Lighting: Making Your Informed Choice

My experience with CFLs has been mixed, Living in Washington State there’s a subsidy to take advantage of, and I have bought a large supply of 12-15 WATT indoor CFLs for a price that amounts to the state sales tax, I figure I’m paying for the subsidy… might as well get some of the subsidized bulbs right?

One thing I’ve noticed about these CFL bulbs… it is a particular brand that receives the subsidy at the store nearest my house (Wallgreens). The store is full of other brands with no subsidy offered, what does that mean?

Some time back, I pulled down a number of four foot fluorescent tube fixtures in my shop, I was tired of messing with them, and I had a theory that turning them off and on as much as I do was hard on them and caused premature failures if we measure their life by the hour. Maybe how my times you can turn them on/off  is a more appropriate measure? If you are trying to save energy, won’t you be doing a lot of that?

When I was at Home Depot, I found some really ugly  bathroom fixtures that took four screw in bulbs up to sixty watts.  They were $8 each….. reason being that even the blind didn’t like the way they look. Perfect for the shop I thought, mount them on the overhead, who looks up?  I replaced a number of four foot fixtures with these, and screwed in the CFLs at the cost of sales tax.. (yes we know I’ll actually pay more than full price through increased taxes). As long as Politicians can sell the idea they’re giving you something for free, they’ll continue to offer subsidies, our Kids vote, and most of them think a subsidy and free are near the same things, it’s goes back to living your life by the month I guess.

My experience in the Shop has not been as good as I had hoped, I think all those on/off cycles are killing the CFLs same as the previous fluorescents …but I don’t claim to know what is really causing the falure. Is it possible they are just poorly made? I do know I’ve kept better track of my free standing ladder I use to change bulbs,  I’ve replaced lot of them over the last four years.

On the plus side, I can light up our off grid solar powered cabin in Easton like Christmas Eve using the CFLs, and I especially appreciate the flood type CFL outside of the shed. I use this as a work place, and I’m amazed at how much light they make on a moonless night.

At the end of the day I ask.. when will the LED fixtures take over and be competitive on price? I also wonder if my State has really done the math on the investment they force all of us to make in CFLs via their subsidy? Do they know the failure rate of bulbs? My guess is the State Employees are busy changing them right now…. maybe the power savings will easily pay for the loaded labor rate hours to change them?

Following is an article sent to me, after reading it…note the advertisement on LED lighting, note how many different fixtures they have now, and we can wonder together how soon the price might come down.

If you are over sixty, you might have seen enough to know the trend. There are Bureaucrats intensely studying LEDs right now, they know a subsidy on LEDs will be popular with those who don’t know what a subsidy is yet.  The average man plans no further than the month, he operates off two figures.. how much income he receives and how much he spends to get through the month. Inflation means far less to him, as he has no savings to inflate.

IF the LEDs come down in price, if they live up to their life expectancy, they might keep you off a ladder and keep you from breaking your neck …. that will be a cost you can measure for sure.


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15 Responses to Lighting: Making Your Informed Choice

  1. Mike says:

    Some of the CFL bulbs are certainly better than others and some even give of different spectrum of light. I’ve got some of the original magnet start ones and HF start ones that I bought years ago. I’ve found that turning them on and off in temperature extremes (especially with weird dew point stuff) is what kills them the easiest. The Lumens per Kilowatt are unreal.

    I use the LED light units for tactical lighting such as counter top via bottom of the top cabinets, night lighting of halls and bathroom and certain strategic areas so I can move around in the night to keep an eye on things around the yard if need be.. The Automotive ones are very efficient , run on 12 volts DC but are hard to find in white.
    I’ve also found that the 12 volt ones can be powered by a single 9 volt battery for hours. I like this because you have no inverter loss.

    As you have pointed out.. All bulbs are not created equally!


    • George B. says:

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks for the contribution here, always nice to get info from the field where stuff is actually being used in conditions we like to study. As for your comment on inverter losses, we need study this carefully now because some inverters have low losses, and some 12 volt wiring is done so poorly.. thin gauge long runs can add up to higher losses when it’s designed/installed poorly. Now that copper prices are nose bleed high, it’s easier to come home with the lighter gauge, and some folks don’t know they are locking in losses in their low voltage design.

  2. Quinn says:


    FYI, maybe not for your shop, but maybe for the house: Linda had a couple Solatubes installed in a dark hallway in her house amongst the big drippy trees. As dark as it is over on the other side of the water from you, it transformed the interior of the house, and without any need to turn on lights during the daytime. WA state had some sort of subsidy, which she took advantage of. It’s always amazed me what an absolute waste of electricity it is to turn on lights inside a house in the middle of the daytime. Architects and builders take note!

    Seems an energetic DIYer like you could kludge something up for the shop with some shiny HVAC ducting for a light pipe with some sort of light gathering lens on top and some judicious use of duct tape to hold the thing together. Red Green would, anyway.

  3. George B. says:

    And here I must admit… I have two sky lights in the shop.. I did not do my home work and paid the penality.. they both leak 🙁

  4. John says:

    I pulled two CFL “bulbs” out of a package, and installed one in my kitchen, and one outside the front door. I’m about 125 miles north of Seattle BTW. Looks like they really don’t like the cold, as the one inside lived much longer than the one outside.

    I think it’s been mentioned before, but…. what about the factor of KW savings vs. the fact that if you break a CFL, you’re supposed to leave the room at once (holding your breath), and more or less call in a Haz-Mat team?? That mercury just isn’t nice.

    These things are no doubt ending up in landfills all over (but – everyone disposes of them at a facility… right?! HA!). How long until the mercury starts showing up elsewhere.

    • George B. says:

      As far as the holding your breath thing goes. I’d imagine, that warning was written by the legal department of some experienced company. Considering what some of the nuts in downtown Seattle might do… the warning might not be severe enough. I would imagine the worst case breakage would be when you break the glass with your nose when the CFL is running .

  5. Ken says:

    I have used the CFL,s for quite a while with good luck. I have found that they do work the best and last the longest if they are not turned on and off constantly for short time periods.
    I like them because they save me on my electrical bill,not because they are considered “green” or liberal or whatever. Seems even lightbulbs have become a political issue.
    I am looking foward for the led’s to improve and come down in price,they sound promising.
    Anyways, being an avid DIYer myself,keep up the good work here.

    • George B. says:


      Reality is what most of us are seeking.. here’s one of my observations where a large number of people ignore reality..

      Most of us are attracted to products that save us money. Most of us are smart enough to figure out what saves us money…. Certainly the CFL can do that under the right conditions, Governments from the City all the way up to the Federal government can quickly cloud our vision with subsidies, soon a guy doesn’t know what it’s really costing him to buy something.
      The difference between DIYers and the Greenies…. is we are interested in the technical merits of the device or product, the real cost, and whether it really benefits mankind. Most of the Greenies I know have very weak technical backgrounds and spend most of their time lecturing others VS attempting to understand the merits of a product or idea. One thing that seems to be fairly common in the Greenie group is the belief that a government subsidy is always a good thing.

      Here in Washington State, Greenies are currently frustrated by the reality that our wind turbine farm output currently has no marketable value. We have an abundance of water this year, and hydro is far less expensive than energy produced by wind. The State is forced to see the realities because we don’t have the capacity to transport all of our surplus hydro capacity to a market, yet alone the wind power. We now understand the need to invest mega dollars in new intertie capacity, OR deduct the favorable spring winds and higher productivity that normally coincides with high water levels in the dams and the use it or lose it situation.

      I’m sure this deduction wasn’t part of the Governor’s data when she figured return on investment, nore was the incredibly high cost of a new feeder to take the windfarm power to a point of sale. She sided with the wind farm developers here because that’s what her political base wanted. OMHO, Greenies are NOT normally critical thinkers as per my experience, they are normally annoyed by those who would question their plans. At the heart of most of their plans is the transfer of Wealth from our pockets to others and the vast fortune in political capital it generates.

      Seattle is the tail that wags the dog. These nuts approved a bill that forces us to invest in alternative energy like expensive windpower when we are blessed with cheap hydro… Go figure. Wind can be a great investment, but forcing people to make that investment is no different than subsidies for CFLs. Why not let the Market sort out the realities? Opps, I said ‘Market’..see that’s a hot button for a Greenie, he thinks he knows what you should own and what you should buy…. even though he often lives in his parent’s basement and can’t hold a job.. he has plenty of time to be an activist too.

  6. Bill knighton says:

    One thing I like about cfls is that they run very well on the listeroid. My machine shop is 100 feet from the house. The power, when I’m not running on the outback inverter, goes from the listeroid to the outback to the house’s breakers and back out to the shop. I should shorten that. But anyway the 4 foot tubes, even with electronic ballasts modulate to the chug of the engine and the cfl do not. Even when the compressor starts the cfls are steady. I have hung some of those cheap spun aluminum trouble lights from the ceiling with cfls and will do more.

  7. Richard says:

    My experience with 4 foot tubes is that if you use electronic ballasts they last longer and I buy good bulbs. When i witched to the electronic ballasts (not cheap ones, read the specs) The average life time in the living room and other parts of the house is 8 to 10 years. yes I bought the ballasts 25 years ago and then they were 35 dollars a pop. Not i buy dimmable electonic ballasts so that i can turn them down. This run at 5 to 10 khz and do a great job with the 4 foot bulbs. Since I have only bought this type a year ago I don’t know how long the bulb will last but there is not burn end and the bulb is still bright.

  8. Greg says:

    We use 10 watt cfls (the soft white kind).
    I designed my shop and office to bring in sunshine under the eves and gable ends.The real trick is that we go to bed when it gets dark.

    I am building a cabin now that will have solar yard lights under the sky lights for automatic passive lighting, you can color the leds with a little yellow marker ink to make the light warmer.

  9. Greg says:

    From what I can tell, the way a gub’ment subsidy works is this:

    Say a piece of bubble gum is 5¢.
    If the government created a subsidy which gave people 4 ¢ to buy gum, the price would go t0 9¢ overnight.

  10. Tre LaDormin says:

    Four years ago we started using CFLs for runway lights (yep, I know that they are not for outdoor use, but they worked). With two runs of 3000 feet, the voltage drop was huge, almost 50%. (Why the huge drop you ask? ‘Cause it was WW2 surplus commo wire, steel with copper plate. ‘Bout 10 gauge.) Originally I fed the run with 240vac and ran 240 volt bulbs for the first half, then 130 volt bulbs, then 120’s (all incandescent). Very dim at the far end. With the CFLs I was able to switch to 120vac. The CFLs handled the voltage drop, no sweat. With incandescent bulbs I was using 40 watts each. Now I’m using 4 watts each. They don’t like the rainy season, but they tolerate snow and cold OK. Some have lasted years, but most die within the year. I pulled out 400 watt MH high bay lamps out of the hangars and replaced them with 42 watt CFLs of ‘day light’ type. Very bright, and easy on the utility bill. Next step is to convert a diesel (we got lots of ’em in the boneyard) to run on waste oil and use it for heat (for my hangar) and power for the airstrip. (By the way, an airport is a good place to look for non-ethanol laced gasoline; can’t use gasohol in planes. Makes ’em fall out of the sky. A lot of planes run on 87 or 93 mogas now. Try adding some 100LL avgas to your 87 octane to give it some storage stability for gas gensets. Not too much or it’ll burn your exhaust valves.)

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