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calendar   Monday - August 30, 2010

Great Minds Think A Light?

While Peiper was starting his hoard of 75W incandescent bulbs, I was researching fluorescent upgrades. My state - yours too perhaps - has a rebate to businesses if they upgrade their old style tube lights to the newer high efficiency designs.

You can look up New Jersey’s Smart Start program, and you’ll see that the state will pay $10 per fixture to retrofit the modern gear. Gee, $10. Wow. But if you run a business, and have 300 fixtures in your office, that starts to add up quickly. Especially when it only costs you $20 plus labor to do the retrofit, and the actual labor only takes 15 minutes. High tech bulbs extra of course. But make the changeover and you can save more than 40% on your lighting bill. And that really adds up.

Most businesses, office and retail, have those 4 1 1/2” diameter 48” 40 watt bulb fluorescent fixtures in the dropped ceiling panels. Fluorescent lights run on high voltage, so they require a device called a ballast to raise the voltage. Ballasts last just about forever, and the bulbs are generally good for 5 years in theory. The old style ballasts are of the “magnetic” style which means they have lead heavy transformers inside. Used with the standard F40CW bulbs they throw that icky green, nearly seasick light in the 4100K color temperature range, with a terrible CRI (color rendering index) of 50-65. Which means everything looks awful under standard fluorescent light.

Some years back the light bulb companies came out with 32 and 34 watt “energy saver” bulbs for these fixtures, which helped companies save some money. Maybe. It turns out that the magnetic ballasts tend to overdrive these bulbs, so their lifespan is shortened some. And almost nothing is more “generic” than a 48” T12 bulb, which means people buy them based on price, and ignore the color temperature, the lifespan, and even the output lumens of the bulbs. Which allows a lot of cheap, dim, short life bulbs to be sold for a “great price”; you can get them as cheap as $1, although a decent bulb will usually cost $2.50.

These days ballasts are “electronic”. Instead of being the size and weight of a brick, today’s ballasts are thin and light. And today’s bulb is the slimmed down T8, which gives off just as much light as the old T12. But wait, there’s more! A modern electronic ballast only costs a couple dollars more than the old magnetic ones. And there are now very high efficiency T8 bulbs for sale that outlast the old F40CW by 2 to 1. And you can get them in a variety of color temperatures, right up to 5000K to 6500K, with CRIs of 80 to 90. That means the bulbs produce a very white light like daylight, and they don’t mess with colors much at all. Put together new ballasts and new bulbs in your old fixture, and you can save 30 - 45 percent on your office lighting bill. That adds up real fast.

One of the nicer ballasts is the Sylvania Quicktronic QTP4X32T8/UNV ISN-SC. At $19.49 it’s an instant start model, with a reasonably high 0.88 ballast factor, <10% THD, Class A EMI, and Class A sound. This means that it doesn't make noise, it doesn't give off radio waves that mess with your computer or radio, and it doesn't muddy up the electricity. Name brand company, American made product. Used along with 4 of Sylvania's Octron ECOLOGIC 800 XP 32 Watt 5000K bulbs, just under $5 each, you will get a brighter, whiter light with great color rendition, and a bulb that lasts twice as long, and use 36% less electricity. Use their 28 watt Octron bulb and save 45% on your electric bill, get the same amount of light you were getting using those 34w energy saver bulbs, the same double length bulb life, though it doesn't render colors quite as well as the 32w bulb.

Philips makes a similar bulb called the Alto II, that gives similar lumen, CRI, and energy saving performance, but doesn't last quite as long, for slightly less cost. Both bulbs are available in color temperatures from the warm incandescent yellow (3000K) to the bright white (5000K). I like the bright white. I have one of those OttLite reading lamps, and that's nearly where it runs at.

Oh, and 3 other really nice things about the latest generation of T8 bulbs:
a) they have very very little mercury inside, so little that many areas don't consider them toxic waste, and
b) the bulbs don't dim out over time. The old style F40 T12 bulbs would start out nice and bright, but dim down to 80% after just a couple weeks, then ride out their lives at about 60% light output, even though they were using just as much electricity as when new. These modern T8 bulbs maintain 95% of their light output from day 1 until they burn out. So you get a lot more light/time for your lightbulb dollar.
c) they fit in the same sockets as your old T12 bulbs, but since the bulb is only 2/3 as thick, getting bulbs in and out is much easier.

At a typical 4000 hour business year, with the lights turned on and off once a day, when electricity costs you 15¢ per kilowatt hour, retrofitting to the modern ballast and high tech bulb will save you about $40 per year in a standard 4 bulb fixture, which means the ROI on your parts cost is just about 1 year. Add in whatever rebate your state might be giving, subtract off the installation labor, and the ROI is about 2 years. That's not bad at all, because you've got another 8 years life left on those bulbs, and your people will be enjoying a nicer quality of light the whole time.

Other companies like Advance and Keystone make similar ballasts at similar prices. To get the most light from your bulbs, look for ballast that have a ballast factor of .85 of better. Low factor ballasts with a .70 - .75 ballast factor will save you even more money, but at the expense of luminosity. Which means they run the bulbs softly, and they don't make as much light.

image

graphics courtesy of Sylvania


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 08/30/2010 at 02:36 PM   
Filed Under: • work and the workplace •  
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