Shedding Some Light On New Bulbs

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - July 20, 2011
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The standard light bulb may be gone by 2014. Image from Bob Jones

Here we are, back at the old light bulb story.

In 2007, Congress voted a future ban on the standard, low-efficiency light bulb. Last week the GOP House launched an effort to overturn that ban, and radio blatherer Rush Limbaugh lit up the airwaves by shouting “the government ought not have a damn thing to say about the light bulb I buy.”

You’ve no doubt seen MidWeek columnist Jade Moon, in commercials for Hawaiian Electric, selling us on compact fluorescent (CF) bulbs because the incandescent bulbs might go out of existence in 2014, and because with CFs we’ll use less electricity.

Well, only maybe the latter. California utilities spent $550 million subsidizing CFs and discovered that electricity savings fell 73 percent short of what studies had estimated. And CFs contain mercury.

Some of us don’t like the CFs. It’s about the quality of light.


Incandescents give off “warm” light. CFs still do not. That’s because of our eyes. The natural outdoor light we see is actually our brain taking in many colors from our eyes’ receptors and giving us what we perceive as white light.

CFs give us too much blue-end light and not enough red-end. So our brains tell us the light isn’t very “warm.”

But here come LED light emitting diode bulbs. They’re on the right wave length to give us “warm,” but you’re unlikely to pay $30 per bulb. You’re set on the since-1870 technology of the incandescent light bulb.

I’m betting that new light bulbs will get better and the price will come down to about $5. Not too bad if you consider that the latest-invented LED may last 20-plus years and use little electricity.

One of the things you’ll notice with the LED bulb is the lack of what testers call “vibrancy.” That’s another brain function. We sense something’s not quite right. Why? We are used to incandescent light. The brain still tells us it’s perfect.

I had an LED reading lamp in a hotel recently. It took maybe five seconds to warm up but the resulting light was what I’m used to with Tom Edison’s bulbs.


One misconception (Rush Limbaugh is full of them and other stuff) is that government is telling us which bulbs we can use. It’s not. It’s saying that light bulbs must attain a certain energy efficiency. If the incandescent makers can do that, no problem. Or, you can fill your cupboard with a 20-year supply of the current cheaper bulbs in case they don’t.

The last major GE factory making incandescent bulbs, in Winchester, Va., closed down last year. Most of the CFs you see in stores are made in China. The leading LED bulb maker is Royal Philips Electronics of Holland.

Making a light bulb in America costs anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent more than overseas.

That’s become an old story, too.

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