unofficial review forum for Harbor Freight™ tools.
A typical, spiral-shaped compact fluorescent light (CFL)
compared with a standard incandescent light bulb. The
larger mid-section of the CFL houses the starter/ballast and
other electric circuitry necessary for all fluorescent lights in
an amazingly small space. Illustration courtesy of Wikipedia.com.
Our review of Harbor
Freight's 45-watt solar panel kit
prompted a brief commentary on
the merits of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) within the context
of low-energy consuming devices. Rather than append that article with
what might be considered a rather lengthy commentary given our academic
propensity for prose,
this article is submitted as a separate
commentary and review in this expanded version on our web site.
Most people should be somewhat familiar with these CFLs, but the
continued high demand for traditional incandescent light bulbs suggest many have not yet seen the light . CFLs, like other fluorescent lights,
require much less electrical energy to produce an equivalent amount of
illumination as produced by the first-generation of household electric
lighting, the traditional incandescent bulb. No longer are fluorescent
lights handicapped with the ghostly artificial appearance of their
bluish light or the hum of their early ballasts. Modern CFLs offer a
range of color temperatures to suit the needs and tastes of any
individual and they do so quietly as well as efficiently.
Hot and Cold Lights and the Temperature of 'Color'Color temperature determines the appearance of
and varies from warm to cool for residential lighting applications. It
is technically expressed in degrees Kelvin although these numbers are
less meaningful to most people than the text desginations used below.
One of the aspects that had slowed acceptance of
fluorescent lighting into more private homes is the artificial cool
appearance of traditional fluorescent lighting. New CFLs are available in a variety of color temperatures,
including warm illumination which emulates traditional incandescent
lighting and full spectrum illumination which is more natural, emulating
sunlight and can even be found in basic primary colors. Of course cool white is also available to light up those
- Warm lights
are somewhat reddish in appearance
and are the color temperature most Americans have grown up with from
the incandescent lighting that fills the typical American and Canadian
homes. Many Americans prefer this color temperature for reading and
- Cool lights are
more bluish in appearance and are the color that Americans are
familiar with in their schools, offices, manufacturing facilities, and
shopping malls. Cool white is used to
describe cool lighting with just a bit warmer hue that lacks any bluish
- Full spectrum lights emulate the natural light of the sun
and are used for ambient lighting and for some applications which find
them suitable as plant grow-lights. Full spectrum lights are also
recommended for the treatment and prevention of seasonal affective
disorder (SAD) that occur during the winter months when individuals in
most temperate and Northern climates receive less exposure to outdoor
light because of the low ambient temperatures. Traditonal incandescent
lights are 'warm' and do not contain enough full-spretrum light to
Compact Fluorescent Light Basics
Compact fluorescent lights (CFL) are basically, well, compact
fluorescent lights. They are the same technology that has been around
for over 75 years compacted into a smaller package. In other words,
they're simply fluorescent lights, but unlike their larger grandfathers,
they have their starters/ballasts and other circuitry necessary to make
them work miniaturized into a package which fits into standard light
sockets normally reserved for incandescent light bulbs. Of course
they're improved in other ways as well, being quiet running and
available in a variety of color temperatures that make them much more
pleasant for home use. They are so much more energy efficient and safer
(because of their lower operating temperature which decreases the risk
of electrical shorts and fires) that the manufacture of standard
incandescent light bulbs will be discontinued in the United States in
the not to distant future. Fluorescent lights have always been a
favorite in large-scale operations (e.g., industry, schools, offices)
because of their energy savings and low maintenance (around 10,000 hours
between bulb replacement). CFLs find their way into private homes in
the United States and Canada as awareness and concerns about green-house
emissions mature. They have long been a favorite in Europe and other
parts of the world where residential energy costs are considerably
higher than in North America. And of course, we find them indispensable
for use with solar-powered applications that generate only small amounts
of usable electricity.
|We have special interest in energy conservation and alternative energy
sources and have purchased quite a few products related to these
interests from Harbor Freight and from other suppliers. In
our tests Harbor Freight has been consistently striking out but with
their 45-watt solar panel kit they may have hit a home run. This
is by far the lowest price anywhere for low to medium wattage solar
panels, and the charge controller and compact fluorescent light bulbs
are a bonus. Click here to read our product review.
When comparing CFLs to standard incandescent light bulbs remember that
if you're comparing wattages (which is what we all do, pun intended),
then you have to use two different measuring 'sticks.' CFL put out
almost 5-times as much light on a watt-for-watt basis when compared
with standard incandescent lights. This makes a 15-watt CFL roughly
equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent light bulb. The table below gives
some commonly used equivalance values based on the actual lumens output
for each type of light bulb. It should help simply your selection of
the appropriate CFL and help guide you through some of the comparisons
we're making in this article.
The numbers are downright staggering: A CFL uses about 1/5 the energy
of a conventional incandescent light bulb and lasts around 10-times
longer. Over the life-time of the CFL, this saves around $44 at an 8
cents per kw utility rate and double that with our actual delivered
utility rate in Western New York (i.e., $88!?).And the fact that YOU
can make enough electricity at home to run them is even cooler with your Harbor Freight's 45-watt solar panel kit
What's in a Watt?
The commonly used term "watt" is actually an expression of electrical
energy not light intensity. "Lumens" and "candlepower" are the terms
that better describe the actual brightness, but they're unlikely to
supplant "watts" anytime soon because of the years of use this term has
seen in reference to incandescent light bulbs. Typical CFLs produce
around 50 lumens per watt, while incandescent light bulbs produce around
10 lumens per watt. A candle produces 0.3 lumens per watt and T5
and T8 tube-style fluorescent lights can produce around 100 lumens per
watt. (A low-pressure sodium light is actually the most efficient light
source currently available producing up to 200 lumens per watt. Want to
read next to one of these lights?)
FYI: When translated to physical energy, 1,000 W (1 kW) is
approximately equal to 1.34 hp of work. (So I guess a 1 kW
light bulb could pull a horse? -- viz., produce more "work.")
|Candlepower like horsepower has an obvious derivation:
the light intensity is compared with the brightness provided by a
typical candle. The actual unit of measure is "foot candles" where 1
foot-candle is the amount of light striking an object one foot away from
a lit candle. The more scientifically standardized term "candela" is
approximately equal to one foot-candle. Lumens is another popular
measure with each candela approximately equal to 12.57 lumens.
(Actually, it's all a lot more technical than presented here, but this
should give you a general idea of the equivalent "lighting power" of
these measures.) Click
here if you would like a simple, straightforward explanation of these
terms devoid of the overly complex technical rhetoric that
hamstrings the Wikipedia these days.
Most of the "watts" in incandescent lighting is actually
wasted as heat energy with only about 2% going towards
providing visible light Nonetheless, for a given "wattage" different
incandescent lights typically provide comparable the levels of
illumination. Hence, we all know what a typical 25-watt refrigerator
light compared to 100-watt reading lamp looks like and understand how
they're both dwarfed by those awesome 500-watt floodlights. For this
reason, CFLs are often described by their equivalence to a given wattage
of incandescent light, even though they actually consume about 1/5 the
energy and therefore their real wattage is much lower lumen-for-lumen.
Cost-Savings Calculations for a Single 15-Watt CFL
The math is compelling -- don't wait for those old light bulbs to burn out; smash them now and start saving money today!
Of course there is one drawback and it's only fair to mention it. Your
entire investment of $1.09 is at-risk for loss from mishaps such as
someone knocking over the lamp, strong electrical spikes in the power
grid, lightning strikes to your home AC-power entrance panel, etc. that
could quickly wipeout your entire investment (see below). Then you
would need to invest another $1.09, but then you can replace a bunch of
the CFLs before you're loosing money on this investment in power
- A standard 70-watt incandescent light bulb consuming its 70
watts for 10,000 hours will require 700,000 watts or 700 kW in
electrical energy. At a rate of 8 cents/kW this costs $56 in
- A 15-watt CFL (equivalent to the 60-watt incandescent light
in brightness) will consume 150,000 watts or 150 kW in electrical
energy over a 10,000 hour period. At a rate of 8 cents/kW this costs$12 in electricity.
- The difference in electrical consumption (700 kW - 150 kW =
550 kW) results in the 60-watt incandescent light bulb costing $44 more
than the CFL to run for 10,000 hours.
- The CFL in this example typically costs $1.09, while the
incandescent bulb usually costs between $0.29 and $0.90 depending on
whether it's a standard or a long-life bulb. (The price differential
cancels out considering that it would require two or more standard
incandescent light bulbs to provide 10,000 hours of illumination, while
a single long-life incandescent light bulb [costing about twice as
much] could run for 10,000 hours.)
- With National Grid in Western New York we're currently
paying about 16 cents per kW delivered (the stated power price is only
around $0.08/kW but that doesn't include all the delivery charges,
taxes, etc.) which is double the 8 cents per kW often used for these comparisons including the calculations above.
Our actual cost for delieverd electrical service would double the cost
differential between these two bulbs, bringing the savings to $88 for
each incandescent light bulb replaced by an equivalent light-ouput CFL!
- If you replace ten 70-watt incandescent light bulbs with
ten 15-watt CFLs, you'll save $440 over the 10,000 hours of use. (FYI:
10,000 hours was selected as the comparison point because it is the
typical life-expectance of a CFL; regular tube-style fluorescent lights
last considerably longer, with 50,000 hours not being unusual.) If
you're not so lucky as to actually be paying only 8 cents per kW and
are paying our rate you'll save $880 by replacing the ten 70-watt
- Another way to view this cost-savings is to consider the payback or interest returned on your investment: the
$1.09 - $0.90 = $0.19 investment (the net increased cost for replacing
a 70-watt incandescent light bulb with a 15-watt CFL). "A penny saved
is a penny earned (B.F. Franklin)," so consider the $44 saved as $44
return on your $0.19 investment. That's a total yield of 232%. Of
course you probably won't earn this in a single year. In fact, if you
use the light bulb 2,000 hours per year it will take you 5 years to
earn your 232% return. (The 2,000 hours/year estimate averages about
5.5 hours/day of light usage.) So play fare, divide your earnings by 5
years -- you're making 46.3% per year on your investment of each CFL
plus you're helping to save-the-planet too. Try getting this annual
return on your money from any other investment!
- And we just have to add that paying our
twice-as-much-as-you (maybe, or maybe others are underestimating the
actual cost of DELIVERED electricity from their power untility
companies), we're doubling our rate of return here in Western New York.
Yes, that's a whopping 92.6% annually. I sure wish we could invest even more money in this market.
Do what you can without seriously compromising your quality of life.
Substituting CFLs for incandescent light bulbs in most fixtures is
quick and easy and pays back fast. At Harbor Freight Reviews we believe
that every killed kilowatt counts, so kill a kilowatt or two when and
where you can. We invest in these small-scale systems to
make a small contribution while sometimes bringing electricity to a
hard to reach area around our home or shop.
There are a few things to note about compact fluorescent
light bulbs (CFL).
- First, they work with mechanical and relay types of switches and
timers, but you need special dimmable CFLs to work with most light
dimmers and electronic switches such as X10 controls. Harbor Freight's
and appliance timer that we recently reviewed works very well with
CFL as well as standard fluorescent and incandescent lights.
- Second, the life-expectancy of most CFLs is around 10,000 hours so
you 'earn back' your higher initial investment in energy savings (see
below), often in replacement bulb costs, and in cooler running lights (this
can be very important for some applications, especially with old
fixtures which can overheat when used for long period with conventional
light bulbs). See the table above for the actual calculations of the potential savings.
- Third, the life of CFLs, like all fluorescent lights, can be
greatly shortened if they are turned on-and-off frequently. It's best to
leave them on if you'll be returning to the room within 15 to 30
minutes. They consume little energy during that additional time and the
'stress' incurred during starting and re-starting is more detrimental to
the CFL's life-expectancy than the extra fractional kW in electrical
usage is to your wallet or to the environment (e.g., 0.0075 kW for a
15-watt CFL left on for 30 minutes consuming a little over a penny's
worth of electricity by our expensive Western New York utility rates or
around half a cent in the rest of the country).
- Fourth, like turning the light off-and-off repeatedly and like
using the wrong type of electronic timer or photocell control,
electrical spikes from the power grid or from sources specific to your
home (e.g., lightning strikes) can destroy CFL very easily. The
tranditional incandescent light bulb is much more resilent, surviving
this type of abuse better than fluorescent lights. That's perhaps one
of several reasons they won out early in the days of unstable power
grids and frequent lightning strikes on the pararie.
- Fifth, CFLs remain somewhat larger than standard incandescent
light bulbs, so there are some fixtures where they simply don't fit
Modern CFLs are available in styles that replace most incandescent
lighting including full-spectrum, shatter-resistant floodlights, and a
rainbow of basic colors. There are even CFLs which work in three-way
sockets giving three different levels of illumination and CFLs which
emulate halogen lighting. And they all produce flicker-free, quiet
lighting in their compact packages which fit standard lamp sockets
eliminating the last excuses for not going green and making your
contribution to saving-the-planet while saving yourself some money too.
carries a very wide assortment of CFLs as well as LED and other types
of lighting. Read through their online listings carefully to find the
CFLs that best suit your individual needs. Don't be overwhelmed with
all of the choices -- buy a couple of different types (e.g., color
temperatures, styles) and experiment to find what works best for you.
A Special Problem for Some Users
We use a lot of X10 circuits in our home to control lighting and other
electrical devices. The X10 circuits do NOT work with standard CFLs.
This has to do with the way these two devices work -- the CFL requires
a large current influx to start the fluorescence (AKA the "light"); the
X10 circuits require that a small electrical current be constantly
present on the load (e.g., the light bulb). Oops, this doesn't work.
The CFL is confused and in fact often damaged by small but constant
trickle of electricity required by the X10 control device. So how do
you solve this and still go green?
Certain dimmable CFLs work well with X10 and similar control circuits.
These cost a premium but for those of us who must have the X10-control
of certain lamps, it's well worth the added price. For those of you who
have no idea what we're talking about here, X10 controls allow remote
control and programming of electrical loads. You can plug your lamp
into an X10 lamp control module and control it from anywhere in your
home or shop. You can also program it to respond to certain events such
as motion detection or to simply cycle on-and-off similar to a simple
timer. I personally no longer recommend X10 controls for most people.
The move to green with CFLs largely conflicts with this system and at
best complicates it somewhat. Technology may eventually provide a
simple solution, but for now it's costly and remains somewhat risky
because even dimmable CFLs that work for months can fail one day
abuptly with X10 control. Then you're buying another premium-priced CFL
or just giving up and switching the lamp back to a traditional
incandescent light bulb.
Now, the problem I just described for X10 users applies equally to most
dimmer switches. They too require a small electrical current or use a
type of electronic switch which is incompatible with most CFLs. So
choose wisely and understand that going green cost more than just a few
extra bucks for the light bulb; it also involves for many users some
changes in lifestyle or changes in electrical control devices and
|Harbor Freight has put together a nice little 45-watt solar panel kit that's sufficient to drive several of these CFLs: their kit includes two 5-watt compact fluorescent light bulbs with
fixtures, a charge controller, and three 15-watt solar panels. They
even provide the necessary cabling, albeit flimsier than what you may
want. All you add is a storage battery, preferably a deep-discharge
type but anything 12-volts will get you started. On a bright day, the 45-watts
of solar power should keep your two 5-watt compact fluorescent lights easily
running 24/7. In fact, this system should be able to
easily support two regular 15-watt compact fluorescent bulbs, but on a bad
day hope you have some charge leftover from the previous sunny day.
One Last 'Note'
We wrote this entire article discussing CFLs without mentioning that
greenhouse emissions are killing our planet or without boring you with
statistics on how if everyone switched to CFLs it would decrease these
poisonous gasses so dramatically as to save-our-planet with one dramatic
move. Well, it wouldn't. We're in more trouble than that,
unfortunately. But even 25% of the population switching to CFLs would
make an important difference and slow progression to the big hothouse as
well as get the rest of the public more aware of the importance of
conserving energy (e.g, social modeling and flocking effects). The title
of this article should be self-explanatory aptly revealing our position
on this topic -- see the light yet?.
Here at Harbor Freight Reviews we feel that everyone should
do what they can, but nobody needs to surrender that comfortable 20th
Century lifestyle we've all come to love and enjoy. Where you can switch
to CFLs do so and do so now; start saving-the-planet today. Where you
need or just want to bath in the warmth of a truly warm light (remember,
98% of the energy is produced as heat), go for it. Meanwhile, do what
you can and you can easily switch to CFLs for most lighting. (End of
editorial commentary for now.)
here for a wide selection of energy-saving CFLs are discount
prices. Remember that the higher initial cost is quickly recovered in
energy savings and that you're doing the right thing by helping to
Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CBL)
are the only way to go for most applications including not only solar
but conventional grid-powered lighting. They provide equivalent
illumination at much less cost, both energy-wise and
replacement-cost-wise, and they do this while helping to
Copyright 2010 Beaux Arts USA
(Reproduce freely, but play fair, cite the source.)
We have lots of items currently being
evaluated at Harbor Freight Reviews.
slow, tedious process to review each item personally but
we're banging them out as we can. We hope that you find our
first-person reviews useful in your purchase decisions and that you
visit our website regularly for updated material. Happy Sa(i)ling at the Harbor!