Cynical about New Bulb Regulations

Light fixtures with downward-facing light  bulbs have fewer choices.

Light fixtures with downward-facing light bulbs have fewer choices.

After many years of warnings by our respective governments the incandescent light bulb is no longer being manufactured. I feel both good and bad about this. Godo Stoyke, an energy efficiency expert in Edmonton, spoke about the benefits of the changes during an interview with David Dodge. (The following quotes are from David Dodge’s Green Energy Futures blog).

• “The savings are very substantial. We are looking at a 75 per cent reduction in consumption for a typical compact fluorescent light and depending on the application with some LEDS, you can save 10 times [the energy).
• “A typical compact fluorescent light bulb lasts about 8,000 hours. An incandescent bulb lasts about 1,000 hours. You have to buy eight incandescent lights bulbs for a single CFL. LEDs last 25,000 hours and their cost has dropped rapidly in just the past 12 months. 90 per cent of the energy an incandescent consumes is emitted as heat.
• Both CFLs and LEDs have come a long way in the last decade. Stoyke suggests getting a warmer colored higher quality bulb for around the house, in the 2,700 – 3,000 K color temperature range. These bulbs have that familiar yellow glow and make your house look cozy and warm.

My inner cynic rears its cautious head when it hears about a new initiative or product from people who promise that the world will be a better place if you buy the thing or idea that they are promoting. For example, one of the benefits mentioned above has to do with reducing our landfills. I’m all for that. After all, tossing away 1 light bulb instead of 8 is a good thing, right?

As savvy collectors and users of antique light fixtures know, having bulbs that last only 1000 hours has never been a limitation of the product itself, but rather the result of a very deliberate, commercial, for-profit decision by its manufacturers.

These compact fluorescent bulbs are shaped like a regular lightbulb but they have a very unattractive plastic ring around the base that makes them look clunky.

These compact fluorescent bulbs are shaped like a regular lightbulb but they have a very unattractive plastic ring around the base that makes them look clunky.

Edison was not the inventor of the first light bulb, but he improved on previous designs and created the first distribution system that made it practical to use electric lights in the home. He also designed his light bulb to last a very long time. As a design consultant specializing in heritage homes and prior antique dealer, I have come across many original antique light fixtures over the years. In some of  100+ year-old homes I have visited, I have seen antique light fixtures that feature their original light bulbs! Yes, you’ve heard it right. These light bulbs have lasted longer than 100 years!!

General Electric was created by the amalgamation of many of Edison’s own companies although by the time this happened in 1889, Edison was no longer involved in the running of any of his companies. Electricity had become big business, and General Electric was managed by a board of directors and a banker by the name of J.P. Morgan. The new owners probably realized that they wouldn’t make much money if bulbs lasted that long so they redesigned it for obsolescence. Let’s face it – how long will it take manufacturers to do the same thing again in spite of their big promises?

So what does this mean for old house owners or collectors of antique light fixtures? How will the new regulations impact the look and safety of such fixtures?

See part 2 “Antique Light fixtures and the New Lightbulb Regulations.”

To learn more about the new regulations and your options check the wealth of information on line.

Written by Johanne Yakula, author of “Historical Interiors of Alberta” A Guide for Restoring and Decorating your Heritage Home.”

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