Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Say Goodbye to 75W Incandescant Bulbs

I wasn't aware until today that 75 W light bulbs were outlawed on January 1st, following 100 W bulbs into the dustbins of history. Lou Frenzel writes in Electronic Design:
As of the first of the year, the manufacture and sale of 75-watt incandescents is against the law.  That ban happened to 100-watt bulbs last year.  Next year, 60 and 40-watt bulbs go on the no-no list.  All of that is due to the controversial Energy Independence and Security Act (ESIA) of 2007.  The Act does not ban the actual use or purchase of these bulbs, just their manufacture and sale.
Outlawing purchase takes care of itself because all stock will eventually get sold.  And since these bulbs burn out, the "actual use" part takes care of itself without the Feds having to get up close and personal.  Similar to the ban of T12 fluorescent bulbs I wrote about last June, and the 100 W bulbs mentioned in that quote, it's all the result of our insect overlords deciding we aren't smart enough to choose our lighting needs on our own. 

Consider it a nudge.  We may not have an officially recognized "Nudge Unit" like they do in the UK, but it all comes down to that book by Cass Sunstein many of us have written about many times before.  

Like most people, I've had a few CFL bulbs here, and I've had pretty uniformly bad results with them.  First off, not one has lasted as long as claimed (a topic of serious discussion in engineering forums), second off, there's that problem with mercury contamination when they die, and finally, I don't like the light color - even the ones claimed to be daylight bulbs.  In one fixture (ceiling in my garage) they last no longer than incandescent bulbs and cost several times more. 

At the moment, I'm writing under the light of four LED bulbs.  Those were on sale at four for $60 (instead of the usual $80) and each puts out the same number of lumens as a typical 60W incandescent.  I've only had them in since October, but this fixture is one of the most used in the house, and might be on as much as 8 hours a day.  I'd like to go to more LEDs around the house, but they're still pretty high on the cost curve, and there are very few equivalents to the 100W bulbs I like in many places.  Maybe my stockpiled 100W and 60W bulbs will last long enough for a couple of price drops. 

Frenzel points out a reality that many greenies miss, but misses another himself:
I think the big question for the home owner is: Am I really saving money?  Probably not.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Department of Energy, residential lighting represents only 9 to 13% of total electrical power usage.  Most electrical energy goes to refrigerators, air conditioning, water heaters, and other appliances.  So if you replace all your bulbs with CFLs or LEDs you are only saving a fraction of your total electrical bill.
While he's right about the lighting representing a small portion of electricity use, in places with a real winter, incandescent bulbs make a real contribution to heating the living space.  Energy efficient bulbs may save electricity in the fixture, but make you spend it on your heating.  As always, solutions that only look at one small part are usually not solutions and make the problems worse.  They always act as if the law of unintended consequences doesn't apply to them.  

left to right, regular incandescent, CFL, LED, from Sylvania

Banning light bulbs without a good replacement is just another example of big government overreach.  Like declaring it's time for solar power, legislators think they can mandate changes to inescapable laws of nature.  Solar power will have its day, and LED bulbs will have their day, but neither of those days is today.  CFLs might have already been as good as they're ever going to be.


  1. I've got quite a stock of incandescents, too.
    And I also take the hours of life listed on the CFL package with a large grain of salt.
    My wife was asking why I dated all of them with a Sharpie as I installed them, and I told her I didn't believe they would last as long as the package said.
    Within six months I was swapping out dead CFL's, and she saw that what's stated on the package has no relation to real world life span.
    I just replaced all the 100W incandescents in the dining room with LED bulbs, and dated them, too. It will be interesting to see how long they last.
    I bought these because they were listed as 'dimmable', and I replaced the (dead!) lamp dimmer we had with one that was rated to use with LED bulbs.
    So far they run much cooler, and although I don't care for their color temperature, everybody else here loves them.

  2. Where they got the notion they could mandate something and it will happen comes from the auto industry.

    The technology to make safer and more efficient cars had been developed, but not put into production because it cost a lot more. The customers wouldn't pay for it. With it mandated by law, suddenly the makers had to build them and the customers would have to pay if they wanted a new car.

    Where it all goes wrong is they seem to think that the tech is developed and mature in things like lighting and green energy where it's just barely out of being a theoretical science question and become a theoretical engineering one. With no evidence that the newly mandated things can actually replace the banned items.

    That whole making the tech mature thing happened to automobiles too, just look at how hard late '70's through the '80's sucked for cars. The market has developed for cars that get better mileage too, something that barely existed in 1980, because there's POWER again.

  3. I'm still pissed off at 'em for outlawing the old flush toilets that actually worked.
    Bastards have no business telling me what products I can and can't buy for my house hold use. Something about capitalism that they conveniently ignore.
    BTW,the mercury part just kills me. Ignorant fucks thought that one all the way through, not.

    1. It took 20(?) years to get there, but they've finally developed toilets that flush better with the reduced size tanks. Of course, they cost more, but didn't we all expect that?

  4. I've got two LED bulbs: one is a 65W equivalent that's on 12 hours a day, 365 days/year, the other is in a recessed fixture in the shower. I got the first on sale at Amazon - $17, IIRC - to try LEDs out. If it lasts the 5-8 years Phillips clams it'll be worth it. The recessed fixture one was to improve brightness by replacing the dim CFL that was the biggest one that would fit in the recessed fixture when I bought the house. 9.5 watts, equivalent to a 65W indoor flood, color is OK, brightness good, it's an improvement. FYI, Home Depot sold it for $29, reduced from $49. I've got 18 other recessed fixtures, at $29 they ain't getting LEDs. Only the 4 in the kitchen are on 45-60 minutes/day, the rest, maybe 20 minutes/month, a few less than 5 minutes/month.

    I bought 100 ea 100W, 75W, 60W incandescent bulbs from a wholesaler just as the 100s were banned. I think I'm set on those for a while.

    If good LEDs get down to $4 each, call me. Otherwise, Foxtrot Uniform.

  5. Suggestion for improving life span of well-made incandescent light bulbs (or monodes as I like to call 'em): Replace the light switch with a rotary-control dimmer. Kills the high current switch-on shock. Then run the lamp at about 90% of rated voltage. There are some bulbs around here which get only brief usage every week, maybe 1 hour in total. They're now over 30 years old, thanks to the gentile electrical treatment from the dimmers. Decorative incandescent bulbs with long or spindly filament structures and lots of filament support twigs will see a big improvement in life span too.

    1. In the "old days" (1970s?) they used to sell a little device to put in a bulb socket called something like a bulb saver. I think it was a resistor to drop just a little voltage, because filament life is a very strong function of temperature. I think it's temperature to the 4th power, so decreasing filament temperature just a little bit increases life a lot.

      I think that's sort of like your 90% of rated voltage trick and probably helped with the turn-on surge, too.

    2. IIRC, besides dropping the voltage slightly, they also limited the inrush current at turn-on, which is typically when incandescents fail.

  6. My experience with cfl bulbs is considerably better than yours, probably because I learned several decades ago that flourescent bulb life is diminished radically by the number of on/off cycles they are subjected to. I have 2 Sylvania Daylight 13w cfl's and 1 20w that run ~18 hrs/day, and have for several years. (I haven't measured them exactly). With the energy savings of cfl's vs. the cost of time involved in procuring and replacing incandescent bulbs, I am a very pleased cfl user. Ymmv :)
    ps. In my opinion, the the quality of the ultra "cheep" Chinese made ones is less than, stellar.

    An American patriot.

    1. As long as you mention it, no, the bulbs with the highest failure rates were in the places in the house that are powered on the most and least subject to power cycling. They were, however, mounted "upside down", with the screw base (and the electronics in there) above the light.

      There has been quite a lot of talk about these bulbs and how disappointing they are in IEEE publications, IEEE forums and other places EEs hang out and talk. One of the few consensus points is that they tend to be marginal in design; components dissipating almost all of the heat they're rated for (a cardinal sin for reliability). Another agreement is that mounting them upside down makes them fail more often, presumably because the heat the bulb generates rises into the already marginal electronics.

      In one fixture, the one I'm sitting under now, although not all of the bulbs had burned out when I put LEDs in their place, their bases had all started to disintegrate and they all had that characteristic smell of burned electronics. To be honest, I'm surprised they didn't cause a fire. They were all upside down in this fixture.