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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tripping the light fantastic

We take an interest in lighting in and around our household. Though we have no skylights, we like to work near windows if the weather keeps us indoors. There are a few lights to help visitors navigate to the house, and there are light switches in the barn and potting shed, thanks to my dad who wired them at the age of eighty-one (he's now ninety-three). We've painted all the interiors white, which helps with our rather paltry number of light sockets. We're not averse to occasionally trotting around, inside or out, with a lantern, like folks from two centuries ago. In power outages, our wall-hung kerosene lamps and candles, and our family heirloom table lamps, always at the ready, spring into action.

But we do without quite a lot of illumination, too; rooms we're not in stay dark. What can be simpler?

The house was built in 1949, Risa's birth year as it happens. Upon our arrival, we found 75-watt and 100-watt bulbs everywhere. The dining room has a particularly low ceiling, and one of our sons was already particularly tall, so we sprung for two 22-watt Circleline fluorescent bulbs, which at the time were twenty dollars each. They kept out of the way nicely. Eighteen years later they are still in service. Occasionally we unscrew one till it goes out, and just keep the other one going, as needed. So we're often at 22 watts in a space that once required 150 watts to illuminate. We were so pleased with CFL that as our consciousness was raised and the price lowered, we eventually replaced every incandescent in the place. Our monthly billed usage, from this and other measures, has dropped from an average of over 6KW to just over 3KW.

Do we still have incandescents? Yes, on a high shelf, and we drag them out to use as heat lamps for chicks and ducklings and to keep the pump company on big freeze nights. They make great heat lamps, but you have to check on them from time to time; they burn out unexpectedly.

Our next lighting project has been to replace incandescent flashlight bulbs with single-element LEDs. This comes to nine dollars a pop so far, but not a single flashlight in our possession has yet needed its batteries changed! One of them, a two-D-cell model, was going very dim when we made the change, after only two weeks' intermittent usage; it's been in use for over a year since. We think these bulbs will prove to have been a decent investment.

Recently we spotted something new at our local hardware store -- standard size LED light bulbs. They are weakish yet -- can't be used in the place of any of the 13- or 22-watt CFLs that abound -- and are billed as "accent lights," so the ten dollars they're going for seems steepish. But Risa nabbed a few, also a tiny outdoor spotlight of the same type, same price. After all, the brighter ones she's been looking at online are still running around forty bucks a pop.

Our entryway is awkward to approach in the night, so when either of us is coming in late, the other leaves on the porch light switch, which is connected to the entryway light, pictured above, as well as the porch light. These can thus be on for quite some time even though not otherwise needed. By swapping out the 26 watts' worth of CFLs that had been in those places, we're now down to -- ta daaa! 5.2 (yes, five-point-two) watts for that homecoming vigil.

And the driveway floodlight works great. One can easily see to fetch wood or fit keys in a car lock (we still have that kind, we're Neanderthals). We don't work on car engines at night anyway. So that's 2.7 watts for the time it's on. Risa went back to get it a companion (2-bulb motion sensor) but the store had been cleaned out of these bulbs within hours of their introduction. Smart customers!

I know that LEDs are currently being said to have little overall advantage over CFLs, but by selectively choosing low-powered LEDs for the right locations, you can really cut down on that light bill.


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