When we wrote about the phase out of incandescent light bulbs recently, the response was overwhelming. So what got people’s backs up? I trawled through hundreds of comments to pick out the main complaints…
Your complaints ranged from cost to being left with less choice. Having tested energy-saving bulbs for the latest issue of Which? magazine, this topic is fresh in my mind, so I thought I’d try and tackle each of these issues one by one.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t address all the issues raised in our previous Conversation. Others included claims that energy-savings bulbs aren’t as bright, can’t be used with dimmer switches and don’t always fit light fittings.
1. Energy-saving bulbs don’t last as long as claimed
This can definitely be true if you have a bulb that’s poor for longevity, or doesn’t like being switched on and off frequently. The regulations only require 50% of a bulb’s sample to achieve the claimed lifetime – cold comfort if your bulb is in the half that didn’t.
Which? energy-saving light bulb tests show big differences between bulbs in terms of how long they last and how they cope with being switched on and off. We test three samples of each bulb and, at worst, all three fail long before our 30,000 on/off switching test is over. The best of the bulbs have all three samples working at the end of the test.
It’s the same with longevity – the top performers’ samples survive 5,000 hours continuously turned on – the equivalent of five years’ use. But poor performers will see some, or even all, samples fail before that.
2. Health side-effects including migraines, UV radiation and mercury
The most common type of energy-saving bulb, CFLs, do contain mercury, but only a small amount. An average CFL has no more than five milligrams – and would fit on the tip of a ballpoint pen. Breakages are easily dealt with if a bulb breaks, as detailed in our advice guide.
UV radiation is only potentially a problem if you sit very close (within a few centimetres) of a CFL-type bulb for prolonged periods. For migraine sufferers, using a different type of energy-saving bulb altogether (i.e. a halogen or an LED) or using a CFL with an outer surface as well as an inner (i.e. not a stick-shaped one), will also help.
3. Loss of heating from traditional incandescent bulbs
Incandescent bulbs did waste 85% of their energy as heat, but this is still a very small amount – the heating effect on any room would be negligible. Even using a higher-powered bulb of 100W would only give you around 85W of heat.
Compare that to a typical fan heater rating of 2kW and factor in that many of the bulbs will be in exactly the wrong place to heat a room – on the ceiling – and incandescents seem to be an inefficient method of heating!
4. No overall saving of energy
Some of you were concerned about the energy used to manufacture energy-saving light bulbs, but a 2009 Defra study found that incandescent bulbs had the highest environmental impact of all types of bulbs. That’s because “energy in use” is the key factor, and incandescents are much less efficient than energy-saving bulbs.
Our recent light bulb tests showed the same trait – that the most efficient bulbs were also the most environmentally friendly over the whole lifecycle of production and disposal, because energy used while the bulb is on is the most important factor.
5. Don’t tell us what to buy, give us a choice
It’s obviously annoying for a lot of people not to have a choice of which bulb to buy. But the phase-out is a “done deal” and although it forces us to buy only certain types of light bulb it does force us towards bulbs that will save us money and use less energy.
6. Energy-saving light bulbs are more expensive
The savings from energy-saving bulbs are nothing like as obvious as the extra cost of buying them in the first place, but they will save you money in the end.
We’re looking at ways to calculate payback times for all the bulbs we show test results for. In the meantime, any energy-saving bulb should more than pay for itself, but the amount will depend on various factors, especially how long it lasts.
Based on the bulb being on for 2.7 hours per day and electricity costing 14.5p per KWh, we calculate a 100W incandescent bulb costs around £14 to run for a year. An equivalent CFL energy-saver (such as the Osram Dulux Superstar 30W) would cost £3 or £4 in the same conditions, depending on how much light it emitted (watts being only a measure of how much power you pay to put in, not how much light you’re getting out).
7. CFLs are hard to dispose of
It’s true that disposing of CFLs isn’t as easy as incandescents – you can’t just chuck them in the bin because of the mercury. But we’re used to recycling much of our waste now, so isn’t it just a mind shift that’s needed to get into the habit of recycling bulbs too?
Recycling CFLs can be done at any Ikea, Homebase, Robert Dyas, 250 larger Sainsbury’s or at council facilities. Or you can find your nearest recycling points by typing in your postcode on Recolight on Recycle Now.
Do my responses make any difference to your view on the light bulb phase out? Do you think the phase out is all bad news or can you see some positives to the change?