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Journal OhHellWithIt's Journal: Compact fluorescent cost savings

The old joke goes something like this:

Q: How do you tell when a salesman is lying? A: His lips are moving.

I feel that way about marketers, too, and I've lately been wondering about how extravagant their claims are concerning energy and cost savings for energy-saving light bulbs. I'm in the middle of an experiment, but so far, the results aren't looking good.

We moved into our home in 1998. It has a finished basement with a total of eleven recessed floodlight fixtures in two rooms. The sellers had installed 150-watt flood lamps, so not only did the electric meter spin, it got hot. As the bulbs burned out, I replaced them with compact fluorescents, and as the compact fluroescents burned out, I began to wonder if I was getting money's worth. The compact fluorescent flood lamps were pretty expensive, easily three or four times as expensive as the incandescent ones.

When Home Depot stopped stocking one brand of compact fluorescent lamps that I liked and that hadn't cost an arm and a leg, I went looking for them on the Internet, and I bought a case of the Sylvania Dulux EL20W, a 20-watt lamp that purported to have an average lifespan of 6,000 hours. As I installed each replacement, I dated it. I replaced the third one today, so I am starting to get some real data.

The first three of these things lasted 32, 25, and 30 months. They are predicted to last 18,000 hours total, and I got 87 months, or 2,610 days of use from them. That works out to an average of 6.9 hours/day, every day. I am not sure if we actually use these rooms that much, but I am at least suspicious.

The new batch of bulbs is Commercial Electric's EDXR-40-19 a 19W R-40 lamp (avg. life 8,000 hrs, 85W incandescent equivalent), purchased from Home Depot. The the marketing verbiage includes this: "This package saves you $53.00** in energy costs per bulb". The footnote reads: "**savings based on 10 cents per kilowatt hour". I just checked my most recent Dominion Virginia Power bill, and it gives the "cost to compare" for electricity rates as $0.06/kilowatt hour. So, while I'm saving 66 watts over an 85-watt bulb (Is there such a thing?), for a total savings of 528 kw/hrs over the expected life of the bulb, it looks to me like a more modest savings of $31.68 (before utility taxes).

I'm not saying compact fluorescents are a bad idea -- I think I'm getting my money's worth -- but I think the marketers are definitely hyping the savings. What a surprise.

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Compact fluorescent cost savings

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"Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core." -- Hannah Arendt.