As the clock ticks through the year, the Canadian federal government deadline to eliminate incandescent bulbs draws ever nearer. By 2012, the old lighting standby will be eliminated in Canada, just one of many countries effectively outlawing Edison’s most famous invention.
To replace this venerable light source, there are a variety of alternatives.
First, though, let’s take a look at how we actually define lighting.
When most of us think of lights, we think of watts. Most people know how bright a 60-watt bulb is, or that 100 watts it the brightest commonly used. Far fewer, however have a clear understanding of how bright 1600 lumens is.
A watt is simply a measure of how much power a bulb uses, and lumens refers to how much light is actually produced. Brightness is a combination of the power input, and the efficiency of the bulb. One lumen is equal to the light produced b a typical candle. For comparison purposes, a standard 100-watt bulb produces about 1,800 lumens.
The typical incandescent bulb is an inefficient source of light. It is actually far better at generating heat rather than light, as proved by the Easy Bake Oven, which uses a light bulb as the heating element. Incandescent bulbs generally last about 750 – 1000 hours before they burn out, but are very cheap to replace.
Standard halogen lights are more efficient, modern versions of Edison’s incandescent bulb, and they last longer, typically up to 2,250 to 3,500 hours. They give off a crisp, very bright, white light, and they maintain their light output over time without fading with age, as incandescent bulbs do.
While standard halogens are efficient, most people use much more wasteful high-wattage halogen tubes in their homes. It’s estimated between 30 and 40 million free-standing torchiere lamps are in use today. These floor lamps throw great amounts of light onto the ceiling, using either a 300- or a 500-watt halogen tube. All halogen lamps generate a great deal of heat, but these budget lamps generate dangerous amounts of heat.
Fluorescent lighting still carries the old negative stigma of being a flickering, sickly-green, institutional, headache-causing, and noisy source of light. Times have changed. Fluorescents are not only one of the most efficient options around, offering the longest-life bulbs, they also come in a variety of colors, types and sizes. Best of all, with the new electronic ballasts, they are quiet. The old flicker and buzz is gone.
Fluorescent lights are phosphor-coated glass tubes filled with an inert gas and a small amount of mercury. Because different brands can have different mixes of gases inside, fluorescents can produce a wide range of light colour, and some can even match the warm glow of incandescent bulbs.
All fluorescent lights need a controlling ballast to operate. The ballast alters the electric current flowing through the fluorescent tube, activating the gas inside and causing it to glow. Newly developed electronic ballasts eliminate that annoying flicker and buzz that used to occur with old magnetic ballasts, which were also heavier and less efficient.
To create the same amount of light as an incandescent bulb, a fluorescent tube uses only one-quarter to one-third of the energy. Plus, fluorescents last 10 to 15 times longer, up to 10,000 hours or more.
When the new type of fluorescent bulb, the compact fluorescent (CFL), was introduced in the early 1980s, it revolutionized lighting. A variation on the fluorescent tube, compact fluorescents work the same way, only the tube has been made smaller and folded over in a way to make them fit into spaces designed for incandescent bulbs. With a screw base that fits a normal light bulb socket, they operate on a quarter of the energy used by incandescents, and last ten times longer.
A final option becoming available for home use is the LED light. White-light-emitting diode lamps have the characteristics of long life expectancy and relatively low energy consumption. The LED sources are compact, which gives flexibility in designing lighting fixtures and good control over the distribution of light with small reflectors or lenses.
It is not currently economical to produce high levels of lighting with LEDs. As a result, the current LED screw-in bulbs offer either low levels of light at a moderate cost, or moderate levels of light at a high cost. In contrast to other lighting technologies, LED light tends to be directional. This doesn’t work well for most general lighting applications, but it can be an advantage for spot or flood lighting.
There are a wide variety of efficient choices to replace incandescent light bulbs in the home. All are markedly more efficient than the old bulbs, in particular compact fluorescents and LED bulbs. Some may require minor wiring changes, like new dimmers for LEDs, but otherwise they are completely compatible with current home wiring and fixtures.