Inside my house, there are 28 recessed lighting receptacles; if you count the garage apartment upstairs, there are another six, so let’s say 34 lights total. These receptacles are sized to take indoor floodlights, and they measure approximately 5 inches across and six inches deep; you could put a standard lightbulb inside one, but its light beam wouldn’t be properly focused, and it would simply look wrong because the fixture would swallow the bulb.
When I bought this house, it had been remodeled a few years before, and the recessed lighting was actually a selling point. What no one bothered to point out, and what I never really questioned until later, was the wattage necessary to drive those beautiful, bright, incandescent lights.
For those who were wondering, take a look…
Yeah, you read that right. It’s a 120 watt bulb, and I have 34 of them running at various times. No, they never all run at once, because obviously I am never in every room of the house at the same time, but just having four of these lights in the office, running in the evenings, was the equivalent of 480 watts. The truth of that horrific wattage amount was borne out every time I turned on the lights and sweltered underneath them, but even more importantly – every time I saw my latest electric bill.
Something had to change, and the new solution would have to work with my existing light set up. I wanted lights that looked right in the holders, that were more energy efficient, and that would hopefully reduce the amount of each month’s energy bill. The way I saw it, I had two obvious choices: compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs or a less familiar option – LED bulbs.
I’ve been using CFLs in my outdoor lighting fixtures for some time, but hadn’t really brought them inside the house. I had never bought an LED bulb, but I have been reviewing LED flashlights for some time, and I already knew that even the smallest LEDs were capable of significant light output with minimal power. Each type of light would have their own plusses and minuses, and they were up to me to discover…
The main thing I like about the CFL bug lights and CFL floodlamps I’ve been using is that these type lights are generally long lasting, and they promise the equivalent amount of light as an incandescent but with a significant wattage savings.
Here’s a look at a 14 watt (60 watt equivalent) bug light’s packaging…
Seven years sounds pretty awesome, right? Definitely makes the slightly more expensive price of the bulbs (they generally run in the $10/each range) seem reasonable. But there are a few caveats which I have already discovered over time: the first is that they very rarely really last for the promised seven years, and the second is disposal…as in, how do you safely do it?
See, all CFLs contain mercury…
I’m not going to pretend to be a fanatical recycler, but I would also prefer not to knowingly dump poison into my local landfill. So it was time to consult with the experts…
According to the GE Lighting site’s FAQ:
Like paint, batteries, thermostats, and other hazardous household items, CFLs should be disposed of properly. Do not throw CFLs away in your household garbage if better disposal options exist. To find out what to do first check www.earth911.org (where you can find disposal options by using your zip code) or call 1-877-EARTH911 for local disposal options. Another option is to check directly with your local waste management agency for recycling options and disposal guidelines in your community. Additional information is available at www.lamprecycle.org. Finally, IKEA stores take back used CFLs, and other retailers are currently exploring take back programs.
If your local waste management agency offers no other disposal options except your household garbage, place the CFL in a plastic bag and seal it before putting it in the trash. If your waste agency incinerates its garbage, you should search a wider geographic area for proper disposal options. Never send a CFL or other mercury containing product to an incinerator.
So in other words, it’s probably not a great idea to just toss CFLs into the garbage, which (admit it!) is how most of us have probably always disposed of incandescent bulbs.
But even more importantly, think about how many times you have broken a light bulb…accidents happen, right? So what happens when you break a CFL and you need to clean up the mess? Are you exposing your home and family to Mercury poisoning?
The GE site is quick to reassure that:
Because there is such a small amount of mercury in CFLs [reportedly 1/100th the amount of a common home thermometer], your greatest risk if a bulb breaks is getting cut from glass shards. Research indicates that there is no immediate health risk to you or your family should a bulb break and it’s cleaned up properly [emphasis added by me]. You can minimize any risks by following these proper clean-up and disposal guidelines:
1. Sweep up—don’t vacuum—all of the glass fragments and fine particles.
2. Place broken pieces in a sealed plastic bag and wipe the area with a damp paper towel to pick up any stray shards of glass or fine particles. Put the used towel in the plastic bag as well.
3. If weather permits, open windows to allow the room to ventilate.
The EPA however, has a much more stringent list of cleanup steps:
Before Clean-up: Ventilate the Room
1. Have people and pets leave the room, and don’t let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
2. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
3. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.
Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces
4. Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
5. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
6. Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the glass jar or plastic bag.
7. Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.
Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug
4. Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
5. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
6. If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
7. Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.
Disposal of Clean-up Materials
8. Immediately place all cleanup materials outside the building in a trash container or outdoor protected area for the next normal trash.
9. Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.
10. Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.
Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug: Ventilate the Room During and After Vacuuming
11. The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window prior to vacuuming.
12. Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.
It’s a bit intimidating, right? And like I said, accidents happen, and horror stories are also surfacing. It makes me think twice about using CFLs, but the energy savings can’t be denied…and so I continue.
The other option is LED lighting. LEDs do not have any of the environmental disposal issues that plague CFLs, they have no poisons inherent, and they are also rated to last 50,000+ hours, which can translate to ten or more years of regular use.
Buying LED bulbs for home lighting has become an option in the last few years, but to put it bluntly, they can be freaking expensive. Regular LED light bulb replacements are around the $30 range, but indoor floodlights are something else altogether. I found a site which carried indoor LED floodlights somewhat equivalent to the high wattage light output I have grown used to, but the sticker shock for the ones I wanted nearly killed me.
Yep, $160 was the price per bulb to get a daylight white 90 watt equivalent LED floodlight. Let that sink in for just a moment (I certainly had to)….and then remember that I have 34 floodlights in my home. Obviously I was going to need to think this out and see if LEDs might actually be an option or just a pipe dream.
I decided to start small; I would replace the lights in the two rooms I use most – the office and kitchen, and see if the light generated by the replacement bulbs was comparable, and if I would notice any type of savings on electric bill.
In the kitchen, I would buy three of the largest indoor CFL bulbs I could find to replace the three 120 watt floodlights, and in the office I would get four of the 90 watt floodlights from The LED Light‘s online store. Taking a chance, I wrote them and said that I would be writing this article; I asked if they would be willing to go in half with me on the purchase of four floodlights. After all, I was looking at $621 (after quantity discounts) if I bought all four, and the thought of spending that without knowing if I would even like what he result gave me hives. Thankfully they were willing to split the difference, and I only (ha!) had to cough up $316 plus shipping.
Purchasing lights for the kitchen was a simple matter of going to Home Depot and picking up three 32 watt (150 watt equivalent) CFLs. You’ll note that they advertise a nine year warranty.
Other than the caveats already listed, these CFLs are non-dimming, which is not a huge problem in my kitchen with its simple on / off switches, but it might be other rooms of my house which are equipped with dimmer switches. These CFLs are also “soft white”, not daylight white, and the easiest way to explain the resulting light effect is to say that it seems darker (murkier, perhaps fuzzier) than it should be.
Here is a corner of my kitchen with the incandescent lights installed…
Yes, that is a fluorescent tube light under the cabinetand here is a shot after I had installed three CFLs…
Note the newly obvious shadows
It’s hard to tell in these photos, but the fluorescent lights made the kitchen seem much darker, almost depressing. It’s as if the light couldn’t fill the room, although it was certainly there. Can you see the difference in the shadows between the two photos when looking at the cabinetry? In real life these shadows are obvious, although growing less so with time, and the CFLs certainly don’t seem to be outputting the equivalent of 150 watts each.I installed the CFLs on January 28th, and it took me a good month to get used to the difference in the room’s lighting; the kitchen is definitely a lot cooler when I am cooking, but there is no escaping the fact that it seems gloomy – certainly not the effect I wanted.Which brings us to my office. After waiting a week or so for the shipment to arrive, my four very pricey LED floodlights arrived. Each was packaged in its own protective styrofoam crate.
Each light was also wrapped in plastic, and I was literally shocked by how heavy and alien they were. Composed of aluminum, the lights look like they have been fabricated by hand. They are beautiful, almost like industrial art – not that anyone would really notice once they are installed.
The LED floodlights are similarly sized to my old floodlights, measuring 4.8″ across and x 5.52″ deep, and they weigh about a pound. The only real similarity to the CFLs is that they are not dimmable.
On my to-do list is calling the electrician to come change the dimmer switch in the office to the type specified to activate my one year warranty:
When installing fixtures, arrays, strips, clusters or any LED product which have a total of 6 or more standard 5mm LEDs, always use a Regulated Transformer, and a dimmer even if you will not use the dimming function. The dimmer contains a PWM/pulse width modulation component which will allow maximum life of the LEDs. See What Is… for the definition of PWM. Both components activate Your Warranty for 1 year. And, if you install more than 6 fixtures with 12 or more LEDs on one circuit, follow this wiring diagram.
The LED floodlights appear to have been designed with heat diffusion in mind, they are composed of an open framework of fins…
The bottom of the light, with the traditional screw-in is composed of ceramic. I have to say that for $160 I expected something that looked like it was way above average and built to last, and I was not disappointed.
In the center of the bulb’s head are seven 3 Watt Edison Opto LEDs. The Phillips head screws holding it together make me think that should a single LED ever burn out, it shouldn’t be too difficult to replace the LED and then continue to use the floodlight, but there are no promises, as that question is not answered on the sales site.
Here’s a shot of what one of the incandescent floodlights looks like when installed in my office ceiling…
…and here is a newly installed LED floodlight.
The difference in lighting is somewhat less noticeable than in the kitchen; the old 120 watt incandescent lights were certainly brighter, but they gave off a colored light that wasn’t very noticeable until…
…I had installed the much cleaner daylight white of the LED floodlights. Once again, it took me a little while to get used to the difference in lighting, but this time it was for different reasons. The light put out by the LEDs is not depressing (unlike the CFLs), but it also leaves shadows and doesn’t seem to “fill” the room quite like the incandescent bulbs did. The tradeoff is that I can turn the lights on without heating the room, which used to be an unwanted “benefit” of the old lighting system. This lighting also doesn’t have the dreary and depressing effect that the CFLs gave.
Now lets take a look at energy savings. Even though it has been almost two months since I installed them, it is still a bit too early in my experiment to say whether or not the savings has been noticeable, much less whether or not the money spent was worth it. But I’ll continue to add to this table every month so we can watch and see if a definite savings pattern appears over time. Bear in mind that utility costs are going up, and there are all sorts of other hidden variables.
And before you involuntarily gasp at the amounts of my electric bills, bear in mind that I mostly work from a home office, so I don’t get the luxury of setting my thermostat to a stifling heat during the day while I am working somewhere else. I do turn off lights in rooms when I am not in them, and I keep the thermostat on 68 in the winter and between 76 – 78 in our 100 degree summers…
- January – $338.91
- February – $371.72
- March – $259.17
- April – $240.41
- May – $406.14
- June – $406.14
- July – $480.06
- August -$455.58
- September – $395.59
- October – $350.81
- November – $220.50
- December – $216.14
- January – $297.77 (lights were installed on January 28th & 29th, so I will not count savings)
- February – $245.02 (savings of $126.70)
- March – $164.30 (savings of $94.87)
- April – $183.65 (savings of $56.76)
- May – $246.01 (savings of $160.13)
- June – $467.52 (Sarah moved upstairs – an extra AC is now buzzing away My savings may all disappear…)
- July – $
- August -$
- September – $
- October – $
- November – $
- December – $
Assuming this experiment makes as big of a difference on my electric bill as I hope it will, Sarah’s room will be the next one where I exchange incandescent bulbs for LEDs; she spends enough time in there that I think switching should be worthwhile. However, I am sure that there is a point where it would not be cost efficient to switch out the lights. For instance, the five in our 27′ long hallway – they are only used three or four times a month, which would hardly justify replacing the incandescent floodlights with $50 in CFLs, much less $767 in LED floodlights. But changing out the ones in other frequently used rooms (by order of use) might make sense.
In an interesting side note, one of the brand new kitchen CFLs has already quit working (a test bulb did work in the same socket). This is more than a little bit aggravating, but at least I can take it back to Home Depot since it is still very much under warranty. If anything were to happen to my LEDs, I would have to ship the bulb back to Nevada.
I’ll revisit this post monthly to add my new electric bill amount, and I will write a summary after a year or so. My long range goal, assuming that the savings will justify it, is to exchange the CFLs in the kitchen for LEDs, and then the incandescent floodlights in Sarah’s room and my bathroom, then perhaps the front living room and then my bedroom, and ultimately the garage apartment…we’ll see.
Here’s an update even sooner than expected – posted 03/16/08: After talking with several of you in the comments section, I went to Wal-Mart today and purchased seven of these…
…three for the kitchen and four for Sarah’s room. Although they are still not as bright as I would like (85 watts equivalent), and I could only find “soft white”, not “daylight white” in their indoor floodlight section, I think the results are much better than the large spirals when installed. Don’t you agree?
Also as discussed in the comments section, I bought two extra spirals and moved them all into to the long hallway. I won’t mind how gloomy they are, because we very rarely use those lights.
In other news, I managed to break one of the new CFL floodlights on the way home from Wal-Mart. ACK! No worries though, as it is still sealed inside its original plastic packaging (whew!). I doubt they will let me exchange it for another, but I might as well ask.
Hey, I have never put myself out there as anything but the biggest klutz, so once again I am happy to prove it’s true.
I should know my March electric bill amount in a few days; I have my fingers crossed that the savings will continue.
More later, I am sure…