Harrowsmith Country Life, February, 2008

The Lights Fantastic

We don't typically think much about light bulbs. We walk into a room, flick the switch, and that's about the extent of it - until the bulb burns out, anyway. But changing a light bulb just got a lot more complicated. With so many newfangled types available, there's lots to consider in theres eco-concious times - which bulbs use the least amount of energy, last the longest, shine the brighest and cost the least to buy?

A Consumer's Guide To Energy-Efficient Lighting.

Consider this: The typical Canadian household uses about 8,400 kilowatt hours of electricity a year. Of this, about 1,176 kwh (14 percent) is used for lighting. Currently, the vast majority of this light is generated by conventional, energy-guzzling incandescent bulbs. How bad are they? If we all switched to more miserly bulbs - and bylaw, we'll soon have to, as the feds have followed the lead of Nunavut and Ontario and banned their sale beyond 2012 - Canada would save enough electricity to power about 600,000 homes, reducing emissions from our coal-fired power plants by about 6 million tonnes per year.

But you don't have to wait until 2012 to reap the savings. Here's a buyer's guide to make the choice easier.

Incandescent

$4.25 for a three-way bulb; 30/70/100 wats (305/995/1,300 lumens); lasts 1,200 hours

The standard light bulb we have used for generations has now been limped into the same league as SUVs and other wanton energy wasters. Who knew? Although not as energy-efficient nor as long-lasting as other types of lights, its strength was always that it was cheaper on a per-unit basis. Moreover, it was available in a variety of colours and could be used almost anywhere.

Regular Fluorescent

F18 - $4.99; 15 watts (760 lumens); lasts 9,000 hours

F20 - E6.39; 20 watts (1,275 lumens); lasts 9,000 hours

The standar fluorescent tube has been with us for decades and has found any number of applications in rooms that need a lot of bright light for long stretches of time, such as workshops, offices, kitchen counters or laundry rooms - fluorescents are not at their best in closets or other applications that require light for short periods of time. It remains the most energy-efficient lighting available but its unwieldly size and awkward shape keep it from universal acceptance.

Compact Fluorescent

$9.99 for a three-way bulb; 1/20/26 watts (720/1,200/1,600 lumens); lasts 6,000 hours

This is the miracle light that is already replacing incandescents by the thousands. It is an improvement over the conventional fluorescent tube in that it fits a standard socket base and is small enough to fit under a lampshade. Its trump card is its energy efficiency: CFLs, as the pundits like to call them, cost more up front, but they pay for themselves by lasting for years and using less energy to deliver the same light. There are twoi basic colours: white, which casts a blue hue, and yellow, whose glow is comparable to an incandescent. CFLs are marketed in a variety of shapes. Some will work with timers. When replacing incandescents, read the packaging material to ensure you are buying the equivalent wattage.

Halogen

$5.99 for a three-way bulb; 30/70/100 wattsw (320/1,050/1,370 lumens); lasts 2,500 hours

With their bright, focused light, halogen lamps have a certain "designer" appeal. They are good for applications in kitchens and reading nooks that need a lot of concentrated light. More energy efficient than an incandescent, but don't last nearly as long as fluorescents. Meanwhile , they produce a lof ot hear. Until recently they required a recessed mount.

LED

While LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are gradually replacing incandescent Christmas lights, they have yet to be put to everyday use. Until manufacturers develop them further, their very focused (and very expensive) beam is limited to specific uses such as flashlights, spotlights and reading lamps. Enery-wise, they last about 10 times longer than compact fluorescents and about 133 times longer than incandescent. They contain no mercury, give off little heat and can withstanda buse that would break any other bulb.

Lumen Essence

Don't use wattage to judge how brightly a light bulb will shine. When buying lights, look instead for the amount of lumens. The higher the number, the brighter the light.

Mercury Blues

Just when you thought we'd found the perfect light bulb, along came the assertion that compact fluorescents - widely considered as a green alternative to conventional incandescents - are laden with toxic mercury. Some critics have used this to dismiss the CFL altogether. Who's right?

The fact is that today's fluorescent lights do contain about 5 mg of mercury (about one one-hundredth of the amount found in a dental filling). But consider this: According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, a coal-fired power plant "emits 10 mg oif mercury to produce the electricity to run an incandescent bulb, conmpared with 2.4 mg for a compact fluorescent," producing a net reduction of 2.6 mg of mercury when you chose the CFL. That's a good enough argument for us.

If a CFL should break, open a window for about 15 minutes to let the mercury disperse. Then clean it up as you would a regular light bulb. Your greatest risk is from picking up broken glass.

C2008 Peter D.A. Warwick

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