Clean & Green

No CFLs, Thank You!

CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs) have been a big disappointment to me. I bought one when they first came out, and although you did get some light when you first turned them on, it took about 30 seconds before the bulb reached its full brightness. About two years ago the technology had advanced so that you didn’t have to wait to achieve full brightness, so I decided to replace all of our 60 watt incandescent bulbs with CFLs, and a dozen of the recessed lighting flood lamps. Fortunately I didn’t throw out the old bulbs.

The CFL packages had said (in very large letters) “Uses 75% Less Energy” and “Lasts 10X Longer”, so I didn’t mind paying $4 or $5 per bulb (and much more for the CFL flood lights). As of today, about half of the CFLs (both types) have burned out on us, and I’ve replaced them with the old incandescent bulbs that I had saved. In my opinion, the CFLs didn’t even last as long as incandescent bulbs would have lasted. In addition to having dead CFLs, I worried about how to dispose of them (because of their small amount of mercury content). The bottom line is that it will be a long time before I buy another CFL again.

I don’t know why my CFLs didn’t last. Maybe they were poorly made (although I did use 2 different brands). Maybe our neighborhood has a lot of voltage spikes or brownouts (but nothing else seems to have been affected). Makes you wonder: was the claim of lasting 10 times longer was based on a test of some carefully-made CFLs that had been illuminated under a regulated constant voltage?

Don’t get me wrong- I’m a big supporter of saving energy, and we’ve made a lot of changes that were very effective (additional attic insulation, a new high-efficiency HVAC unit, and induction counter top). Our 2012 electric and natural gas bills show that we’ve significantly reduced our kWh and therms. However, to me the CFLs aren’t ready for prime time, and I won’t be throwing any more good money after bad. Light-emitting diode (LED) technology is very exciting, and that may be the way of the future. The LED light bulbs are very expensive right now, but I’m sure they’ll come down in price. After all, you already can buy some very bright LED flashlights for less than $5.

That’s how I feel. If your experience with CFLs has been different, please let us know.


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Insulating Your House? Don’t Miss NJ’s 2011 Incentive Program

If you were planning to insulate your house better, or planning to replace your furnace, boiler, HVAC or hot water heater, the state of New Jersey is prepared to partially subsidize the cost with you. It’s called the New Jersey Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program (HPwES), and it’s designed to help you take steps that will reduce your energy consumption (either natural gas or electricity). They’ll pay some of the cost, and you’ll reduce your utility bills for as long as you have the house. There are some specific procedures you’ll have to follow, but there’s and important deadline coming up; in order for you to qualify, you must start the project by December 31, 2011.

I took advantage of a similar program last year, and have been very happy with the resulting decrease in both my heating and air conditioning costs. Here’s how the program works in a nutshell: you have a home assessment (audit) performed by a certified contractor (there’s a list of contractors who qualify).  The contractor recommends steps you can take to lower your energy costs, and projects what percentage of your electric/natural gas bill will be reduced (the state calls this your total energy savings, or TES). The contractor may give you several options: if you do X you’ll save 10%, if you do Y you’ll save 25%, etc.

What I did in my house was to add additional insulation blown into my attic, insulate my basement rim joists (where the concrete of the foundation meets the wood of the house), seal all exposed ducts and replace my 30 year old boiler (70% efficient) with one that is much more efficient (96%). The contractor I used had estimated an energy reduction of at least 25%, and I monitor it to track my savings. My portion of the cost of the project will be paid in just a few years by my energy savings, and after that I’ll still be saving energy every month.

The 2011 incentive program works like this:

  1. You have a whole-house home assessment performed by the certified contractor. It’s fun to watch them do this, because part of the assessment involves putting a special fan at the front door, sealing the area around it with plastic, and measuring the amount of air that’s exhausted when the fan is on. The more air that flows, the greater the number of air leaks you have.
  2. If the contractor calculates a total energy savings (TES) of at least 20% and less than 25%, you’ll get a $1,000 rebate plus an additional $500 “fall discount” (the total rebate can’t exceed 50% of the total cost of the project.
  3. If the contractor calculates a total energy savings (TES) of at least 10% and less than 20%, you’ll get a $3,000 rebate plus an additional $750 “fall discount” (the total rebate can’t exceed 50% of the total cost of the project.
  4. If the contractor calculates a total energy savings (TES) of at least 25% or greater, you’ll get a $4,000 rebate plus an additional $1,000 “fall discount” (the total rebate can’t exceed 50% of the total cost of the project.
  5. You may be eligible for a zero (0) % interest loan or repayment plan up to $10,000.

To me this is a “no brainer”. You’ll have to pay for the initial home assessment (talk to the contractor about eliminating this charge if you agree to one of his recommendations) but with up to 50% of the cost being paid to you and a 0% interest loan, how can you lose?

It does take the state some time to process the necessary paperwork, and your contractor MUST enroll you in the program by December 31st, so don’t procrastinate. The state is willing to subsidize a project that will save you energy year after year, but don’t assume that a similar incentive will be available in 2012. With tight budgets at every level of government, the state might modify or eliminate this program. Here’s the web link that describes the program:

Please consider taking advantage of this program. You’ll be helping the environment and saving money at the same time.

Len Dunikoski

Light When You Need It

Most people in our area are environmentally conscious, and do their part in reducing the waste that we throw out into the trash. One way to do this is to use rechargeable batteries instead of buying new ones and throwing out the used ones.  A few years ago I bought a package of two plug-in power outrage LED lights at Costco. The product is the Durofix 435, and it’s pictured above. I’ve had several plug-in emergency lights in the past, but none of them provided  very much light when you needed it, and the plug-in flashlight that I had last gradually wore down to the point where it produced very little light when you needed it.

I’m glad to report that this little device works like a charm- it gives you a REALLY bright light! You can unplug it from the power receptacle at any time and use it as a flashlight or a work light. If the house power ever does go down, it comes on automatically. You can have all 24 LED lights on (the default setting), or you can set it for half that many if you need less light or if you want the charge to last longer. These little devices were great to have in the aftermath of hurricane/tropical storm Irene. Each one is bright enough to light up a decent sized room.  Our power was only down for about 22 hours and we only used the Durofixes for a total of about 8 hours, so I can’t say how many total hours they’ll stay on without discharging all of their power. If you went to a store the day before Irene hit, you know that batteries and flashlights were completely gone. You might want to invest in a little plug-in like this so you won’t have to worry the next time the power goes out. Can anyone recommend another power outage light that is as good as or better than this one?

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