Around here, at least, it sounds as though we won’t be able to buy incandescent lights after 2012.
I think that’s a great idea. In my office (our third and smallest bedroom), I love lots of light; the overhead four-light fan combo has two “40 watt” compact fluorescents and two “60 watt” bulbs, for a total of 50 actual watts and all the light I need. Our porch light is a 10 watt CFL. The most-used kitchen light is a CFL. Other lights that stay on at least 15 minutes at a time are CFLs.
But in our dining ell, we had a sad old 6-bulb chandelier that needed replacing–and that was on a dimmer.
Well, we finally got a new 5-bulb chandelier–and one of PG&E’s many subsidized CFL shipments included dimmable CFLs at two bulbs for $1.00 (PG&E, Northern California’s primary utility company, has been doing a lot of these subsidies. At one chain or another–Safeway, Longs, Rite-Aid or the like–it’s frequently possible to buy four-packs of CFLs for $1, or sometimes three-packs of fancier CFLs.) So I picked up three of the two-packs, each bulb 15 watts (the light equivalent of a 75 watt incandescent). The dimmables only came in 15 watt and 23 watt (100-watt equivalent) sizes.
Today the chandelier was installed. (It’s a modest little unit, but a whole lot better than what was there before.) I screwed in the bulbs. We turned on the light and used the dimmer.
And they buzz. Apparently, the high-frequency transformer built into each bulb (the reason CFLs don’t flicker and don’t buzz) deals with reduced voltage by reducing the frequency and, presumably, the percentage of the time it’s on. With even a little dimming, the buzz was at a frequency my wife could hear. At the level we’d actually use during dinner, I could hear it and she could barely stand it.
OK, there’s also the fact that these particular CFLs are that unpleasant cold light (other CFLs are much better) and that they’re big enough to be sort of ugly in the fixtures. Those we might be able to live with. The buzz…not so much. (If you turn them down to a romantic glow, it’s even worse: They start to flicker very obviously.)
So, for now, back to the store for some incandescents.
Our other sad experience (other than lights that only get used a minute or two at a time, where the 8,000-hours supposed life turns into 8,000 switch cycles) was with a three-way CFL: The lower setting burned out after a year or less, probably because it has to be switched on and off twice each time you use the light.
The solution should be LEDs: Even better efficiency, no mercury, even longer lifespan and they should be dimmer-compatible. But that requires LEDs in consumer-friendly packages at consumer-friendly prices. Here’s hoping we get there soon.