Taking a closer look at alternative light sources

Saying goodbye to the incandescent bulb is very emotional for many people

Saying goodbye to the incandescent bulb is very emotional for many people

As the US government is beginning to phase out less efficient incandescent bulbs, people are looking at alternative sources and finding themselves less than satisfied.

I, like everyone else, have had a long love affair with incandescent bulbs. They are inexpensive, come in lots of shapes and wattages... and best of all, they get yellower in color as you dim them. For me, incandescent light is like fire light or candle light. Unfortunately, what people are finding in the bulb isle of home improvement centers, big-box stores and hardware stores doesn't even come close to what people want.

People want their bulbs to be warm and inviting like firelight

People want their bulbs to be warm and inviting like firelight

I think that one of the reasons for this is that the marketing behind fluorescent bulbs (also known as CFLs) has been to offer an alternative light source that costs about the same as a regular household bulb. The reality is that you can't make quality fluorescent bulbs for for such a small amount of money.

To get a fluorescent bulb that feels more like incandescent bulbs, people need to shell out about $12. It does seem like a lot of upfront money, but because these lamps are so energy-efficient you end up saving money over the life of the bulb in energy costs. If you're willing to spend this kind of money you can get fluorescent lamp that doesn't hum or buzz , is dimmable and has a color quality close to that of an incandescent bulb.

For me, the aesthetic challenge here is that I tend to gravitate towards the color of dimmed incandescent. Most people, when they screw in 75 watt household bulb they usually dim it down to about 60 watts worth of light. As the bulbs dims it gets warmer in color, which for me is very pleasing. CFLs don't get warmer in color when dimmed.

The color of all light bulbs is measured in degrees of Kelvin. A regular household bulb is 2800° Kelvin. The standard CFL alternative is 2800° Kelvin, which is actually a little bit warmer. The downside is that it stays that color even when you buy a dimmable version of the CFL.

The color of dimmed incandescent is between 2200° Kelvin and 2250° Kelvin. There is a subcategory of fluorescent lamps that most people don't know about. They are called cold cathode compact fluorescents (also known as CCFLs). I like them because you can get them in the color of dimmed incandescent. Also, the technology is different than standard CFL allowing them to have much smaller coils of glass tubing which can fit inside glass envelopes that look very much like standard household bulbs and flame tip bulbs. These are dimmable, down to 90% whereas standard dimmable CFLs are dimmable down to 70%. They also last longer than the more standard CFLs which have a life of around 10,000 hours, as compared to 25,000 hours for the CCFLs. Standard household bulbs have a life of around 750 hours. They cost around $12.
The glass envelope of the globe bulb on teh left is clear so you can see the inside, but this shape, as well as household bulbs

and flame tip bulbs, comes in a white glass version so they look very much like the light bulbs we are used to buying.

Now let's get down to one of the main drawbacks of fluorescents, and that is that they do contain mercury. This is no longer a universal truth. There is one company that is been working hard for many years to create a fluorescent lamp that is mercury free bulb.

It is called an ESL (which stands for Electron Stimulated Luminescence). My feeling is that they wanted to create a new category so that they do not get lumped in with standard fluorescents and the negative associations that go with them. Since it has no mercury it can be disposed of like regular incandescent bulbs. The first bulb they'vefirst introduced onto the market is a reflector bulb (known as an R30). It is dimmable and offers 65 watts worth of light for 19.5 watts worth of power consumption. The cost is around $29. They will be coming out with other bulb types in the near future. The company is called VU1, and you can learn more about them at VU1.com.