In the push toward more energy-efficient lighting, America is moving rapidly ... backward.
Instead of using lights that save energy, Americans are buying halogen lamps that sap it. The drain is so large that researchers estimate halogen lamps have completely undone any energy savings America has made by replacing traditional light bulbs with newer compact fluorescent lamps.
Fortunately, help is on the way. This year, a few manufacturers will unveil compact fluorescent lamps that can replace today's popular halogen lamps. Compact fluorescent lights have been around for years. What's different is that these lamps are torchieres, the same design popularized by halogen lamps.
With their long poles topped by a shallow bowl, which throws the light up onto the ceiling, these new torchieres throw out as much light as a 300-watt halogen lamp while using one-sixth the electricity. That's a huge energy savings. If each lamp was used four hours a day at full power, the halogen model would cost an average $35 a year to operate; the compact fluorescent, only $7. Over the life of the compact-fluorescent bulb (which lasts about seven years, much longer than its halogen rival), the savings in electric costs alone would be nearly $200.
Compact-fluorescents are also much cooler than halogens, which burn at such high temperatures that safety engineers have begun to worry. Underwriters Laboratories tightened its requirements for halogen lamps in February, limiting the lamps to 300-watt bulbs and requiring a shield on top of the light. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says it has reports linking the lamps to at least 10 deaths and 100 fires.
Still, it's not clear whether consumers will buy the new torchieres. Even though they're safer and more energy efficient, they're also more costly. This summer, Energy Federation Inc. in Natick, Mass., expects to begin selling a compact-fluorescent torchiere for about $70. That's triple the price of halogen lamps sold at discount stores.
The fledgling industry may get some help from an unusual source. Colleges and universities are very concerned about halogen lamps in student dormitories. Several schools, including Yale and Brown, have banned them. Two years ago, when a student at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., left her room briefly, her halogen lamp ignited sheets from an upper bunk bed and started a fire that caused some $400,000 damage to the dormitory.
Universities are also eager to cut energy bills. When Stanford surveyed its undergraduate dormitories this winter, it found that 1,350 rooms had halogen lamps. At a cost of $30 to $50 a year for each lamp, the extra electricity costs have begun to add up, says David Frost, the school's housing energy manager.
So this spring, Stanford will let students exchange their halogen lamp for a new compact-fluorescent torchieres. Once the initial 500 are given away, the school plans to offer the lamps for sale in the bookstore and elsewhere in the community. Come fall, halogen lamps will no longer be allowed.
If students can make the switch, then maybe their parents can too, argues Michael Siminovitch, project leader for the compact-flourescent labs at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. He estimates that if homeowners replaced one-third of their light fixtures with compact fluorescents, they would halve the nation's annual lighting bill. Don't replace all the lights in your house, he says. Just target the high-use fixtures, especially porch, kitchen, and bathroom lighting. If you have to continue using your halogen lamps, at least keep them away from curtains and bunk beds. And don't leave the room without switching them off.
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