Good-bye incandescent bulbs, hello mercury

Good-bye incandescent bulbs, hello mercury

The most popular sizes of incandescent light bulbs will disappear from most store shelves in B.C. within the next few weeks and the most common replacement lights cost up to 10 times more to buy.

Ikea stopped ordering incandescent bulbs last August. Canadian Tire stores have no more than a two-month supply of 75- and 100-watt bulbs, while the London Drugs warehouse is already empty.

“The stores might have up to a three-month supply,” said London Drugs administrator Maury McCausland. Then again, maybe not.

“We’ve seen a spike in sales of incandescent bulbs with some of our older customers coming in and stocking up,” he said. “But the younger people really want the energy savings.”

“Compact fluorescent lights [CFLs] and halogen lights have absorbed 60 per cent of the light bulb market in just the past two years,” McCausland said.

The province ordered retailers to stop restocking the two most popular incandescent bulbs by Jan. 1 as part of the transition to more efficient lighting technologies required by the federal government’s new standards. In 2012, all of the common sizes of incandescent bulbs will be banned for sale in Canada, as they are, or will be, in many western nations.

For simple light bulb replacement, consumers usually opt for compact fluorescent lights that match the general shape of a common light bulb and screw into the medium base used in most overhead lighting.

“We have clearly seen CFL sales trend up over the last two-three years,” said Glen Gillis, manager of the Cambie Street Canadian Tire. “Over the last few years, the CFL line of products has grown far beyond the twisty style bulb … customers are becoming aware of the increasing options in CFL products and we expect sales to continue to be very strong.”

CFLs use only 25 per cent of the energy that a regular light bulb draws to produce the same amount of light. But prepare yourself for a sticker shock. CFLs cost anywhere from five to 10 times as much as a regular light bulb, ranging from $5 to $12 each. On the upside, they tend to last about eight times as long.

Switching a single 100-watt incandescent bulb to a 25-watt compact fluorescent light bulb can save you $30 in energy costs over its lifetime, according to BC Hydro. Energy savings like that can significantly reduce your home’s carbon footprint, particularly in regions where electricity is generated by burning coal. In jurisdictions such as B.C. where the carbon footprint of hydroelectric energy is very small, energy savings help reduce the need to build expensive new power generation infrastructure.

Fluorescent lighting does carry an environmental cost. Because the bulbs contain mercury vapour, they must be handled with care and properly recycled and the mercury may leach into groundwater or find its way to the ocean.

Big advances in technology are helping ease the fluorescent light’s bad reputation for light quality, earned over decades of casting flickery, hard light in institutional settings such as schools and hospitals, according to Silvie Casanova, a spokeswoman for Phillips Lighting.

New-generation fluorescents can produce softer, more natural light and can be designed to work in lamps, recessed light fixtures and even with dimmer switches, all historic weaknesses of the technology.

“There is another alternative to CFLs and that is another incandescent light, the halogen bulb,” said Casanova. “It uses 30-per-cent less energy than the conventional incandescent bulb.”

“You really have three options: the more advanced incandescents such as halogens, CFLs and LEDs,” she said.

LED lights are beginning to emerge as the favourite choice for people purchasing new lighting systems, rather than just replacing burnt-out bulbs. LED lights can last 25 years or more under normal use.

“LEDs are already 15 per cent of our business and that’s up 68 per cent from last year,” Casanova said. “We expect that by 2015 LED will account for 50 per cent of lighting sales.”

LED lights and their high-tech cousin, the OLED (organic light emitting diode), are the lighting technologies of the future, agreed David Feldman, co-founder of online lighting retailer Ylighting. In OLED technology, the illumination comes from a thin layer of organic material incorporated into super-thin flat panels that emit light.

“LEDs are definitely a growth part of our business,” he said. “But CFLs will be around while we still need replacement bulbs for medium base fixtures.”

Legislative pressure and technology expanded the available range of light size. “It’s not just about putting 60- or 75-watt light bulbs in every part of the house,” Casanova said. “You can think about how you are going to use a light and how you want to cast that light before you choose a light for your specific application.”

Article Source: Vancouver Sun – The Green Man Blog

Footnote: CFL bulbs require special handling and disposal. This article from Jetsongreen may be of assistance.

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