Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Knew About 100W Bulbs, But Not Fluorescents

In the email today from a Friend of a Friend.
In my home, there are 27 pre-existing 2 and 4 bulb fluorescent light fixtures, all of which use T12 bulbs, the most popular size by far in American homes and businesses.  All of the fixtures in my home use high-efficiency electronic ballasts which significantly boost the lumens/watt and also prolong the life of the bulbs.  Since my home is standardized on this bulb, years ago I bought a large box of replacement bulbs and a case of replacement ballasts. Needless to say, all new fixtures that I’ve put in over the years have been T12-based.
I went to Home Depot today to purchase a new 4-bulb fixture for my workshop in the basement.  To my surprise, there were no T12 light fixtures available.  I went to Lowe’s – same thing.  I inquired at both places why there were no T12 light fixtures available for sale, and nobody knew the answer.  I came home and Googled “T12 Light Fixture” and found out…that the US Dept. of Energy is “phasing out” (that means “banning” for all of you freedom-lovers) the T12 bulb next month.
I don’t know about you, but I’m pissed.  I did some research on the proposed replacement bulbs (T8 and T5) and discovered that they use less energy – and also produce less light. The lumens/watt for both bulbs is about the same for similar ballast technology.  At the Home Depot, it was obvious to me immediately that the T8 shop lights were not as luminous as my T12’s scattered about my basement and garage.
Along with the story, FoaF provided an interesting link to a company who is "making lemonade" out of the new rules and selling new fixtures as "Cash for Clunkers" upgrade.  In it, they say the ban comes from the Department of Energy.  What they really banned, apparently back in 2005, were the magnetic ballasts that are used to start the fluorescent bulb which leads to the demise of the bulbs.  First they were banned in new light fixtures, then all production of ballasts for T12 lamps was banned in 2010.  Why?  Alleged "energy efficiency", although FoaF (a very good engineer) says the new bulbs offer the same lumens/watt as the old ones, and I believe him over the greenies who say it pays for itself in a year.  Of course, they're including "tax incentives" and other use of OPM to pay businesses to make the changes. 

They say there is just about one billion of these bulbs installed in the US.  Talk about a make work/giveaway program!  A billion bulbs that will be replaced - you have to figure a couple of bucks each at wholesale.  With those billion bulbs will be perhaps as many as a half billion ballasts.  That's where the big money is, because ballasts are way more expensive than bulbs.  While you can go to your local big box home improvement store and buy a fixture with two bulbs for $10 to $15, if you go to buy a ballast, the ones sold separately are better quality and considerably more expensive.  (DAMHIK)  A low-end ballast may go for more than that fixture; the better ones a few times its price.  The ballast makers could be looking at quite a windfall here thanks to an overactive Department of Energy.

(T12, T8 and T5 from top to bottom.  The code represents the diameter, not the wattage.  They are typically sold by length, with length corresponding to wattage.  Source

I looked around my house and find a mix of T12 and the thinner T8 bulbs, depending on when the fixture was bought.  I have two T12 bulbs left that are not in a fixture.  I knew to stockpile a few 100 W incandescent bulbs although the later vintage ones sure seem to be crap and fail at an unnaturally high rate, but this is the first I've heard of this one. 


  1. This is very interesting Silicon G, thanks.
    The problem with energy efficiency demands on cars, buildings, washing machines etc and lighting is that it compromises advantages in characteristics that people might like.
    Hence, people don't voluntarily buy the alternatives.
    Hence, bans are "necessary" - no "need" to ban what people don't like to buy = no "big savings"!

    The further irony with lighting,
    is that the society savings are not there anyway, as referenced for the ban on regular incandescents with Dept of Energy info etc in
    "The Deception behind the Arguments used to ban Light Bulbs and other Products"

  2. Grainger might be a source for the T12 bulbs & fixtures.

    We have T12s in our unheated barn, not a great location, recently replaced the buzzbox mag ballasts w/electronic - now the bulbs start reliably in the winter and although no audible buzz there is electronic noise on AM radio. Soon to be supplemented with 300W incandescents in barn fixtures

    Also have T8s in garage, silent but for noise on the radio.

    Have been purchasing incandescents in 130V for longer life - although 75W & 100W aren't available, 71W & 95W are available by the case