken, it releases mercury vapor and mercury-containing phosphor powder. According to the EPA, the area should be ventilated -- and central heating and cooling systems should be turned off -- before the glass shards and powder are gathered in a sealable container for disposal.
Some people simply dislike CFLs because they take longer to warm up and cast a harsher light, Boyle says -- although the technology in those areas has improved, he adds.
LEDs, too, are getting better -- and Boyle anticipates the remaining bugs will be ironed out soon.
"They haven't worked everything out yet," he says. "But, eventually, everything is going to be LED. So I think it will get better. I think it will get much better."
A major flaw in the LED design stems from the technology itself. LEDs emit light in a focused beam, rather than the omnidirectional glow of incandescents and CFLs.
Manufacturers are developing methods to split the beam, however, and are coming closer to mirroring the incandescent effect, Boyle says.
"The world is changing constantly," he says. "If we do not adapt, we'll be left behind."
Those old-fashioned bulbs "are going away," he says -- meaning consumers soon are "not going to have any choice."
nWith incandescents on the way out and fluorescents perhaps to follow, LEDs are the light at the end of the tunnel.