Incandescents, a thing of the past?

lamb_abbey_orchardsSeptember 5, 2010

I'm in the process of building a new home and was urged by the lighting guy I'm using to resist the urge to put in CFLs exclusively, because they're simply not the best solution for all home lighting, especially where you really want the ability to dim the lights. I know there are CFLs that can be dimmed, but from what I'm told, the quality of light you get just isn't quite there yet. I'm therefore going with a mixture of fluorescent and incandescent, depending upon the application.

I'd like to get people's thoughts on whether the overall plan in the lighting world is to phase out incandescent lighting altogether, and if so within what kind of time frame. A few of the fixtures I'm considering were listed with the option of accommodating an incandescent bulb, or a range wattages of CFLs, MHs or HPSs. I guess I assumed all CFLs could work in all incandescent fixtures. If fixtures are now tailor-made to accommodate different wattages of non-incandescents, what kind of technology is being developed to allow people with standard incandescent fixtures to use the full range of non-incandescent bulbs on the market without having to chuck their incandescent fixtures altogether?

I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this. Thanks.


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Yes, the lighting industry is in the process of phasing out incandescents for some domestic uses. This is because of legislation passed in 2007, intended to reduce national energy usage.

As I understand it, there are actually some loopholes in this legislation. However, it still tends to generate strong opinions, and that's apt to flavor the responses that you get to your question.

IMO getting into the politics of this is probably pointless. It is what it is, and we have to deal with it.

To me this whole scene is much like what happened when the NEC required GFIs and later AFCIs. People groused at first, but very quickly the selection improved and the prices declined. Now GFIs are second nature and AFCIs are on their way to that status. I'm sure this will be the case with high efficacy lighting in a few years. But right now things are very much in transition.

HPS is the king of affordable efficiency. Actually LPS is even more efficient, but I don't see much or any of it for residential use. That said, sodium in either flavor is really suited only to the most utilitarian lighting because the quality of its pinkish-yellowish light is dismal. I'm OK with HPS for outdoor lighting, but some folks can't stand it even for that.

For lighting home living spaces right now, it seems to me that the affordable and practical choice is mostly compact fluorescent - but see below.

Incandescent fixtures are still available. Some kinds of incandescent lamps (bulbs) won't be after 2012 - but from what I've read (can't find the sources right now, sorry) other kinds will be. So if you're really dedicated to incandescents, you'll still be able to get some limited types for some years to come. How long this will be true and what the choice will be is something I haven't really looked into, but maybe others here have.

Regardless, incandescent lighting seems like something that will eventually become sort of an eccentric or nostalgic choice. Someday incandescent devotees will be kind of like the car collectors who keep their pre-1970s cars going, adding cans of lead substitute to their gas tanks.

Back to the present. Right now, from what I can see, the selection of retrofit CFs (those that screw into sockets in place of incandescents) remains quite a bit wider than that of dedicated CFs. I think that will continue to be true for some years to come. So IMO one valid option (if you aren't in California) is still to install incandescent fixtures and fit them with screw-in CFs. If you don't like the light from one type of CFs, just by a different brand with a better (or at least different) quality of light.

There are also retrofit CFs which dim down to 5% and supposedly maintain their color temperature and CRI. I haven't tried these yet, but plan to soon, and will report back on them.

I do think though that as more and more dedicated CF fixtures are installed, the variety of available replacement lamps is almost certain to widen. So I wouldn't let the currently limited range of replacements for these dedicated CF fixtures stop me from using them.

There are those here who will tell you to leapfrog CFs and go directly to LED lighting. They have a very good point.

However, LED fixtures with truly state of the art efficacy and light quality are just now beginning to approach affordability. The selection of really good and efficient ones is pretty limited. This field is developing rapidly and in a decade or less I think LED lighting will be in the mainstream.

Bottom line: If I were building or updating a house today, I wouldn't hesitate to fit good dedicated (title 24 compliant) CF fixtures throughout, using dimmable ones where appropriate.

But not being in California, I might also save some money and install good old fashioned incandescent fixtures and screw in retrofit CFs. I'd plan to upgrade those fixtures to LED lighting in 8 or 10 years, when LED is completely mainstream.

But as I say, others here will no doubt express other views.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2010 at 8:28PM
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A lot of the new fixtures are being designed around LED bulbs because the bulb itself only needs replaced every 5-10yrs. However, the market for retrofitting incandescent fixtures to use the new technology is also common because there are so many fixtures out there already. A good example of this is the LED Conversion Kits for recessed cans.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2010 at 5:52PM
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everybody is pushing CFs, even power companies., like Puget Sound Energy.

so is that the future? not for long. every CF bulb has mercury in it. are they all going to get recycled do you think....? or just pitched in the trash. looks like leds will be there to save us all. but today they only dim down to 20%, so we wait......

    Bookmark   September 7, 2010 at 10:39PM
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The CR6 dims to 5% and is going for ~ $49.97 to ~$64.

Here is a link that might be useful: Home Depot CR6

    Bookmark   September 7, 2010 at 10:49PM
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My understanding (just mine) is that CFLs are just a bridge technology to LED. If you can work out the LED issues ... get setups that don't flicker or buzz (see other posts on this forum) ... which means hooking up with an LED expert... that is what I would do.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 12:41AM
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I agree with everything that has been said so far. It really seems like we are in a bit of a transition period. With incandescent bulbs being plainly inefficient, CFLs and LEDs being inconsistent, and sodium bulbs being not really suitable for the home, it seems we have somewhat of a waiting game on our hands. I think that for now CFL retrofits and dedicated CFL fixtures and bulbs are the way to go. It seems, to me at least, that you'd want to wait for LEDs to either get really good, come down in price, or both. Either way, I don't think, generally speaking, their performance currently justifies paying so much. After all, if you can't stand the light quality and you end up never using the bulb then I guess you never really offset the initial expense of purchasing the bulb.

What measures are folks taking in maximizing natural light?


    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 12:08PM
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"every CF bulb has mercury in it ..."

Yeah, and every incandescent bulb has lead in it!

But fear not. The amount of mercury saved - mercury that a coal fired powerplant does NOT emit powering a CF, which uses less energy - is greater than the mercury in the CF. So the net release of mercury is LOWER. This is even more true with the new low mercury CFs (the amount reduced by 75-80%).

An ordinary cheap generic compact fluorescent lamp has about 4-5mg of mercury.

A coal fired powerplant will emit about 3.5mg of mercury powering a 20W CF for its lifetime, taking that as 7500h (a rough average). If you chuck the CF in the trash, you've just released 8.5mg of mercury into the environment. If you take it to the HHW center and they recycle the mercury, you've released only 3.5mg.

Now let's say you use a 75W incandescent bulb instead. Since it lasts an average of 750h you'll need 10 of them to the one CF. This uses more landfill space, and puts lead in the landfill, but we'll neglect that for now.

The salient point here is that although those 10 bulbs contain no mercury, the powerplant emits 13mg of mercury powering them. And there's not a thing you can do about it. You can't haul any of that mercury to your local HHW center.

Bottom line: using an incandescent bulb releases at least 53% more mercury into the environment than using a CF, and that's if you junk the CF in a landfill.

If you use a CF and dispose of it properly at a HHW disposal center, the mercury released is only 3.5mg.

In that case, using the incandescent bulbs instead of CFs releases 270% more mercury, or 3.7 times as much!

So don't be afraid of fluorescents on account of the small amount of mercury they contain. They actually REDUCE mercury release into the environment.

But to be sure, buy low mercury CFs.

Here is a link that might be useful: Low Mercury CFs

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 12:46AM
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Yes, we are in a period of transition rapidly away from incandescants to CFL's and eventually to LED's or another light source that hasn't been invented. Because CFL's are inexpensive and save a signficant amount of electric power over their tungsten counterparts my recommendation would be to switch as many lights as possible to CFL now. Avoid being an early adopter of LED lights simply because the technology will improive and prices will drop over time.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 4:34PM
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I appreciate all of the great posts and advice in this thread. The key things I'm getting here are that:

1) CFLs, although being much more energy efficient than incandescents, are simply a bridge technology to LED's.

2) Where possible, go with incandescent fixtures that have the ability to use CFLs as opposed to going with dedicated fluorescent fixtures. This way, when LED technology has been perfected and comes down in price, you can painlessly graduate to LED bulbs without having to replace the fixtures themselves. Dedicated fluorescents won't allow for this upgrade in technology.

Have I gotten this right, folks?


    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 4:56PM
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It's not true that you need to replace entire fluorescent fixtures if you decide to use LED later as there are work around solutions.

The typical work around is to disconnect the electronic / magnetic transformer.

If you're subject to title 24 type laws, your choices could be severely limited.

For instance, under title 24, the standard edison base (screw in) has been banned and the preferred replacement is the GU24 base (2 pin twist & lock) although it seems to have become anything but edison.

Case in point - HALO LED cans use a proprietary 2 pin fitting.

Fortunately, some manufacturers such as CREE do supply adapter wiring for their GU 24 base lights.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 10:40PM
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"CFLs, although being much more energy efficient than incandescents, are simply a bridge technology to LED's."

Please realize that the bridge to efficient LED lighting for the home is a very long one. And yes, please continue to use existing light fixtures or buy new ones with standard edison screw bases.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 2:07PM
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News story today says GE will manufacture its last incandescent bulbs this weekend. I'm thinking I should stock up on chandelier and nightlight bulbs. Do light bulbs last indefinitely?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 5:05AM
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I, for one, will be stocking up on incandescent bulbs simply because fluorescents give me migraines and the others are just so unkind to decorating. I suppose at some point when all incandescents are gone I will have to get a doctor's prescription to buy them.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 6:41PM
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I suspect that most of the folks who say that fluorescents give them migranes or make the room look awful are thinking of the dismal lights used in offices and supermarkets in past years (and many times still used today).

Modern high quality fluorescents are completely different from those! They no longer flicker noticeably thanks to high frequency electronic ballasts, and the light spectrum and color rendering index are hugely improved thanks to better phosphors inside. There really is no comparison.

Try a couple of good quality compact fluorescents before you dismiss them. BTW, a good qualty CF costs at least $5 and sometimes over $10. It's worth it though, because it will actually last, unlike the cheap $1.50 sweatshop junk sold at the big box stores.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2010 at 2:29AM
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