Category: Electrical

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs Light the Way to a Brigher Future

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


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. 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.


Lamp and Appliance Timer

09/04/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Hot Buys, Lighting, Electrical, Security


Mechanical Electrical Timer
Item: Lamp and Appliance Timer
Item number: 40148
Retail price: $5.99
Frequent sale price: $3.99
Target price: $3.99
Item link

We love this small 120VAC timer for its cost and simplicity. It has dual 120VAC outlets with a manual override switch. The on/off times are easily set in 15-minute intervals using push-down tabs. It's reliable and suitable for use with fluorescent lights including CFLs. This latter feature is especially important because electronic timers without mechanical relays cannot be used with fluorescent lights, except for the more expensive dimmable CFLs. The heavy-duty switch mechanism can handle up to 15 amps or 2,000 watts which is quite a bit of power for this small package.

We almost feel guilty setting our target price so low at $3.99. We actually thought that the normal retail price of $5.99 was fair, but hey, Harbor Freight sets the best-buy prices and we simply exploit the opportunities. :)

We use several of these timers for controlling fluorescent and LED plant lights. We also use these for back-up security lights, although most of our house lights used for security purposes are controlled by X10 circuitry which better emulates the 'lived in' look while away. At our target price of $3.99 these lamp and appliance timers are practically a giveaway.

Bottom line: A great little timer as cheap as you can find and not expect the plastic components to meltdown. Buy several at our target price and save money at Harbor Freight.

Click here for great prices on energy-saving compact compact fluorescent light bulbs.


8" Black Cable Ties, Pack of 100

08/21/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Electrical


8-inch Black Cable Ties
Item: 8" Black Cable Ties, Pack of 100
Item number: 34635
Retail price: $3.99
Frequent sale price: $1.99
Low price: $0.99
Target price: $1.99
Item Link

We bought several packages of these cable ties over a two-year period and for us they've been a mixed bag (pun intended :))). The first lot seemed to work pretty well, but the next several bags seemed to have an increasing number of defective cable ties. In some cases they broke easily, but very often they wouldn't even tie because the small 'tooth' in the retainer was broken or missing. The price is really cheap, so you can afford to sort through the batch using only the good cable ties, but this does get rather annoying at times. And at some point, it just isn't cost (or aggravation) effective. (More than once we had precariously held together a bundle of wires only to have several cable ties fail in succession when trying to tie the bundle. :()

We've tested several batches of these cable ties and the first ones seemed to work well, even passing our Buffalo Winter Test for several years without failure. Subsequent batches seem to have an increasing number of 'bad' ties, and the last batch seemingly had more bad ties than good ones. Is this a quality control problem or cost cutting at Harbor Freight?

This item just misses our list of The Junk. We'll probably even buy more when they hit their best price of 99 cents again. Had we paid the full retail price of this item, it would have definitely made our list of The Junk. The next batch of cable ties will be the deciding factor in whether they ultimately make the list. Meanwhile if you try to use them, be sure to buy more than what you think you'll need for the project and sample a few from each package (Remember, Harbor Freight has a 30-day satisfaction guarantee; you may need it.). If they're all good, you got a great bargain.

Bottom line: Not one of the better items at Harbor Freight. In fact, this is the type of item that gives Harbor Freight a bad reputation. Still, at the very low target price we keep buying more, occasionally.


Circuit Breaker Detective

07/31/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: The Junk, Electrical


Circuit Breaker Detective
Item: Circuit Breaker Detective
Item number: 96934
Retail price:$29.99
Regular sale price: $19.99
Best price: $17.99 (with coupon)
Target price: junk-is-junk (but try it if you like, it may work for you)
Item Link

We wouldn't be presenting fair and honest reviews if we didn't also publish our evaluations of some of the turkeys that can be found at Harbor Freight™. Although the list is relatively short, there are a number of items that we consider bad buys. This shouldn't be surprising considering the large inventory of products Harbor Freight™ carries. Collectively, we refer to this list of bad buys as "The Junk" -- items that in our opinion are better left in the store; items that you might pass on so that you have even more money to spend on the good stuff (including our "Hot Buys") found at Harbor Freight™.

We tried this device on three different electrical circuits on three different occasions separated by several months. Each time it had several false positives and never found the correct circuit. In other words, it buzzed on several incorrect circuits and failed to locate the correct one. We consider this test a dismal failure and was very disappointed by this product. Indeed, we had looked forward to finally being able to locate electric circuits quickly and easily without resorting to the old-fashioned flip the circuit breaker and test the lights trick. But atlas, it simply didn't work.

Perhaps we're evaluating this product too hastily. It may work well on most everyone's electrical system except ours. After all, we've only tested it several different times on one home and the wiring in that home was probably updated last in the 1970s. I'm not sure exactly how this should adversely affect the operation of this device, but that qualifier for our review seems appropriate.

To conduct a thorough scientific review, which our review does not purport to be (rather our review is our "opinion" of this product), one would have to purchase several of these units at different Harbor Freight™ outlets over the course of several months. Then test each unit on half-a-dozen or so different homes, each time trying to trace 3 or 4 separate circuits. We didn't do this!

Some products are easy to evaluate as junk -- you can pretty much look at the item's quality and test it a few times for its function. This electronic device is different and therefore we write our review somewhat with trepidation. Nonetheless, we feel obliged to warn our readers of the potential problem with this device.

Perhaps the best advice is for YOU to try it in YOUR home and see if it works for you. Remember, Harbor Freight™ has a 30-day satisfaction guarantee whereby they'll allow you to return any item. Our mistake (which is too common for us and for many others) is that we didn't try it until we needed it several months after purchase. And then it failed miserably! This would have been the first item we've ever returned to Harbor Freight™ for a refund.

We would really like to hear from others who have tried this product. Perhaps it just doesn't work on the single home-wiring that we've tried it on. Perhaps it really is junk.

Bottom line: Try it if you like, but be ready to take it back for a refund within 30-days of purchase. We are so disappointed with our initial tests of this product that it makes our list of "The Junk" not worth taking home at any price.


33 Ft. Fiberglass Wire Running Kit (#65326 )

07/16/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Hand Tools, Hot Buys, Electrical


Wire Running Rods
Item: 3/16" x 33 Ft. Fiberglass Wire Running Kit
Item number: 65326
Regular price: $14.99
Target price: $9.99 (with coupon)
Item Link

Even at the regular retail price of $14.99, this item is a great buy. But wait, it gets even better: quite often this item is placed on sale (sometimes with a coupon) for only $9.99. And the very first time it saves you from cutting and re-plastering a wall or ceiling for a simple electrical project, it was well worth even the full retail price!

This set consists of 10 39" fiberglass rods that give you a total of 33 feet of poking, probing, and running electrical wires through ceilings, walls, and floors. The non-conductive material is a must for traversing areas that may contain live electrical wires. Each fiberglass section has brass threaded connections for attaching to additional sections. The set also contains special hook and probe ends. It even includes a storage case.

This set competes admirable with sets selling for triple this price. Expect to see a few professional electricians savings lots of money on buying this inexpensive but durable wire-running set. Relax, this item is almost always in-stock at local Harbor Freight outlets.

FYI: This type of fiberglass electrical wiring-running set has supplanted the old fish tape for most electrical work. Professional electricians prefer it, and it's much easy to work with for most applications.

You will probably find other uses for these rods connected to various lengths. Let your ingenuity guide its use. Although not recommended for fishing, it can also be used to prod snakes, muskrats, and other varmints from the yard.;D

Bottom line: An almost must have item for not only running electrical wires but for other ingenious uses around the home and shop. Harbor Freight clearly beats all competition on this item with quality comparable to other big-box retailers.

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This review and discussion forum was created for those of us who love Harbor Freight(tm). It's well known to those who frequent the store that the prices are always cycling up and down, and most of us usually accept it as a personal challenge to get the lowest price possible. It's also well appreciated that some products at Harbor Freight are good, even very good, but that many others are also substandard, yes, even junk. This review and discussion forum is dedicated to the savvy Harbor Freight shopper and is intended to provide some guidance to the best and the worse buys. Similar products from other retailers will also be reviewed from time-to-time. Please be advised that everyone's experience is unique, and what works well (or doesn't work at all) for the reviewers here may or may not suit your personal needs. With this caveat and with notification that Harbor Freight Reviews assumes no liability for the accuracy of information provided here for educational purposes, enjoy the forum and good 'sa(i)ling' at Harbor Freight!


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