Monday, December 22, 2014

Everything you ever wanted to know about light bulbs

I'm still getting tons of emails about light bulbs. One thing that's abundantly clear is that people are confused, so I'll try to help.

Everything you ever wanted to know about light bulbs

I'm still getting tons of emails about light bulbs. One thing that's abundantly clear is that people are  confused, so I'll try to help.

Here's a Jan. 1 story I wrote that explains what the new efficiency standards for bulbs are and why national legislators and environmental groups think they are important.

As the Natural Resources Defense Council's Noah Horowitz said, looking ahead to full implementation of the standards in 2014, the nation is "on pace to save $13 billion per year in the form of lower electric bills and prevent the need for 30 large power plants, and all the pollution they generate."

Here's a Jan. 9 story I wrote with bulb-buying tips.

Since then, readers helped me realize a few more are in order:

WHAT BULBS ARE BEST TO READ BY? This is a highly personal matter. It depends on your age, your eyesight, etc.  What's good about the new bulbs is that if you have a lamp that will only take a 60-watt bulb -- as in an old 60-watt incandescent -- you can buy a CFL or LED that gives MORE light but still doesn't exceed the wattage capacity of the lamp. For instance, a CFL that gives the same amount of light as an old 100-watt incandescent uses only 23 watts.

WHAT ABOUT THE DELAY TO FULL BRIGHTNESS? Although LED bulbs come on instantly, many CFLs -- even those advertised as "instant on" -- take a while to reach full brightness. I don't find this to be a problem, in most instances.  The only location where's it's more than an annoyance is the bulb that lights my basement steps. At first, I'd flip the switch and then go do something else while I waited for the light to get bright enough. Then I put an old incandescent back in. Now, I've switched to a really bright CFL so that, even it's dim at first, it gives me enough light to get down the steps safely.

Some readers are concerned that so many of the bulbs are made abroad. They'd like to find US manufacturers. Here are two sites that can help:

Meanwhile, here's my plea to libraries and other community groups: It's really tough, even in a store with adequate help, for consumers to sort out the options and know what they want. Especially when it comes to the "color" of the light -- warm white, daylight, bright white light, etc.  I think it would be a tremendous public service for a library or other group to buy an assortment of bulbs and lend them to people to try out.  The light just doesn't look the same in those store displays as it does in the lamp on the end table by the couch.

Now for a bevy of sites with still more information:

The U.S. Department of Energy site on the new bulbs:

American Lighting Association bulb-buying guide.

EcoHatchery app for finding bulb replacements.

Bulb-buying guide from Natural Resources Defense Council.

U.S. government's Energy Star site has bulb information.

Scientific American recently had a wonderful graphic explaining bulb differences.


Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
About this blog

GreenSpace is about environmental issues and green living. Bauers also writes a biweekly GreenSpace column about environmental health issues for the Inquirer’s Sunday “Health” section.

Sandy Bauers is the environment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor. She lives in northern Chester County with her husband, two cats, a large vegetable garden and a flock of pet chickens.

Reach Sandy at

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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