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How Much Incandescent Bulbs Really Cost

With so much misinformation out there, consumers are not being given good information about lighting. There is especially poor reporting about the ongoing elimination of 100w, 75w, 60w, and 40w incandescent lamps from the national inventory. In fact, incandescent lighting is not being eliminated or outlawed, but what is being eliminated are the least-efficient, commonly-used versions. As long as people pick the right bulb for the result they want, in terms of lighting quality and color, the alternatives available right now can do everything that incandescents do while costing much less and consuming far less energy.

A typical misinformed assertion will be that, “a 75w incandescent lamp is less expensive than a CFL [compact fluorescent lamp].” This is irresponsible, given that the statement is true only if you use the incandescent lamp for something like a paperweight. People need to know not the cost of buying one type of lamp or another, but rather the cost of owning and using one type lamp or another. Once people have that knowledge, they quickly realize that the incandescent lamps they grew up with are just about the most expensive there are, not the least expensive.

The table below can also be of value. It compares the ten-year cost of relying on 75w incandescent lighting to the cost of owning three alternatives: a 53w high-efficiency (halogen-filled) incandescent lamp, a 13w CFL, and a 17w LED lamp. As can be seen, the ten-year cost of owning and using a 75w incandescent lamp is more than five times the cost of owning a CFL that produces about the same amount and quality of light.

Keep in mind that the cost of ownership doesn’t consider a number of other costs, such as the additional carbon dioxide and mercury that’s put into the air by coal-fired power plants and by the planes, trains, ships, and trucks used to transport lamps from the factory to a distribution center, then to a warehouse, and then to a store. That’s ten times as many trips for conventional incandescents compared to CFLs, and 25 as many trips for conventional incandescents vs. LEDs.

There’s also all the extra packaging that has to be manufactured, and all the packaging and spent lamps that wind up in a landfill. If people were simply given the facts, they’d realize that all this fuss about losing incandescent lamps is a tempest in a teapot, based on misinformation. When people stop using conventional incandescent lamps, they lose nothing, they save money, and they’re gentler on the environment we all have to share.

Many of the same people who have nothing to say about the significant environmental problems that conventional incandescent lamps cause seem to be extraordinarily concerned about the miniscule amount of mercury in CFLs, as though it were really something for the nation to worry about. Here are some FACTS:

Fact: The amount of mercury in a typical CFL is not enough to coat the head of a pin.

FactThe typical swordfish contains 20 times more mercury than a typical CFL.

Fact: When a CFL is broken, most of its mercury adheres to the glass and does not disperse into the air.

Fact: Coal-fired power plants are the nation’s most significant source of airborne mercury.

Focusing on the link between airborne mercury and coal-fired generation of electricity, the truth is that reliance on inefficient incandescent lamps as “freedom of choice” is unacceptable. If my neighbor decides to hoard 100w incandescent lamps and keep using them, my neighbor causes unnecessary generation of electricity. The unnecessary generation of electricity forces me to inhale mercury that would otherwise not be there. What happens to my freedom of choice? What happens to my family’s freedom of choice? It’s like being forced to inhale second-hand cigarette smoke simply because some people equate freedom of choice with doing what they prefer to do even if it harms others.

The new lighting-efficiency targets require people to give up nothing in terms of lighting quality, convenience, and versatility. The only thing they really require people to do is decide about the kind of lamp they want to use and how much money they want to save, and that is not a bad thing.

Scott Raybin @greensavingsco

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