How Many Americans Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?

  • May 30, 2009

As energy prices begin to creep up again, one would think that Americans would be looking for simple, “no-brainer” ideas to reduce their consumption.

One of the easiest ways to cut electricity costs is to switch to CFL bulbs, compact fluorescent light bulbs—which work in a standard light socket. Replacing just 10 bulbs in a home or apartment can save 4700kWh of electricity—which is approximately enough energy to light the average house for two years. In fact, by replacing ten incandescent bulbs with 10 CFL bulbs can save nearly 2 tons of coal from being burned into the atmosphere – the equivalent to planting over 75 trees.

Yet, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, sales of compact fluorescents have dropped in the current recession, to 21% of total U.S. consumer light-bulb sales in 2008 from 23% in 2007, according to the DOE.

The article quotes Terry McGowan, of the American Lighting Association, a trade group, who says that the old incandescent bulb, invented by Thomas Edison in 1879, is highly inefficient, generating 90% heat and 10% light. “The only thing worse is a candle flame”, he says.

The CFL bulb has been around for years and produces the same amount of light as its incandescent ancestor with one-quarter the energy. It lasts for years, provides light in a wide array of hues, and, by lowering electricity bills, pays for itself in about seven months.

Studies say improving the efficiency of the light bulb is one of the simplest ways to start meaningfully curbing fossil-fuel consumption. Lighting accounts for some 20% of residential electricity use in the U.S. – way too much too waste. Yet about 80% of all bulbs sold to U.S. consumers are incandescent bulbs, which often cost less than 25 cents apiece, about one-tenth the price of a compact fluorescent.

Perhaps the article’s quote from a Wal-Mart customer named Betty Ferrell, best sums up the lack of CFL sales, when she says’ “I buy the cheap ones. They may not be cheap in the long run but they’re cheap for what I have in my purse now.”

In fact, Americans have been so reluctant to buy the new bulbs that the federal government is about to force their hand. A recent law will, in effect, ban incandescent bulbs for most uses by 2014.

The article quotes Arthur Rosenfeld, a physicist who headed a team of scientists at the federal government’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in California, that did some of the early development work on compact-fluorescent bulbs, “If energy is dirt cheap, it gets treated like dirt. That’s been the problem.”

As long as Americans wait for “the other guy” to do more than their share by recycling, driving energy efficient cars and reducing their carbon footprint, so that they don’t have to, they are forcing the government to step in with legislation.

Step up and replace your incandescent light bulbs with CFL bulbs—for a greener planet.

How many Americans does it take to change a light bulb? Not enough so far!

Click here to learn more about CFL from the US Dept. of Energy.

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