Many of us say we want to be good environmentalists. But we often make choices based on other desires. One of those choices is lighting. Most of us use lights that are very inefficient… and the trend in home lighting is moving toward using more energy… not less. As part of the series, “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham takes a look at light bulbs… and starts at the beginning:
Many of us say we want to be good environmentalists. But we often make choices based on other desires. One of those choices is lighting. Most of us use lights that are very inefficient, and the trend in home lighting is moving toward using more energy, not less. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham takes a look at light bulbs and starts at the beginning:
We’re getting a behind the scenes look at a pretty significant historical artifact. Marc Gruether is pulling back a plastic tarpaulin that covers a row of file cabinets.
Gruether: “We are in one of the storage areas in the Henry Ford Museum. And drawer eleven has this light bulb in it which I will very carefully remove. It’s certainly one of the oldest Edison light bulbs that’s in existence. This is one of the lamps that was used in the December 1879 demonstration at Menlo Park.”
Graham: “Now, looking at it, I can see that it’s got that kind of bulbous shape, I can see the filament, I mean, I would recognize this easily as a light bulb.”
Gruether: ““Absolutely. It’s a recognizable light bulb. You’re exactly right. That all looks forward to the kind of lamp forms that became common and that we’d recognize today.”
And that’s not all that’s the same. Just like the first light bulbs, the incandescent bulbs most of us use in our homes today, waste energy. 95% of the energy used is expended in heat. Only five-percent actually makes light. That means everytime you switch on the light – if it’s an incadescent bulb – you’re wasting 95% of the electricity your paying for. In our homes, not much has changed in the last hundred years or so. But in commercial buildings, things have changed a lot.
Commercial builders and industrial architects learned a long time ago that energy efficiency is important. Most of the new office building and factories built today use passive sunlight and high-efficiency lighting that not only saves energy but uses the right spectrum of light to get the best output from their employees.
Moji Navvab teaches about light in architecture at the University of Michigan. He says you can learn a lot about good energy efficient light too. He says with the wide variety of fluorescent, LED, and spot lighting, you can get the right kind of light for whatever you’re doing and use a lot less electricity compared to a house lit only by traditional incandescent bulbs. It’s about using the right light for the right place. Navvab says, really, it’s pretty simple and you can get a lot of information about proper lighting on the Internet.
“If you really are focusing on healthy lighting or you want to save energy, if you go search on the web right away, you can get the information and then you can go to your local stores and they can match it for you.”
But at the local store, most of the time buyers are not very well-informed at all.
Beverly Slack is a salesperson at Kendall Lighting in Okemos, Michigan. She says unless they ask, she doesn’t push energy efficient lighting. And when she does mention fluorescent lighting, which uses about one-fourth the energy that incadescent bulbs use, customers grimace.
“Right. But, they don’t realize the difference in the fluorescent lamps, how they’ve changed, how the different colors have changed in the fluorescents. They’re still thinking of the old standard cool white so, people don’t want them because of that fact.”
Slack says what customers really want is dramatic lighting, and lots of it. They want trendy, recessed lights and track lights that often use extremely hot burning bulbs in a way that’s interesting, but not often very useful.
“They want decorative, decorative, decorative. I mean, it’s amazing. Because I can just see their light bills going sky high.”
Slack says the trend in home lighting in recent years has been just the opposite of commercial lighting. At home, people are using more light, more fixtures, and less energy efficient bulbs. With the trend in new houses being larger, requiring more lights, and homeowners wanting decorative lighting to show off their big new houses, conservation at home is often just being ignored.
It’s no longer about turning off the light when you leave the room, it’s about lighting up the showplace. And as long as the power bill is lower than the mortgage, it’ll probably stay that way.
For the GLRC, this is Lester Graham.