100-watt bulb alternatives leaving people in the dark
Assistant store manager Joshua Steele stocks the last of the 100-watt incandescent bulb inventory Tuesday at Lowe's Home Improvement on Waterfront Drive in Munhall.
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If light bulbs were cars, surely the Utilitech Pro LED 800 lumens light would be a 1958 Buick.
It's heavy, fussy looking, doesn't pack much horsepower at 60 watts -- and it even has fins.
Still, as energy-guzzling 100-watt incandescent bulbs disappear from local store shelves in the first phase of a federal ban on all such bulbs -- passed by Congress during the Bush administration and in effect since January 2012 -- light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are in our future, whether we like it or not.
And some people don't like it one bit.
"I am stockpiling those bulbs," said Liz Farley, a Pittsburgh architect and interior designer, who has built up a collection of about 100 boxes of 40- and 60-watt bulbs in her Fox Chapel basement.
"I'm not real happy about this," added Louis Talotta, a Pittsburgh and Palm Beach-based interior designer, who was startled to discover one of his Squirrel Hill clients had replaced the incandescent bulbs in his lamps with CFLs, distorting the colors of the paintings, the fabrics and the porcelain and turning a delicately lit celadon green room with chinoiserie wallpaper "a dirty, mucky green."
"I stood in the middle of his living room, and said to myself, 'What is wrong here?' and my client told me he'd put in newer, more energy efficient bulbs to save money. I said, 'Look, you have plenty of money. You can afford to spend a few more bucks to make your rooms look good.' "
Then there's Billiejo Miller Rush.
"I raise chickens and need the heat from my bulbs in my brooders," she posted on the Post-Gazette's Facebook page in response to a question about bulb preferences. "That is how the chicks survive."
Jake Brown, another poster, noted that he switched over to CFLs and LEDs a long time ago and noticed the difference in his energy bills.
"Incandescent is great when you can use the heat they generate ... [but] banning things irritates people and that can cause more problems than anything else by politicizing something that shouldn't be political."
Too late for that.
There have been scattered acts of defiance since the law's enactment. Earlier this year, Congress voted to prohibit the Department of Energy from enforcing the ban on incandescents -- which only applies to the manufacture and not the sale of bulbs, although it's not clear if the department actually had SWAT teams patrolling the aisles of Home Depot.
Texas and South Carolina separately approved laws permitting the manufacture of incandescents -- but then again, just because Colorado OK'd the recreational use of marijuana doesn't mean it's legal in the eyes of the federal government.
Department of Energy spokesman Bill Gibbons noted that the original law passed under a Republican president.
"The common sense standards President Bush put in place -- with broad bipartisan support and strong backing from industry -- will save families and businesses $6 billion on their utility bills during tough economic times," he said in a statement.
Actually, Ms. Rush, the chicken breeder, may be OK, because the law exempts three-way lamps, rough service bulbs, stage lighting and plant lights, among others, and consumers can still buy the 100-watt bulbs on Amazon.com from retailers who have had plenty of time to snap up excess inventory during the past few years.
But that time is fast slipping away.
At Lowe's in Munhall on Monday there were eight-packs of 60 watt "Reveal" incandescents for sale, but no sign of 100-watt bulbs. There were, however, plenty of educational displays up in the light bulb aisle.
"Did you know? Incandescent bulbs are being phased out across the country" read one sign, above two light bulbs -- on the left an LED, which was shown to be consuming far less energy than the incandescent on the right.
"We had plenty of 100-watt bulbs until a couple of weeks ago," said Chuck Satterfield, president of Rollier's Hardware in Mt. Lebanon, "but when the inventory is exhausted, it's exhausted."
"We had plenty of people hoarding bulbs, buying cases and cases of them, 15-20 boxes of bulbs. But sooner or later, everyone has to make the switch."
Rollier's stocks plenty of halogen and CFL bulbs, but Mr. Satterfield has hesitated to buy LEDs, he said, which are too expensive.
While a new 100-watt LED light bulb manufactured by Osram Sylvania went on the market Oct. 1, with a warm light that is close to incandescent and a projected lifespan of 25,000 hours -- about 25 times that of an incandescent -- the cost is a whopping $49.95.
Not everyone objects to the new bulbs.
Ann Davis, owner of Typhoon, a lighting store in Regent Square, said she has become partial to a Sylvania LED sold at Home Depot that has "a really beautiful light."
Suzan Lami, an architect also based in Regent Square, said she believes the newer LEDs are "very close" in color spectrum to incandescents.
"It's like low-flush toilets," she said. "The first ones were awful, and people were driving to Canada to buy the older versions because the new efficient ones didn't work very well. Well, eventually the technology caught up. That'll be the case here, too."
There are skeptics, though, who note that the same has been said about CFLs for years -- with little improvement.
Ms. Farley, the Fox Chapel architect, insists she's "pretty green. I'm obsessive about recycling. I don't use central air-conditioning. But I draw the line at bad lighting. It's a quality-of-life issue, because people are lit so harshly.
"These light bulbs drain all the color out of your face, and I know I don't want my clients sitting in a room that looks like the crypt keeper."
First Published November 28, 2012 12:00 am