Saturday, March 17, 2012

Light Bulbs

When I was a lad, there were two kinds of light bulbs in our house – 100 Watt, and 60 Watt. They were all the same size, and all bayonet fitting, which were very easy to replace (I am speaking about the UK here). Now you might have found a few 40 W bulbs, and there was a choice of clear or frosted, but mostly it was just the two kinds. For really exotic people, you could find coloured bulbs, but that was pretty exceptional. I’m not talking about Christmas trees here.

As time passed, other bulbs came along, like fluorescent tubes, which were mainly used in kitchens (though of course also in offices etc.), so the number of choices crept up to 5 or 10 say, but still pretty limited.

Nowadays, things have improved – haven’t they? For a start, we no longer use those nasty incandescent bulbs, but low energy replacements, which come in lots of power and shape options, 8W, 11W, 15W, 20W and more. Double turn, triple turn sticks, golf balls, globals, spirals and more. And since many are made in China for global markets, many are no longer bayonet fitting, but screw fittings, which naturally come in two different sizes.

Then there are candle bulbs, in again, different power ratings, clear/frosted, bayonet, screw (2 types).

Oh, and of course halogen bulbs – they are great aren’t they? Some in cases, some just dinky little two pin bulbs that you are supposed to push into very small holes without touching the glass cover – this can be great fun, and take about ten minutes. Oh and there are high voltage and low voltage options, which naturally need transformers so that they can actually be used. But don’t they look nice? Sad they are not low energy though. My kitchen makeover replaced two 60W strip lights and a 100 W bulb with 10 50W downlighters – oh dear, that’s 500 Watts instead of a max 220 – whoops, there goes global warming. And because they get hot, they have to have little dinky fire blankets for health and safety. And they are quite expensive. But don’t they look nice?

But never mind, I found some low energy replacements, very expensive though, up to £10 per bulb for the good ones. And then they are much bigger, and don’t always fit in the same spaces. And they don’t actually give the same light, so not so much downlighters as sideways spreaders, and not so bright either. Of course you could try LED versions, but hey they give a sort of cool blue light that isn’t very friendly.

And I haven’t even started on mini strips, micro strips, spots, compacts, double ended. There is a web site offering light bulbs that proudly tells us that it has over 300, 000 products. That’s an awful lot more than the two I started with. (OK, I’m cheating here – a lot of these are specialist bulbs, but still).

My point is (there is a point, honest), that the plethora of choice now available is actually not an improvement. At some point along the way, things started getting worse rather than better. Households now have to stock an alarming number of different bulbs, and even then may not cover some cases. Some light fittings have bulbs that are virtually unique to that fitting, making replacements hard to find, and expensive (and not low energy). Standardisation does not exist. It almost makes you yearn for a totalitarian government which only allows for two kinds of bulbs (like the two kinds of Russian yogurt – yesterday’s yogurt, and the day before yesterday’s).

Modern production lines and computer stock control can allow this kind of massive variation, rather like the pre Cambrian explosion (in evolution). Doesn’t make it easy for the customer though.

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