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Our Home is Our Castle: Protecting Life and Light

Issue 77 Feb / Mar 2014

Howard M. Brandston, FIES, Hon. FCIBSE & FSLL, FIALD, PLDA, continues the fight against the incandescent lamp ban with some interesting observations.

Since 2007 when our federal government first announced the incandescent light bulb ban, I've been speaking in defense of Thomas Edison's tried and true bulb for home use. While there are many reasons to abolish the light bulb ban, my primary concerns are, and always have been, the health, well-being and freedom of choice for millions of American households.

Our home is our castle. Light shines within our castle making our lives safe and sound. It is unconscionable that our government trespasses on our castles by banning the incandescent bulb without ensuring similar quality of illumination and consumer cost.

What's more, our government provides no plan to upgrade the millions of fixtures and lighting controls in existing residences to safely and effectively utilize the new light sources being forced upon us. How will this process occur and how will citizens pay for upgrading their homes?

Hundreds of concerned and health conscious people regularly reach out to me as a lighting professional and ask why is all this happening? And I, in turn, ask how can our great government turn its back on the essential fabric of America? I suspect our government officials do this in the same manner they exempt themselves from Obama care and insider trading.

Unfortunately for American citizens, to date our government has prioritized corporate and personal profits far ahead of citizens' quality of life. As consumers complain about the bulb ban over the past several years, the big three lamp manufacturers respond that the government's new energy efficiency regulations eliminated their production of the incandescent lamp. No surprise they neglect to point out that they themselves were the biggest lobbyists for those regulations. It's simple... there is no profit in a $0.75 light bulb. Adding fuel to this flame are the uninformed green/environmental advocates that ignore harmful effects warnings of CFLs, the leading alternative to incandescents. Ironically, some are now seeing the light.


Where do we stand today?

In 2014, the incandescent bulb will be relegated to the dustbin of history unless consumers continue to really pressure their legislators to repeal the ban. While we're faced with numerous big political issues today, lighting might be comparatively viewed as a small. But, don't ignore it. This ban has major consequences for our daily quality of life.

Sadly, there is no help from professional lighting societies and advocates that have chosen to relinquish to the government their traditional role of establishing lighting standards. And, there is no help from misinformed government consumer protection groups that are protecting the ill-conceived US government mandate.

We, the people, must continue to speak out. Our message must be brief and clear to legislators. The Secretary of Energy may also be contacted:

Please rescind the ban of incandescent light bulbs. We want to light our homes safely and cost effectively with products that we choose. We do not want the government or lighting manufacturers dictating how we light our homes. We ask our government to mandate that lighting manufacturers produce proven safe and cost effective lighting alternatives for our homes.

There has been some help along the way from legislators like Texas Congressman Michael Burgess who in July, nixed funding for incandescent bulb ban enforcement stating "If the new energy-efficient light bulbs save money, and they're better for the environment, we should trust our constituents to make the choice on their own toward these bulbs. Let the market decide." I hope more legislators will speak out, especially since there are many issues to speak about.


Positive actions in other countries

New Zealand was a leader in lifting the incandescent ban due to CFL safety and energy efficiency issues. Germany restricted the use of fluorescent lighting in public places and banned fluorescent lights in hospitals. 

Canada delayed implementation of the incandescent ban. Canada is helped by savvy, to-the-point journalism, something the US is lacking at this stage.

Australia's newly elected government intends to repeal the ban of the incandescent lamp. The people have spoken.


Alternative lighting issues are increasing, complex, and controversial

Another critical reason to abolish the light bulb ban is our government does not provide solutions to multiple issues surrounding lighting alternatives, a particular concern for home lighting. Industry research has not been thorough. There are no adequate facilities or information for handling disposal and recycling of incandescent alternatives such as the CFL, laden with mercury. Manufacturer recalls of several new lighting products, including certain LEDs, due to safety issues are testimony of our government's failure to provide the security that the traditional light bulb has always given us. 

Until controversial issues are resolved and American families can have safe, healthy, low cost lighting, there is no valid reason to eliminate the incandescent bulb. Even when reasonable alternatives do become available, American households should have a choice of lighting just as we have a choice of home heating systems, appliances, water heaters, pumps, building materials, and all things in our castles, our homes.


Lingering unanswered issues plus new concerns about alternative lighting

1. Energy savings is not significant. According to the Energy Information Administration, in the USA, only 3.6% of all energy is consumed by incandescent lamps. Consider the state of California which banned incandescents, saving $35.6 million per year, approximately $1.00 per person, per year. Is $1.00 per person, per year really worth all of the potential hazards presented by today's new light sources? Perhaps CA residents will take a hint from Australia and take action in their next election.

2. CFLs continue to present a long list of home use problems with no solutions.
• Safety. The EPA has not altered its tedious 11-step process for cleanup of broken CFLs. Mercury in CFLs is dangerous and our government has not provided disposal and recycling plans. One gram of mercury can pollute a two acre pond. Mercury in the soil converts to methyl mercury, a deadly neurotoxin. With billions of CFLs added to landfills what might happen to some of our water supply?

• Quality of light. Beyond the toxicity of mercury, there are emissions of ultraviolet radiation and electromagnetic radiation. Thousands of people report skin rashes and irritation, headaches, fatigue, depression; the list continues on with no solutions.

• Operational hazards. Numerous reports of CFL fires in existing home fixtures and problems with dimmer switches have not been solved.

3. Incandescent bulbs are still being manufactured, but not in the USA. By ceasing production of incandescents here, lamp manufacturers have helped create jobs in China and support manufacturing in one of the world's leading environmental offenders. By the way, China is also a leading manufacturer of CFLs - imagine the toxic exposure for Chinese workers.

4. LEDs available today have issues including high costs and problems with fixture compatibility
and conversions. In addition, thousands of consumer LEDs sold at home center stores and
online have been recently recalled due to shock hazards.


The bottom line

The use of new lighting products may make important lighting and energy savings contributions in commercial and institutional projects where such products are professionally maintained and do not pose hazards for building occupants. This is significantly different from home lighting needs for millions of American households. I look back at my lighting design experience of more than 3,000 projects over 60 years, and there is no way I can, in good conscience, specify today's CFLs, LEDs, and other alternatives for the majority of American homes.

Residential lighting is a tiny fraction of overall energy consumption with limited potential for energy savings. There are far better ways to save energy and reduce the world's carbon footprint. The same questions I asked several years ago remain unanswered:

Why ban the incandescent lamp in American households when alternative lighting sources are not adequate relative to energy savings, cost savings, safety, and impacts on quality of life?

Where are our leaders - the federal government, consumer advocates, and lighting industry professionals? Manufacturers must produce proven, cost efficient home lighting alternatives, and our leaders should hold them responsible to do so. It's time to help millions of citizens protect their lives and castles. Please repeal the ban of the incandescent lamp.

Further Reference Material:
Mercury? Thermometers No! Light Bulbs Yes!



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