27 January 2013

Adjusting to the light

Are you slowly replacing all your incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent bulbs or some other kind? Or did you do it all at once? We're still in the process.

I don't know much about the situation in the U.S., but here in Europe the classic, Edison-developed light bulbs we had always used have now been phased out. You can still find a few of them, in lower wattages, in the stores, but officially their commercial distribution was stopped last September. Apparently, merchants are allowed to sell off existing stocks.

We've replaced nearly all of the incandescent bulbs in our house with the ones they call compact fluorescents. They look more or less like the old light bulbs but they behave differently. For example, they take a while to warm up after you switch them on. The light they emit gradually gets stronger until they come up to full power. It can take a few minutes.

Yesterday morning's snow was all melted by noon.

One compact fluorescent bulb we bought at Ikea a couple of months ago has an even more annoying way of warming up. When you turn on the lamp, it comes on for two or three seconds, then it shuts itself off for two or three seconds. It comes back on. It goes back off. In other words, it blinks off and back on four or five times before it finally makes up its mind and decides to light up your life. I have to turn it on and either look away or just close my eyes for 15 or 20 seconds while the light show is going on.

The compact fluorescent bulbs actually produce a kind of illumination that doesn't especially bother me, after they've powered up. But often they buzz. It can be annoying if you're sitting close to one when you're trying to read. I've also noticed that some of them seem to dim down over time, so that a bulb that was giving you adequate light for reading a few months ago ends up seeming too dim.

At any rate, since I now do most of my reading on a tablet computer, I don't need much light at all. I've learned to read my paper documents during daylight hours, standing or sitting near a window.

These bulbs are supposed to last a lot longer than the old incandescents. And they sure cost a lot more to buy. Why is it, though, that the supermarkets now all have big recycle bins at their entrances for burned out fluorescent bulbs? People haven't been using them for very many years, and they are burning out already? I don't understand.

The Renaudie winery's vineyard crew was working out behind our hedge on Friday.

Fluorescent bulbs use a lot less electricity than the old incandescents, so it makes sense to install them in lamps and fixtures that stay on for many hours every day (and in winter here in Saint-Aignan, quite a few of ours do). In other situations, where you need instantaneous illumination and don't leave the light turned on for long stretches of time, they're less well adapted.

In our downstairs pantry, for example, which is windowless... If you go in there to look for something, you need bright light immediately. You can't wait for a bulb to warm up. And you don't stay in there long, so unless you forget to turn it off when you leave the room (confession: it's probably age-related), the bulb hardly ever stays on for more than a couple of minutes. I don't know what we'll do when our stash of incandescent bulbs runs out.

Years ago, we installed halogen fixtures in our bathroom and kitchen. Those also can represent a significant savings in electricity costs for the amount of light they produce. In the bathroom, they're great. They give off a sunny kind of illumination. The bathroom light is another one that doesn't stay on for very long each day. Reducing the amount of electricity you use for lighting that space isn't much of an issue. More important is having pleasant, bright, immediate illumination.

 The kitchen ceiling fixture now has LED bulbs in it, replacing halogen bulbs.

Now halogen lights are being phased out. I'm sorry about that. I've really enjoyed having halogen lighting in the kitchen since we installed a new ceiling fixture in there five or six years ago. The light is bright and warm. The fixture takes five 35-watt bulbs, so that comes to 175 watts. Keeping it on for long stretches of time means high energy consumption. And anyway, the halogen bulbs will soon be hard to find. You can stockpile them now, but how many are you really willing to buy and store?

Recently, for a combination of reasons, we decided to replace the halogen bulbs in the kitchen fixture with LED bulbs. They are the next great thing. The fixture that was using 175 watts when you turned it on now consumes only 12 watts! That's 2.4 watts per bulb. Now I feel like I can leave the kitchen light on longer without worrying about the electric bill.

An LED bulb looks like some kind of radioactive shower head.

The problem is, I don't like the quality of the light. It's cold. It's blue-ish. It's yellow-ish. It looks artificial, or institutional. And my camera doesn't like it either. The photos of food that I like to take, and which used to be so bright and appetizing (I thought), now look kind of sickly. I've been fiddling with camera settings for a couple of weeks now.

At first, I thought that changing the "color mode" setting on the camera from Vivid to Warm had solved the problem. Now I'm not so sure. Some pictures look fine with that setting, but others still are unsatisfactory. I use Photoshop to crop and enhance my photos, but I don't want to spend hours every day trying to make silk-purse images out of sow's-ears photographs.

Maybe I need a new camera. Or maybe I just need to put the halogen bulbs back in the ceiling fixture, for as long as they last.


  1. Ken, you can get halogen bulbs that look like old incandescent... these are not due to be phased out until 2025... and they give a good reading light... we have the same problem in the cellier... I've got a ceiling light at each corner of the "tower of Gorm"... the one nearest the door is a halogen so that it comes on immediately.

    I agree with you on the quality of light... it is poor and very variable... and the bulbs do not last for as long as they state!! No way!!!

    That IKEA one of yours is a duffer.. the reason it flickers on and off is that the internal "choke" is dodgy... but, because they are part of the damn bulb, you cannot change them like the ones on striplights... we had a run of dodgy IKEA bulbs and stopped buying them.

    Where we have a shade that hides the bulb, we are using the cheap supermarket brand bulbs... not so nice to look at bare though!

    And as for LED bulbs... well... there are now different quality outputs available for them... but you need to search for them on the internet... they are available as warm [yellowish], cold [blueish] and "daylight"... the latter are apparently the best light... closest to normal daylight apparently. But all of them are smokingly expensive as an initial outlay... we are about to start replacing the G9 bulb in our kitchen spots... all twelve of them!! Two separately switched strips of six at 28W a bulb. The G9 LEDs use 1W...

  2. We have daylight compact fluoros in our kitchen -- we got them in Leroy Merlin I believe. We love them.

    One of the unexpected consequences discovered with the widespread introduction of the new bulbs was just how much heating the old bulbs contributed. I've read that some people are finding that they are having to adjust their heating systems to compensate.

  3. We did get the "warm" leds for the kitchen, but they're not as warm as we thought they'd be. Found them on the internet at prices that were more or less reasonable.

    The shaded fluorescents are fine, except for the flashing Ikea bulb.

  4. weve been using the compact fluorescents for over 10 years - our house in London was fully low energy by the time we left, and the house in France has been low energy since we had electricity. In that time we have had only 2 bulbs stop working , althoiugh I have replaced some of the slow starters.

    For you phtography, do a manual white balance setting using a sheet of white paper. That way your photos should have no colour cast.

  5. Good idea, Simon. Thinking about it, I had come to the same conclusion this morning. Now if I can figure out how to do it...

  6. Ken, I think you may need to replace that bulb that has the light show...sounds faulty to me.
    The LED bulbs, tvs are the way to go. They are all the new wave now, and it's always best to keep our energy costs way down low.
    Do a search for the Daylight series of the LED bulbs like Tim suggested, they shed a far more realistic light.

  7. Simon, I just set the white balance on my kitchen camera as you suggested. A couple of quick test images make me think that it worked.

    Hi Virginia, we bought warm rather than cool
    LEDs for the kitchen. Most of the time the light quality seems pleasant and natural, but the camera doesn't seem to agree. Maybe I have it worked out now.

  8. I'm not surprised that the store's recycle bin fills up. Some of our compact fluorescents are more than 15 years old. And some duds don't last even a year.

  9. Hi Chris, I guess you pays your money and you takes your chances.

    Tim et al., have you seen this web merchant's site?


  10. I don't like the quality of light the new bulbs give, they seem too dim to me.
    In any case, I think the whole thing is a complete nonsense. Trying to save the planet by buying overpriced lightbulbs is completely daft. There are so many other things going on that do so much more damage that it's a waste of time, a drop in the ocean.

  11. I really dislike those bulbs that gradually get stronger but I use them anyway. It's especially annoying in the toilet.

  12. In the US they outlawed the manufacture or importation of light bulbs below a certain level of efficiency, efffectively ending the incandessent bulb. I have a couple of LED lamps that I really like. Better quality compact floressents have a better light quality and last longer. About 1 in 10 of them I have had problems with flickering, odd starting, or really bad color temperature. I toss them in replace them. When I bought the condo three years ago I replaced all but one fixture with compact floressent or Hallogen compatable fixtures. The last replacement needs to be picked by my other half for his bathroom.

  13. Travel, I don't know about you but I can't afford to buy many $10 bulbs and then just throw them out after a few weeks or months. One time I took a defective one back to the store where I bought it and they were glad to exchange it — I got the impression that I wasn't the first customer to return a defective compact fluo bulb.

    Jean, I really like the idea that I can get the equivalent brightness from bulbs that consume just 12 watts in the place of old ones that consumed 175 watts. The LEDs we put in the kitchen fixture cost 7.95€ apiece. I have no idea how long it will take to amortize my 40€ investment.

  14. Something nice we have learned is that bulbs come in varying degrees of warm-up times. So, there are quick on-off lights (pantry, stairwell, bathroom) on the market. We just have to wait for our current lot of bulbs to give out. In our newly installed kitchen, we've got LEDs. No one asked us what quality of light we wanted and I think we got cold -- kind of bluish. Again, we'll wait it out, although LEDS do last a long, long time. All these bulbs last longer if you don't keep turning them on and off, which goes against our training to turn lights off when you leave the room.

  15. I broke a flourescent bulb and now I'm not sure what to do with it--you're not supposed to throw it away with the regular trash because of the mercury, so it's in a sealed container next to my recycling outside. We don't have those recycling bins outside stores here in the U.S., near where I live anyway.


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