When all is said and done, it may be the comic book illustrators and cartoon artists who feel the greatest effects of the current changing of the guard in the lighting industry. For so long, the familiar image of the light bulb shining in all its soft-white, 60W glory above the head of a character has been the go-to cliché to signify a brilliant idea or epiphany. Only the exclamation “eureka!” floating nearby in a word bubble is less trite. But that could all change now that the manufacturers of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), the latest link in the light bulb's evolutionary chain, have taken the look of the traditional incandescent lamp and cut it up like a paper doll. Now corkscrews and short, stubby tubes have replaced the rounded profile that had come to symbolize everything from intelligence to invention.
To be fair, the light bulb was due for a facelift. The tried-and-true style we've come accustomed to screwing into tabletop lamps and lighting fixtures hasn't changed much since its invention in the late 1800s. But unlike the seemingly constant redesigns to cars and the home computer, this update to the light bulb is actually less sleek and aerodynamic than its predecessor. In this increasingly image-conscious society, this is one instance where form can truly follow function and be acceptable.
Despite their goofy appearance, on average, compact fluorescent lamps can last 10 times longer than a standard incandescent model, while using 75% less energy. Not only that, they give off a fraction of the heat that traditional lamps produce, which has the less tangible effect of lowering the cost to cool a room.
“So why all the fuss about the new look?” you might ask. “It's just a light bulb. If it's cheaper to operate and more efficient, that's all that should matter.” While that may be true, the simple fact is people don't like change. It's human nature to stick with something that we know and trust because it's comforting. Throwing an unknown into the mix — especially when it looks weird — can disrupt the comfort that comes with consistency.
Add to that the fact that CFLs cost substantially more than an incandescent lamp ($4 to $5 per lamp, as opposed to $1 for a four-pack), and they become that much harder to sell. “Life-cycle cost” isn't a phrase that many building owners are willing to accept these days.
But like it or not, that's the task you're faced with. The best you can do to prepare for the sell is educate yourself on the benefits of CFLs so you can prove to your customer that the choice isn't as difficult as they might think. And to that end, this month Staff Writer Amy Florence Fischbach presents the ten things you need to know about CFLs in “Compact Fluorescents Light the Way for Energy Efficiency” on page 28. All things being equal, who wouldn't want to spend less time dragging the ladder out of the maintenance closet to change light bulbs?
And who knows? Replacing that cliché image may not be that difficult for cartoon artists after all. When trying to represent a bright idea, they may just be able use the CFL's alter ego: the dollar sign.