Let there be light: Are Energy Efficient Light Bulbs Worth It?

September 23, 2013

Technology is supposed to make our lives simpler, easier, seamless.   Smaller components, faster processors, lighter materials – all number of creations – many of which we aren’t even aware.  I love technology.  I love my smart phone, my car’s navigation system, the alarm on my fridge to indicate I’ve left it open.  All of it, it’s like living in Star Trek.  Such was my state of mind while  walking head down, checking out the Minority Report–esque new OS/7 features, dreaming of a flying car in my local Home Depot.  Just a quick stop to buy a light bulb.

As I rounded the corner of aisle 7 I came to an abrupt stop.  There laid out before me was an entire section dedicated to what is now called “lighting solutions.”  Seems to me that the solution to lighting problems seems quite simple but apparently a simple bulb isn’t enough in today’s modern age.   Endless options were on display as I stared blank faced.  Soft light, blue light, natural light, halogen, high density discharge, compact fluorescent, sealed beam, pot light, flood lamp, LED.  I just needed a bulb for my closet.

I have managed to travel to 5 continents and communicate in languages I do not speak.  I can run 100km.   I lived in Mexico and spent a decade in a traveling circus.  I gave natural child birth in a bath tub and have spun prayer wheels in the shadow of  8000m peaks.   Maybe my 40 years of life’s experiences have been too few or sheltered; and I admit, I do not have an engineering degree, and possibly I may have had to look up the term lumen (The unit of luminous flux in the International System, equal to the amount of light given out through a solid angle by a source of one candela intensity radiating equally in all directions.) And it may be the case that even after looking it up, I had no idea what that definition meant  but I felt like the sum of my life’s collective experience had underprepared me for the challenge of purchasing a light bulb.

Where was the 60W incandescent bulbs of my youth? I vaguely remember hearing a news story years ago regarding the negative environmental impact of incandescent bulbs, and I do understand that we all need to do our part for the planet.  I am an avid recycler; I have high energy efficient appliances and low flush toilets.  I am a vegan and I shop local.  I care about Mother Earth and her fate.   I raise money for the SPCA, I donate to the WWF, and haven’t gotten a plastic shopping bag in years.  I even cut the little plastic soda can ring holders into pieces because I don’t want them to hurt the ducks.  I pondered the saleability of a incandescent Get Out of Jail free card.

I wandered back and forth reading labels and squinting; feeling sheepish, I eventually surrendered to the reality that I’m going to need professional help.  I flagged down a brightly dressed employee awash with achievement patches and pins and awkwardly explained my situation.   He gave me a paternal smile and picked out a couple packages and sent me on my way. I had no idea  what I was purchasing but I headed to the self checkout not wanting to embarrass myself further by admitting my cluelessness.

I scanned  my  Phillips 14-Watt (60W) Energy Saver Compact Fluorescent Dusk to Dawn bulb followed by  a small coronary event at the price.  How is it that this is going to cost me $14.99, for one singular bulb?  I considered a life in darkness and the practicality of candles.

When I got home I became hyper aware of the lighting in my home.  I replaced my closet bulb – which now takes 17 minutes to reach full light potential.  I cataloged the varying sizes and lumen requirements, and contemplated my degree of gentrification when I tallied the list and found I require no less than 9 different types of bulbs to keep my abode bright and cheery.  But balk as I might, replacing incandescent bulbs make a lot of economic sense. Lighting accounts for up to 25% of the household electric bill, and because  LED bulbs are both more durable and more energy-efficient, there are significant savings in the long run: According to Eartheasy, a household with 25 bulbs will save $6,668.97 on energy cost over 50,000 hours by switching to LED. Granted that there are only 8,760 hours in a year, and we use light only 2/3 of that time (5,840 hours), that is stretched over at least a ten year period–and for me and my house of just 9 bulbs,  I would further need to divide the savings by three. Nevertheless–perhaps this is the ultra runner in me–there is something to be said about endurance. According to the box my compact fluorescent closet bulb will last up to 11,000 hrs.  That’s a lot of hours.  My daughter might take it to college with her.  I calculate that this closet  bulb may well last longer than my car, so maybe that $14.99 price tag was worth it in the end.

More by Misti: Farther, Faster, Harder: Inside the World of Track Cycling

Photo: Unsplash

Mistina Sayani lives under the shadow of the Canadian Rockies in Calgary, Alberta. An avid downhill skier and ultra marathoner, when she isn’t out in the trails, Misti can be found dreaming up vegan goodies in her urban kitchen or off circling the globe in search of adventure.


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