It was a momentous occasion, that day last week.
That’s when I replaced the final fluorescent lightbulb in my house with one that creates illumination by light-emitting diode, or LED.
I started several months ago when a corkscrew-shaped fluorescent bulb in an instrument in my office track lights burned out. It didn’t stop producing light but instead gave off that unmistakable electrical-stuff-burning odor. My house is some distance from the nearest firehouse, so anything that hints of fire gets my instant attention. It would have been amusing to watch, as I went around the room and ultimately the whole house, sniffing high and low and trying to figure out what was afire.
Was it my computer? I very much hoped not – getting a new power supply (most likely possibility) or video card (second most likely) would be neither cheap nor fun. I shut down the machine, but that had no effect on the burning-electronics fumes in the air, not even after awhile. What’s more, when I popped the computer’s case, its inside seemed the only place that had no burning odor. Hmmm.
My comical imitation of a bloodhound did suggest that my office-library was the likely source. But I couldn’t narrow it down much more than that. After a tense, puzzled while, I detected in the odor something else, something very familiar, but in a different, long-ago context.
It was the odor we’d smell back in the days when flash photography involved flash bulbs that got very hot. They were coated in plastic to contain the pieces should one explode, and when they went off they got so hot that the plastic melted. This melting plastic smell was what I’d detected along with burning electronics. CFL bulbs are plastic-coated and contain electronics.
Grabbing the kitchen ladder, I went from one track light instrument to another and, five instruments down, I found the culprit. It was still making kind of anemic light, but it was producing the smell. (A quick internet search taught me that these aromas are common when spiral compact fluorescent lights burn out.)
It wasn’t something I wished to experience again, so I instantly ordered up a bunch of LED track light bulbs from The Inescapable Online Retailer.
This, as it turns out, was a mistake; they are available locally for far cheaper, and I could have had them that day. Don’t assume the Amazon price is cheapest – often, it isn’t. You can get good LED light bulbs to fit most, if not all, of your fixtures for really low prices locally. I think but do not know that AEP is subsidizing the cost of LED bulbs, helping to bring the price down. Not long ago, the cheapest LED bulbs were upwards of $10 each, and really good ones multiples of that. Last week I purchased a six-pack of 60-watt equivalent LED bulbs at a local retailer for $9.
Besides lasting a very long time, LED bulbs use ridiculously little electricity. With the eight LED bulbs in my office track lights I’m lighting the office like a nuclear power plant on less than 60 watts total.
So now I’ve replaced them all, throughout the house. Each LED is brighter than the bulb, incandescent or CFL it replaced, and none uses even 10 watts.
Actually, there’s an exception. I have two that consume 12 watts each.
My kitchen has one of those especially soul-sucking long-tube fluorescents. You know the type: the bulbs are four feet long and an inch and a quarter in diameter, and if it breaks it makes a loud pop and produces a cloud of poisonous white powder.
The kitchen light had been misbehaving for a little while (okay, four or five years). When I flipped the switch it might come on but it might take a few minutes to decide whether to come on. When I had the fire scare I decided I’d see if there were LED replacements for those, too. The good news: yes, there are. The bad news: they’re $45 for two of them. The worse news: you have to rewire the fixture to remove the ballast from the circuit. The worst news: the instructions were apparently brought from the original Chinese by Google Translate.
I decided against it; when in town sometime I’d pick up new fluorescent tubes if I remembered it and until then the light in the stove hood would do.
But when I was going berserk early last week getting cheap LED bulbs for all the house, I thought I’d see if there were LED replacements for fluorescent tubes for sale locally – might be time to swallow hard and get some.
No swallowing hard was required. They are available locally, two to a pack for $15 – and they fit right in, no rewiring necessary! What’s more, they’re available in colors ranging from ghastly mood-killing fluorescent zombie blue-green to warm white. (I sometimes use my kitchen for making pictures, so I chose the nice pure-white ones – they’re labeled as being especially suitable for closets and laundry rooms for some reason, probably to help match blue socks with blue socks and black socks with black socks.)
They work. Wonderfully. They produce much more light than the fluorescent ever did and, at 12 watts each, use 40 watts less than the tubes they replaced.
So for less than $50 I was able to reduce the lighting part of my electric bill by about 70 percent. When upgrading to reduce energy bills, we think that if an improvement pays for itself in a few years we’ve done well. These bulbs will have paid for themselves by the end of next month. Remember, Daylight Saving Time ends soon.
And the light is superb, far better than that made by the CFLs. I’m given to understand that when they decide to become non-light-emitting diodes, they flicker a little and then go out, without dramatic olfactory pyrotechnics.
I can’t advise you to replace every lightbulb in your house with LEDs, but I also can’t imagine why you wouldn’t.
Editor’s note: Dennis E. Powell’s column appears on Mondays. You can reach him at email@example.com.