The Thinker

Adventures in Lighting

Like all obsessions, this one started out as something relatively innocuous. In my case, I was at the Home Depot and strolling down the light bulb aisle when I noticed a four pack of compact fluorescent light bulbs. In case you do not know what a compact fluorescent bulb is, they are fluorescent lights designed to fit into the sockets of regular light bulbs while putting out a similar amount of light.

Example of a compact fluorescent light

Admittedly, these compact fluorescent lights look a little odd. However, their odd shape hardly matters, since most light bulbs hide inside lampshades anyhow. Nor were they particularly expensive. I was able to purchase the pack of four 60-watt compact fluorescent bulbs for about eight dollars. When I arrived home, I replaced the bulbs in the lamp in our living room, TV room and in the hallway. I could not discern any real difference in the quantity of light put out. I expected that when I flipped on the switch there would be a delay until the light came on. However, there was none. I smiled. This was not hard at all! Moreover, one compact fluorescent light should last for years, meaning I would have to spend less time replacing light bulbs. I would save both money and time.

Like many Americans waking up to the reality of global warming, I understand that replacing incandescent lights with fluorescent lights is just one small step. Compact fluorescent lights use sixty percent less energy and generate little heat. If I could replace all our incandescent lights with compact fluorescent lights, my family will not be dumping 300 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere every year. It seemed like something tangible and relatively painless that I could do to reduce global warming.

The next time I went to Home Depot, I bought two more four packs of compact fluorescent lights. This time I changed lights in the laundry room, the hallway going to my basement, and assorted ceiling lights. I put one in a light with a dimmer switch. It took only a couple weeks experience to discern this was not a good idea. At full power the lights, well, fluoresced, pulsing and flickering. Within a couple of weeks, it gave out. Reluctantly, I put an old-fashioned incandescent bulb back in that fixture. I placed the used compact fluorescent bulb in a bag for special disposal since the mercury vapors inside the light were potentially dangerous.

We have four vanities in our house. Each has above the sink a set of four to six soft white incandescent lights. As I was repainting one of the bathrooms, I kept looking at the light fixture. It was not particularly attractive and so 1980s. I wondered if I could replace the light fixture with a fluorescent one that was reasonably attractive. Those four 60-watt bulbs must be drawing a lot of power. I shuffled back to the Home Depot and wandered through their lighting aisle. Their stock mostly consisted of the usual incandescent and halogen lights. Close to the standard ugly fluorescent lights suitable for workshops were a small number of classy looking fluorescent light sets. There I found this light set. It was designed to be mounted on a ceiling, but with a bit of jury-rigging I was able to place it above the bathroom mirror where the old vanity light fixture sat. With its brushed nickel frame, it looked classy.

24 inch fluorescent vanity light set

The final authority though was my wife, who gave it the thumbs up. I took that as an okay to buy another one. The next one went over the vanity in our master bedroom. We noticed that it put out a brighter and whiter light than what it replaced.

Yesterday, I tackled the master bathroom’s vanity light set. This set was particularly environmentally unfriendly because it consisted of six incandescent lights in a row, which used special soft white bulbs. It put out a lot of heat. Moreover, my daughter was in the habit of leaving them on. This vanity was particularly annoying because its lights were constantly blowing out anyhow. Unfortunately, I could not find quite what I was looking for at Home Depot. I drove to Lowe’s, traversed their light aisle, and I found just the thing, this Newcastle Fluorescent Bath Bar. It fit perfectly into the existing space and looked similar to the other light set. It was both brighter than the old set and cast a more natural bright white light. Its only defect was that it took a second to come on, unlike the others.

36 inch fluorescent vanity light set

I have also replaced a defective floor lamp in our living room. I purchased a compact fluorescent bulb for it that was supposed to have three brightness levels, like a three way incandescent bulb. Unfortunately, I could not get it to work with in that fixture, but at least the light is usable.

I am ending up with a quite a collection of used incandescent light bulbs. I am not sure what to do with them. I still need to replace more incandescent lights in our basement with fluorescent lights. I am pondering what do to about the ceiling mounted lights in our basement, all of which work off a dimmer switch. So far, I have not found a fluorescent light that actually works with a dimmer switch, although some claim to work. Other specialty lights like the ones we use for our bedstead and our outdoor porch light do not appear to have ready compact fluorescent alternatives.

Nonetheless, I now feel compelled to try to replace every incandescent and halogen lighting fixture that I can. I still have one vanity light set to replace in the downstairs bathroom. As compact fluorescent lighting technology matures with new demand, I figure there may come a time when every light in my house will be a fluorescent light. It may not be possible to replace lights like the one in my refrigerator with a fluorescent light, but perhaps in time appliances will come with fluorescent fixtures too.

To reduce the impact of global warming, we can all take action. You may find as I did that ridding yourself of non-fluorescent lights in your house can be a fun project. I use other energy saving devices such as a programmable thermostat. A large energy saving project we need to take up one of these days is to replace our windows (which are already double pane) with more energy efficient windows. I would prefer to wait until we have the money saved, since this looks like it will be at least a $10,000 project.

I may be naïve to think that my contributions will amount to much. As I noted in an earlier entry on global warming, the increase in our population growth alone suggests these efforts will not reduce emissions, but only help check their growth. Nonetheless, for a culture that supposedly believes in life, and the survival of our species in particular, it seems suicidal not to at least try. If nothing else my small actions replacing lights encouraged me to keep committing toward a path where my family and I will live more harmoniously with the planet.


One Response to “Adventures in Lighting”

  1. 9:57 pm on February 15 2007, Tom said:

    Good entry, bro. I replaced my most of my bulbs with compact fluorescents about 5 years ago. Back then, finding a really bright one was tough (my spare bedroom needed more than a 100-watt equivalent). But there’s a bigger variety now, and I even have a replacement halogen torchiere lamp in my living room. They save lots of electricity, and I’ve only replaced one bulb since, and that was because I was rough with it. I think freedom from trouble worth their cost.

    My headlamp for hiking/camping is LED now. It can run for days on a few AAA batteries. Amazing!


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