Friday, November 23, 2012

"I don't want the government telling me what kind of light bulbs to use!"

While stringing up Christmas lights, I had a brief conversation with my neighbor. She explained to me that they weren't going to use LED lights for the same reason they don't use CFLs in their house: they don't want the government telling them what kind of lightbulbs to use.

I saved my breath at the time, but I can only shake my head. What's the operative theory at work here? It feels like a vague sense of conspiracy, without an actual theory behind it. I.e., the government must have some sinister reason for advocating energy-efficient CFLs, so even if neighbor can't get as far as formulating an actual theory of why that is, they will, on first principles, resist.

It's crazy, people. Get educated, get facts, use your brain. CFLs use 75% less energy. They replace wildly inefficient incandescents, which are a 100-year-old technology. That is one heck of a savings. I first heard of CFLs 23 years ago, back when they cost $15 per, and utilities were pushing them with rebates. I have been using them, in increasing quantities, ever since.

(P.S. I know some people don't like the color cast of CFLs. That is a completely different argument. Maybe not such a compelling one--given the huge savings, and have you tried high-quality CFLs lately?--but a very different and at least legitimate one.)


  1. Actually, I own dozens of CFLs and have the following issues:

    1. Disposal is a pain in the ass.
    2. They take several minutes to warm up and obtain peak brightness.
    3. As they age, the flickering can be annoying and the maximum brightness is reduced.
    4. On occasion, I've had some CFLs emit a poof of smoke when I turned them on. Scary.
    5. They're not dimmable.
    6. They're not supposed to be used in outdoor lighting. Besides, they're horrible in cold Minnesota winters, as the dim fluorescent lights in my garage clearly show.
    7. They do not last nearly as long as advertised.

    Consequently, I no longer buy CFLs andI much prefer LEDs (of which I have a dozen installed), although they still need improvement:

    1. Most of the LEDs I have are directional in nature. So, they only work in particular situations.
    2. Most of the LEDs are low equivalent wattage (40W or less) replacements.
    3. They can still be a bit pricey, although I've gotten some for as low as $6/bulb.

    CFL is a stop-gap solution. LEDs are more the ultimate solution. It's very satisfying to replace 3-60W (180W total) incandescents with 3-4W (12W total) LEDs in a fixture. In fact, I've done this in the high-light use areas in my house (where I can). Frankly, I don't mind leaving the lights on anymore in those areas. I'd really like to replace my 3 outdoor bulbs with LEDs... it'll happen soon.

  2. I generally agree, though I have had slightly better luck. The brand of CFLs I have been buying in bulk for the past few years at Sam's are pretty good. They do make dimmable ones now, I think, though I have no first-hand experience. I've also had good success using them outdoors. But I agree, they are far from perfect. My point was more on the reflexive retreat to conspiracy thinking than the specific merits of CFLs.

    I am moving toward LEDs too, which yes, have tons of potential. Some I bought were very harsh and blue, but I've found others that are very nice and "warm" (as in mimicking sunlight's color cast).

    Do you follow Marco Arment? He's written a fair amount on the topic.

  3. One more thing, regarding the politics of the situation.

    Yes, I understand the fact that the government (by law) is forcing people off of incandescents and toward more efficient lighting options. Change is hard for a lot of people, especially when the new bulbs have a higher initial cost, but a lower lifetime cost (assuming they last as long as they should, which is not necessarily my experience with CFLs).

    However, there are situations where incandescents make the most sense today (for me, this is in outdoor lighting situations). To have these banned without a reasonable replacement is just plain stupid.

    Ultimately, I think people should have the freedom to make their own economic decisions. If they want to waste their money on inefficient lighting sources, that's more their problem than mine. If rates go up because of a lot of inefficiency, then more people will see the light, as it should be.

  4. Yeah, I generally agree to a low-regulatory approach. There are some special-case counter-arguments here, since energy policy can be argued to be very much a matter of national security interest. But the part I just keep choking on is the reflexive, conspiracy mind-set I heard from this neighbor, which feels representative of an all-too-widespread phenomenon.

  5. Dimmable CFLs are pretty ridiculous. Basically, there's some electronics that will light up the light in three (or so stages). It's not a continuous dim at all, but more akin to the multi-watt (50W, 100W, 150W) bulbs that some lamps could utilize.

    1. I wondered how they worked, but never knew. That is pretty lame.

  6. As you know, I'm fairly (small l) libertarian and free-market kind of guy and I understand the "conspiracy" nature of this. I don't appreciate the government telling me what I can't buy in this case, especially when the Federal government wasting of energy easily outweighs that of the general population. The government can and should set its own standards on itself, which it is doing in this case.

    I made the rational decision to move to CFLs and LEDs based on future savings for myself and not for the feel-good externalities, like the unquantifiable "being good for the environment" and national security. Consumers need to be educated (which I see a role for the government, perhaps, or even the LED light bulb industry more likely) on the direct personal gains from making such a decision entails.

    Other than pointing out my own switch to CFLs and LEDs in these comments, I also really don't care about being a conspicuous environmentalist where I submit to social pressures to conform and advertise such decisions to your peers. I actually am a bit dismissive of people that feel a moral superiority for making such decisions. To me, this isn't a moral decision, but a rational one.