the IT city, the I.T. Baby


Bad thoughts on energy efficient light bulbs

lightbulbI was at Costco the other day and in some serious need of light bulbs due to lights being on a bit more than usual due to late nights with baby. I picked up a couple of packs of energy efficient light bulbs, one the CFL pieces of garbage I know and hate, and a new white LED version that claims to last 22.5 years or so. I wanted simple incandescent as I like to read and not have my eyes seared out occasionally, but there were none and I was down four bulbs at that point.

The CFL are slightly better than I’m used to, they were about $8 for a 4-pack of 65-watt replacement (7.5 watt used) and claim to have a 8-year life span. That’s probably a total lie as no CFL I’ve ever owned has made it past about two years without yellowing/greening, blowing up, etc.

The LED bulbs were in the $20 range and only had three bulbs. They’re a 40 watt replacement, and give off a flickering blueish white light that makes you feel a little bit as though you have tunnel vision if you’re looking next to the light they produce.

The CFLs are going away, even if the LEDs are more expensive I’m not going to have a mercury-containing glass tube within arm’s reach of Maggie. The LEDs have plastic housing and seem to produce no heat so they may end up being everything that’s around her. Hopefully they’ll suck less when she’s older.

On each of these packages, they claim a savings of $200 or so over what they replace, so I decided to do the maths on this.

  • An average light bulb is on two hours a day according to the scenarios presented by both the CFL and LED on savings.
  • Power consumption is measured in kilowatts, and each of these units uses 7.5 watts an hour.
  • Average price for electricity is about 11 cents a kilowatt
  • the CFL is using 57.5 watts less than the 60 watt light bulb it replaces
  • the LED is using 32.5 watts less than the 40 watt light bulb it replaces
  • CFL is $2 a pop, LED is $6.60
  • A standard light bulb can be purchased in a pack for either of these wattages for about $1.00
  • CFL has to save $1 before it begins saving money, LED has to save $5.60

The CFL needs to save about 10 kilowatts of power to pay for the additional expense of a CFL. That’s a run time of 174 hours, or based on the daily usage scenario, 87 days before your theoretical cost savings would kick in.

The LED needs to save you 56 kilowatts before you even see a dime in savings. That’s 1723 hours of use, or about three years before you see any cash result from energy savings.

So these $200+ savings over the life? Yeah, that’s for the packs, not for the individual bulbs. They must also be accounting for inflation as the math’s not working for me, then again it is late.

We’ll skip over that the CFLs take more energy to produce than they ever save, that the flickering has been known to cause eye strain, that legally they have to be taken to a location to dispose of them properly and that if it’s more than three blocks out of your way by car you’ve totally negated the energy savings, and also that most people never see the life that they’re promised for the bulb, that mounting them upside down shortens their life considerably due to heat death, that they can cause cancer, and that you have to leave the lights on if you’re going to be gone for less than 15 minutes from a room as the amount of electricity required to start up a CFL is significantly higher than running time.

How did these ever become greenwashed to the public? The only thing I can tell they do is lower the energy consumption in your neighborhood at the expense of raising it significantly where they’re made.

Oddly, these pieces of eco-wrecking garbage are still better in some situations when kiddos are involved as they don’t generally burn badly and it’s pretty hard to get yourself electrocuted off of the bulbs. However that was not the design intent.

Why am I posting this here?

Oh yeah, I’m in angry dad mode tonight.

Paul King

Paul King lives in Nashville Tennessee with his wife, two daughters and cats. He writes for Pocketables, theITBaby, and is an IT consultant along with doing tech support for a film production company.