Shedding some light on eco-friendly bulbs
Jake Wallis Simons untangles the mystery of the modern light bulb
The simple act of buying a light bulb has become unimaginably stressful. Before European regulations were introduced, the only challenge was remembering whether the fittings were bayonet or screw-in. These days, however, we are faced with a bewildering array of white curly things that take ages to warm up and give our homes all the cosiness of a morgue. Just deciphering the terminology – Energy Saving, Energy Efficient, Warm White, White – is almost impossible, as it has not yet been standardised across brands.
According to Lucy Martin, design director at the specialist lighting company John Cullen, there are many good, eco-friendly bulbs that people are simply unaware of. The key, she says, is learning what options are available and how to use them.
But first a word about the traditional, incandescent light bulb. Wasn’t it a thing of beauty? The light was golden and welcoming at 100 watts, and bronzed and intimate in the dimmer ranges. However, 90 per cent of its energy was wasted through heat leakage. So the main challenge facing modern manufacturers is to match the light quality of the incandescent bulb by using greener technologies.
Which is where those curly fluorescent things come in. These bulbs, which last much longer and provide better value for money, can generate the same amount of light as the old bulbs while using at least 45 per cent less energy. The problem is the quality of that light: deathly white at the brighter end of the spectrum, ashen grey at the dimmer end. And there are more sinister implications, too. Fluorescent bulbs contain traces of toxic mercury, so unless they are recycled by a specialist, this is released into the ground and eventually into the water supply. According to Lucy, they should only be used in utility rooms.
Luckily, there are better options. The first – and nicest – is an Energy Saving (as opposed to Energy Efficient), infrared-coated halogen bulb. It looks almost identical to the old incandescent bulb, responds well to a dimmer, and emits almost as good quality of light. The technical difference is on the inside. Rather than a coil of filament, it has a small, transparent lozenge.
“The invisible coating of infrared helps to retain the heat,” says Lucy. “It is also filled with Xenon, an inert gas, which makes it more efficient.” This allows energy savings of around 30 per cent. The best, in her opinion, is made by Osram and is known as the ES Classic A (Classic B is the candle version, and Classic P is the shape of a golf ball). These can be recycled normally, and are available on the high street at around £1.80 (ryness.co.uk).
The final alternative is LED. It is extraordinarily efficient, with a single watt of power producing a very bright light. And as the luminescence is emitted by tiny chips rather than bulbs, they can be inserted almost anywhere (see example above). John Cullen has just launched a new LED spotlight called Polestar 4, which offers 90 per cent of the light quality of a regular spotlight while using a fraction of the energy.
Usefully, LEDs now also come in the form of bulbs. Well, sort of. The Phillips MyAmbiance LED Bulb, which is currently only available in a 12 watt version (but emits 60 watts worth of light), looks more like a racing car gearstick than a light bulb. But it gives a nice, warm glow, so long as you don’t use a dimmer. It may cost £54.99 but it will last a lifetime, is extremely energy efficient, and is easy on the electricity bill (philips.co.uk).
Finally, a secret. Current building regulations state that 25 per cent of your home lighting can still be energy inefficient. So, according to Lucy Martin, when you want the very best light – to draw attention to fine artworks, for instance – a little bit of “naughty lighting” wouldn’t do anyone any harm.
John Cullen Lighting runs masterclasses on energy efficient lighting at their Chelsea showroom (johncullen.co.uk)
Article excerpted from www.telegraph.co.uk