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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cool bulbs mean cold homes

The long arm of the law of unintended consequences has once again reached out and grabbed a much-heralded, widely-supported anti-global-warming initiative, the compact fluorescent light bulb. Common sense once again steals the spotlight from ideology.

But why is this story buried inside the business pages of today's Vancouver Sun, and not on page one? Perhaps the editors don't want to embarrass one-time guest editor David Suzuki.

Posted by Terry O'Neill on February 17, 2009 in Science | Permalink


The lesson seems to be that compact flourescents make sense in the summertime, but during the winter we should switch to incandescents. If we use incandescents all year long then it would increase summertime eletricity usage from increased air conditioning.

Posted by: Anonymous | 2009-02-17 10:31:49 AM

I've got news for the GHG crowd--civilization cannot exist without fire. I advise you to reconcile yourself to this basic historical fact.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-17 11:08:41 AM

Please don't lift the upcoming ban on incandescent bulbs. I plan on making a small smuggling fortune!

Posted by: epsilon | 2009-02-17 11:51:26 AM

Better think again, Epsi. I can think of few more embarrassing reasons to go to prison than "busted with a trunk full of light bulbs."

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-17 12:39:06 PM

those compact flourescent bulbs are fine for ambient and incidental lighting, but they are not good for up close light to read or work by. because the feds have decided to not take the alternative route and carry on taxing both types of light, they are our=tright banning the old style, easy on the eyes incadescent bulbs.. therefore I have sourced high end, long life old style bulbs and have put many away- because we value our precious eyes more than saving a few bucks or some swamp.

We will use them and nobody will ever know because it will be while we work, and nobody will ever inspect us when we work. so fine, proper lighting means more productive work hours- poor lighting means loss or degeneration of the organs you perceive most of life with..the so called waste heat from old style incandescents is a welcome plus indoors in winter..those feeble energy efficient bulbs do not deliver the same quality light where it is needed- they are mercury vapour based ersatz light sources and unsuitable for many applications in the home and workplace

if that backup system of hoarded bulbs ever gets thwarted- then we know enough artisan glass blowers to make us a few spares bulbs... mission accomplished

Posted by: 419 | 2009-02-17 12:57:36 PM

And do your artisan friends also have the equipment to extrude tungsten filaments, 419? To say nothing of mounting the said filament in an Edison socket and mating the said socket to the said bulb in an airtight clamp, all while maintaining a vacuum in the said bulb?

If you hate CFLs that much, you can always buy LEDs. They cost a bunch but last for years, and unlike most CFLs are also dimmable. One bit of nostalgia you will miss, though--LED bulbs do not turn yellow and then red as they get progressively dimmer like incandescents do. They just put out less of the same colour. But hey, if you really want that candlelit look, keep in mind the government isn't banning candles.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-17 1:11:59 PM

Then there's summertime when incandescent lamps make our homes uncomfortably hot and we spend even more on air conditioning to cool down. It's probably a wash unless you change bulbs seasonally.

Posted by: greenmamba | 2009-02-17 1:22:38 PM

A quote in TFA:

"The energy savings outweigh the amount of heating you are adding to your heating load."

That's bunk.

Electric resistance heating is generally considered to be 100% efficient. Fuel burning systems are around 60% efficient. Anyone with any common sense should be able to figure out that replacing 100% efficient heat with 60% efficient heat will result in a net savings.

Posted by: K Stricker | 2009-02-17 2:02:03 PM

Err, above should read "will *not* result in a net savings."

Posted by: K Stricker | 2009-02-17 2:03:26 PM

However, K, don't forget that since a light bulb is an enclosed vacuum, all heat that comes from it is in the form of radiation. It does not produce convective heat the way a furnace or baseboard does. Radiative heat is generally considered less efficient because it does not "fill" a room the way convection currents do.

Long and short is it's not worth worrying about, and a weak defence. I don't see the need to outlaw incandescents either. But if you want to save them, you'll need to do better than this.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-17 2:34:53 PM

This is just another "feel good" ploy from the completely irrational "Global Warming" nutjob's.
has anyone noticed the studies on the amount of radiation that is also supplied by CFL's?
mmmmYummy solution alright.

Posted by: JC | 2009-02-17 3:59:51 PM

Why is it that people do not understand that the government, any government, is composed of human beings who are no more competent on the environment, economics, employment or any other matter? They are not gods nor experts, yet the majority swallow the most insane policies as though they were.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-02-17 4:37:02 PM

Questioning the ban on incandescent light is legitimate, but the scientific/economic reasoning Terry O'Neill refers to is obviously not the basis of their objection. Our use of incandescent bulbs is based upon habit and infrastructure more than anything. We need to get out of the habit of buying whatever is set in front of us. It is no better than relying on the government to exerise virue on our behalf.

In addition to Shane Matthews scientific objection, there is an even more salient consideration K Stricker overlooks: The electricity is generated by the burning of Gas or coal in a power plant which puts off vast amounts of waste heat and which is lost over power lines. It is far more efficient to simply burn the gas to heat your home.

Our common interest in energy efficiency should not be obscured by differences of approach. Political advocacy which urges us to consider all factors should take care to do likewise.

Posted by: Timothy | 2009-02-17 4:37:15 PM

Timothy says we need to get out of the habit of buying whatever is set in front of us. I agree provided that others are not trying to force me to buy whatever in the first place. I am fed up with busy bodies trying to run my life.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-02-17 6:39:57 PM

Shane, there is convection heat generated because of the surface temperature of the bulb itself. Probably not a big deal though because most bulbs will be on our ceilings.

Timothy, you say "We need to get out of the habit of buying whatever is set in front of us." Why is that? Why do we need to do this? You may believe that "we" should, but that does not mean that we actually should. We are made up of a bunch of me's. And me's are the best people to decide this for themselves. Even if they are just too lazy to do anything different.

You say "electricity is generated by the burning of Gas or coal in a power plant which puts off vast amounts of waste heat." You are overlooking some very important points here. First, there is a major incentive for them to be as absolutely efficient as they possibly can. It is called profit. You can count on the power companies to deliver the most efficient power possible.

And what pray tell, is our common interest? Who gets to decide what this is? Who is all knowing and wise enough to figure this out? And even if this could be determined, it would be even harder to determine what to do about it.

Posted by: TM | 2009-02-17 7:05:35 PM


Yes, I considered the fact that the bulb will heat the air around it, thus causing a small amount of convection. But it's small potatoes compared to a dedicated heating system. Also don't forget that every joule of heat that makes it off that filament must travel radiatively through a vacuum.

Then there's the power rating of the bulb itself. A typical light bulb uses 100 watts of electricity, of which maybe 90 to 95 watts will be radiated as infrared (heat) instead of visible light. Can you think of a space heater with a rating of only 100 watts? 1500 watts is more typical, with 800 being the bare minimum. Then imagine how much juice a typical baseboard or gas furnace puts out, and it becomes plain that when it comes to keeping your house warm, your tabletop lamp is just not in the running.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-17 7:59:34 PM


1. We only need to get out of the habit of buying what's put in front of us if we, well, NEED to stop buying that item. Change for the sake of change is bollocks on stilts.

2. Most of the electricity used by British Columbians is hydroelectric in origin and does not engender the burning of fossil fuels.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-17 8:01:18 PM

...soooo what do we do with the new curly bulbs when they burn out?

By the millions?

Posted by: tomax7 | 2009-02-19 11:12:11 AM


That isn't the point. Imagine what you said with a simple substitution:

". . .imagine how much juice a typical baseboard or gas furnace puts out, and it becomes plain that when it comes to [saving energy], your tabletop lamp is just not [worthwhile]."

This isn't about changing your tabletop lamp, it's about changing *all* lamps.

It's irrelevant how much heat is produced by a single lamp. If you want a fair comparison to a 1500 watt heater, line up 25 60 watt lightbulbs next to each other. If you've ever been near one of those vanity mirrors surrounded in bulbs they like to have in theatre dressing rooms, you'd know they throw off a fair bit of heat. Energy is energy regardless of how small or large of a 'dose' it is.

Posted by: K Stricker | 2009-02-19 3:13:24 PM

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