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Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs Light the Way to a Brigher Future

09/06/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Lighting, Electrical, Solar Power

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com/HRFreviews.html

Compact Fluorescent Light
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 short article is submitted as a separate commentary and review on our discussion forum.

Click here for an expanded web page version of this article complete with sample cost-savings calculations.

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 :idea:. 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.

Color temperature refers to the appearance of light usually described as warm or cool. 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 home. 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. 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, compact fluorescent light bulbs (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. Of course the cool white is also available to light up those wide-open spaces.

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.

Approximate Equivalence in Lighting Power between Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFL)and Conventional Incandescent Light Bulbs

9-watt CFL = 40-watt incandescent
13-watt CFL = 60-watt incandescent
15-watt CFL = 70-watt incandescent
23-watt CFL = 100-watt incandescent
30-watt CFL = 120-watt incandescent
105-watt CFL = 420-watt incandescent

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 $45 at an 8 cents per kw utility rate and double that with our actual delivered utility rate in Western New York (i.e., $90!?!).And the fact that YOU can make enough electricity at home to run them is even cooler.

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.

FYI: Fluorescent lights are actually 10 to 20% efficient compared with the typical incandescent light bulb which is only around 2% efficient. The actual efficiency of a fluorescent light depends on its specific design, with industrial fluorescent lighting enjoying the highest ratings of around 20% efficient, while CFLs are usually on the lower end at only 10-15% efficient (Remember, CFLs have design limitations because of their compact size.). Still, CFLs are 4 to 5-times more efficient than the typical incandescent light.

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 inexpensive lamp and appliance timer that we recently reviewed works very well with CFL as well as standard fluorescent and incandescent lights.
  • Second, they come in a variety of color temperatures: cool is the standard appearing, typical fluorescent light that many people like for area and general ambient lighting (cool white is used to describe cool lighting with just a bit warmer hue that lacks any bluish overtones); warm better simulates a conventional incandescent light which some people prefer for reading; and full spectrum emulates the natural light of the sun and is used for ambient lighting and some applications find it suitable as a plant-grow light; CFLs even come in an assortment of primary colors.
  • Third, the life-expectancy of most CFLs is around 10,000 hours so you 'earn back' your higher initial investment in energy savings (see below), 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).
  • Fourth, 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).
  • Fifth, CFLs remain somewhat larger than standard incandescent light bulbs, so there are some fixtures where they simply don't fit properly.

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.

1000Bulbs.com 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.

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?. B)

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.)

Click 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 save-the-planet too.

Bottom line: 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 save-the-planet.

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