Sunday, March 06, 2011

Bright Ideas in Lightbulbs

Have you  made the switch? This morning's Post Dispatch reports that consumers have only replaced 1 in 5 light bulbs with energy efficient ones, and that when 100-watt bulbs are phased out of production starting next year, that 13 percent of consumers plan to stock up on the old ones rather than buy new.

That's crazy. CFL (and new LED) bulbs save you money. I have compared our electric bills for the past few years and I can prove it. We have replaced about 2/3 of the lightbulbs in our house with energy efficient ones. Next year, the Christmas tree is on the list (I calculate that we spent $25 to light our pre-lit incandescent tree this year, and we had no exterior lights hung).

If you're quick then you just caught the "but" clause to my post. Why, if we have seen actual money savings from replacing lightbulbs, have we not replaced 100% of all bulbs in our house with energy-efficient ones?

We have ceiling fans installed in six rooms in our house, each with 4 or 5 lightbulbs. And every last one of them has a dimmer switch for the light fixture (because you don't always need 5 60-watt lightbulbs blazing in a room, and in the olden days of incandescent bulbs, dimmers would help save a bit of energy). 

If you install a regular CFL into a socket on a dimmer switch, then set the switch anywhere but completely "on" or completely "off",  your CFLbecomes a strobe light. Nice for Halloween. Not so nice for reading bedtime stories to the kids. And if you have one (or, say, 4) of those dusk-to-dawn light sensing exterior light fixtures, then local cops stop by your house occasionally to make sure that your flashing lights aren't due to a security alarm.

If you can find a dimmable CFL for sale (an arduous task in itself...they are not universally stocked outside of hardware stores), then you fix the strobe light problem. But the bulbs don't so much "dim" as they do "turn off" about half way between the top and bottom of the dimmer. I have one installed in the kitchen, and its "dimmability" is a large party of why I have one installed in the kitchen and not five.

Then there's the price.  They cost roughly $8 apiece, and my local Home Depot tends to have about 4 on the shelf at any one time. But we would need something like 30 of them.  That's a total of $240 plus tax for dimmable bulbs that don't actually dim.

Or, we could go remove all the dimmer switches that my husband installed. That is, I suppose, the answer to our dilemma. Or we join the ranks of those 13% of folks who just stockpile incandescent bulbs once they stop selling them.

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