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Page last updated at 10:50 GMT, Monday, 30 June 2008 11:50 UK

The bulb hoarders

Incandescent light bulbs

By Steve Tomkins

The government wants your old-fashioned energy-hungry incandescent tungsten light bulb gone, and gone soon. But some people are willing to go to great lengths to hang onto the lights they love.

Incandescent bulbs - that's the traditional kind to you or me - waste 95% of the energy they use, according to Greenpeace. They calculate that phasing them out in the UK will save more than five million tonnes in CO2 emissions a year.

And yet some households are so attached to them that they not only keep buying them - they're stockpiling them ahead of the day when they're no longer available.

The green ones might save you money and everything, but I just can't stand them
Bulb hoarder

In September last year, the UK government made a deal with major shops for the supply of traditional bulbs to be turned off. Some higher energy bulbs will be gone by January 2009, and all incandescent lights will be off by 2011.

The agreement is voluntary, but other countries have announced legal bans, including Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the US.

The brighter bulbs are already fading from view, according to Glen Gotten of the light merchant Ryness. "100w and 150w are difficult to get hold of," he says. "The larger manufacturers have stopped making them. We still manage to get enough to supply our customers for now, but they will start drying up."

The 150w, in particular, is seriously rare. They're gone from Tesco. Morrisons have already chosen to ditch them, with 100w to follow in the autumn and 60w next year.

Buzzing noise

Hence the stockpilers. "I'm stocking up now, before they're banned or get ridiculously expensive," says Bradley, an insurance broker from West Sussex. "The green ones might save you money and everything, but I just can't stand them."

"They don't look right," he explains. "They're not bright enough and they take an age to come on. That's not what you want from a light bulb. You want it to light up the whole room, just like that." He clicks his fingers.

Trafalgar Square at Christmas 2007
We like things to be lit up nicely

Jo, who works in the same office, agrees. "I did try the energy saving ones," she says, "but they're not the same. One of them made a buzzing noise, one of them kept going on and off. We gave up on them."

Are they not concerned about the environmental impact of incandescent bulbs? "I do my bit," says Bradley. "Recycling and all that. But at the end of the day, if they want us to use those bulbs they'll have to make them better."

"And anyway," he adds, "they've got mercury in, haven't they, these so-called green bulbs? What's that going to do to the environment?"

Government advice says that because of the mercury in low energy bulbs, if you break one you should leave the room for 15 minutes, clear up the pieces with rubber gloves, not with a vacuum cleaner, and take them in a sealed bag to your local council. The bulbs should not be thrown in normal waste.

Aesthetic issue

The Migraine Action Association has raised another health concern. The group reports that members have found that low energy bulbs seem to increase migraine attacks.

For most stockpilers though, the concerns seem to be more aesthetic than safety-conscious.

In a nutshell, many people prefer the warmer glow of an incandescent tungsten bulb to an eco-friendly compact fluorescent (CFL).

The time has come to move into the 21st Century
Ben Stewart

Jill Entwistle, editor of Light Magazine, says much work has been done to improve CFLs but that many people still prefer tungsten.

"There have been issues with compact fluorescents. They have improved a lot, a lot of investment has gone into reducing their size and improving the colour by experimentation with the phosphors that affects the colour temperature. They have managed to warm it up."

She is against the ban and believes incandescent bulbs have been chosen as an easy target. "It is a shame. This is simplistic thinking."

But there are those who assert that the work done on CFLs mean that most people cannot tell the difference.

The Energy Saving Trust did a spot the difference test in a shopping centre. Of 761 shoppers, 53% could not tell the difference between a traditional bulb and a CFL.

"They produce the same level of light. The latest CFLs radiate a very similar light spectrum," says Lyndsey Hubbard, editor of Total Lighting magazine. The dislike of CFLs may be a result of encounters with more primitive examples of them sticking in the mind.

Campaigners see the hoarding of bulbs in a dim light. "It's a bad idea," says Ben Stewart of Greenpeace. "They're not only bad for the climate but mean a bigger electricity bill. Incandescent light bulbs were invented in the 1880s and use 80% more electricity than energy saving ones. The time has come to move into the 21st Century."

There are certain people who will stick to their incandescent lights, whether it be film companies, or art galleries using the yet-to-be-restricted halogen type, and get their supplies through specialist sources.

But for the ordinary punter, the pursuit of the warm glow of the traditional tungsten incandescent will soon get a lot harder.

Send us your comments using the form below.

There is a factual error in the contribution from Tim Beechey-Newman, Reading. Each unit of electrical energy delivered to the consumer takes about four units of chemical or nuclear energy to generate it. Three units of energy are lost in the generation process and transmission.

Typically, central heating systems running on a fuel such as oil or gas use about one-and-a-half units of energy to generate one unit of useful heat for the consumer. Thus, when everything is taken into account, electricity is an inefficient way to provide heating. Indeed, this is reflected in the high cost of using electricity for heating. Energy-saving lamps, therefore, do exactly what is expected: they save energy.
Chris Latham (Physicist), England

I have a visual impairment (retinitis pigmentosa), which means I cannot see well at all in low light. The new bulbs leave it almost impossible for me to see well - I often stay in hotels and now many of them use these bulbs and I literally have to feel my way around the hotel room, whereas with the traditional bulbs I can still see reasonably clearly.
Chris Markiewicz, Barnet

Congratulations to anyone who can find 60 or 100W bulbs to hoard. I have been trying to replace my nice new CFLs because they take so long to get to full brightness that they are practically useless on my staircase. CFLs do have their place but there should NOT be a blanket ban until the technology is consistent across manufacturers. I am sick of being bullied by the green lobby, if I want to spend a few extra pence on having decent light on my staircase then I should be able to have that option.
Louise Allan, Wiltshire

There is a decided color difference between the two types of bulbs. I really don't like the CFLs, but I do like what's happened to my energy bill after I intalled them everywhere. I'm a smidge worried about the mercury, but so many other things are already polluting the air, water, food, what's the difference, really? I haven't heard of a place to recycle the lamps here in Denver, but I don't really need to worry about that for several more years until the bulbs start failing. Maybe I'll recycle them myself and open my own thermometer manufacturing company....
Thane, Denver, US

I will resist these energy bulbs for as long as possible firstly because I have just bought a beautiful light fitting that would look terrible with these bulbs and secondly because I suffer from migraine and do not wish to introduce something that could trigger an attack.
Alison, London

Something I didn't see mentioned in your article, is what about those of us with dimmers? I have one in each of the bedrooms; I don't always want full brightness, especially when I am getting up in the mornings or winding down for sleep. Why should I be made to remove these switches in order to use CFLs? I shouldn't is the answer. I am all for reducing our carbon footprint and all, but I already recycle, have a low emission car, and my commute is less than 5 miles, and I always shower, never bath. Why shouldn't I be able to retain my incandescent bulbs? It seems a small thing to ask.
Paw Bokenfohr, Bracknell, United Kingdom

Anyone who says they take ages to come on has no idea what they are talking about, Philips latest energy saving light bulbs only cost 49p and are on in a second, however there only downfall is at the moment they are not suitable for dimmer switches, which is a real shame
Callum, King's Lynn, Norfolk

The main reason I am hoarding them is that I object to the bullying attitude of governments over normal bulbs. I am quite willing to change when asked but I have always had an attitude problem with those who try to push people around without cause.
Jimmy R, Scotland

Low energy bulbs do not, in any case, save as much energy as claimed. This is because unlike conventional bulbs they produce very little heat. Therefore in a house using low energy bulbs the central heating system will have to work harder to make up the difference. Thus assuming one's central heating system is on for 6 months per year, the actual energy saving is only half what is claimed. Ask any physicist.
Tim Beechey-Newman, Reading

The so-called improved CFLs do not illuminate higher-ceilinged traditional domestic properties adequately. They do not suit traditional light fittings. They appear dim and have no equivalent to 150 & 200w bulbs which are necessary to illuminate older properties. The mercury content is of real concern in CFLs. We only use CFLs at home for cupboard lights as cosmetically, they are horrible - and don't light up the cupboard either. Much more development is required before the nanny state in this country imposes yet another restriction on its citizens.
David Walker, Stirling

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