Incandescents on the way out as CFs take over

Almost 130 years ago, Thomas Edison patented the glowing glass bulb that's become as much a cultural icon as a source of light.

Say good-bye to the common household light bulb - within 10 years, it will disappear.

So says Bill Poirer, the long time owner of The Lampost in Kamloops, who just recently passed over the reins of the business to Todd Pineo after 32 years. (Poirer still works in the shop, at least for now, helping the new owners get a feel for the place.)

The incandescent light bulb will be utterly replaced within a decade by the more efficient CF (compact fluorescent) bulb, says Poirer.

It will be the end of an historic era for the incandescent light bulb, making it one of the most successful commercial devices ever invented. If only Edison could have known his vacuumized glass sphere with the "carbon filament or strip coiled and connected . . . to platina contact wires" would have such impact.

Not only did it provide light for countless generations of people around the world, it even became the universal symbol for a bright idea. Who hasn't had "a light-bulb moment" when an idea springs to mind?

Poirer said the industry is clearly moving full steam to remove incandescents from the market place. Even now, the white spiral is replacing boatloads of incandescent bulbs as home and business owners seek to reduce electricity consumption, thereby saving money and ultimately greenhouse gas emissions.

There is still a wide selection of incandescent bulbs available, but every year sees the introduction of new and better fluorescents - and lately, even more efficient LED bulbs, Poirer says.

And governments in the U.S. (California, for example) are requiring manufacturers to move away from the old E27 socket base that has housed incandescent bulbs almost from the day they were introduced into the market. New lamps require bulbs with a GU24 base instead of the old Edison socket. Only the new bulbs will fit.

"Already people are stockpiling their incandescents because they fear they will one day be hard to get," Poirer said. "Some people are buying cases of them."

There is good reason for the world to move away from incandescent bulbs to newer technology.

The biggest is efficiency - there is no way Edison's bulb can compete with the spiral, which puts out the same amount of light with nearly four times less electricity. It also last 10 times as long. And LEDs make even CF bulbs look weak. They consume even less electricity and can last 200,000 hours.

"An old string of Christmas lights might take 200 watts to power. Now they take three watts," Poirer said.

Not that the new technology is perfect, though - there are still some jobs old bulbs do better.

Like in dimmable fixtures so common in dining room chandeliers. Homeowners, with the turn of the dial, can very precisely regulate the flow of electricity to their chandeliers, cutting the light from full bright to a pleasant dim.

Fluorescents can't be dimmed - at least not yet. There are "dimmable" CF bulbs emerging, but Poirer said they don't yet work as well as incandescents.

Fluorescents also cannot be used in extremely cold environments. In the winter, it takes a long time for an outside CF bulb to spark up and make its more efficient light.

CF bulbs also do not produce as much heat as incandescent bulbs do and there are some situations when a warm or a hot bulb is an advantage, he said.

Incandescent (or halogen) traffic lights and headlamps in cars, for example, stay free of snow and frost when heated, making them clearer to see at all times of the year. Or EZ Bake ovens - kids won't be baking brownies under a CF or LED bulb.

The lack of heat from CF bulbs can be seen - felt actually - as homeowners replace their incandescents with spirals.

Poirer said it's now being recognized that winter heating bills will rise a little after people switch en masse to CF bulbs because the of the loss of heat from incandescent bulb use. Winter is the dark season in Canada, when people use their lights the most. The fact is, furnaces got a little boost from the lights, and people never even realized.

There is another issue emerging as the market moves to new bulbs and bases - the cost of switching over.

While the price of CF bulbs has dropped in recent years, they are not as cheap up front as incandescent bulbs. And if homeowners are eventually required to start swapping out existing fixtures so they can light their homes, the costs will rise even higher.

For the foreseeable future, however, CF bulbs will twist into existing Edison sockets, making the transition relatively painless.

Unless, of course, you have a favourite lamp or fixture that doesn't work with CF bulbs. Some lamps were designed - either aesthetically or practically - to work with a specific shape of bulb.

"Incandescents still have a place, for the moment anyway," Poirer said.

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