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This article was originally published in the January/February 1997 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.

 

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Home Energy Magazine Online January/February 1997


TRENDS

Bright Prospects for CFL Torchieres

It seems that everywhere we look these days--homes, apartments, dormitories, offices--people are using halogen torchieres to light up their lives. And what's not to like? The fixtures sell for less than $20; provide a tremendous splash of high-quality indirect light; can be dimmed to create whatever mood we desire; and are available everywhere in a variety of styles, shapes, and colors. Plus it says right on the box what we in the business have always believed: Halogen lighting--energy efficient.

Unfortunately, America's 40 million-plus halogen torchieres are lighting up more than our lives. They're also lighting up our energy bills and various combustible materials around the home. At 300W-600W apiece, each halogen torchiere can easily account for $35-$75 worth of electricity bills each year. Nationwide, halogen torchiere energy use may be as high as 16 billion kWh.

Prototype energy-efficient torchieres have already proved themselves. As part of a whole-house lighting retrofit in Florida, Danny Parker replaced a fixture monitored at 475 watts with two of these home-made torchieres using 39-watt fluorescents. The residents are happier with the new lighting and are now saving about a kilowatt-hour per day.
And according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), halogen torchieres have caused dozens of fires in the United States. The problem is that their halogen bulbs have a surface temperature of 750°F-1,100°F -- far higher than the 390°F-560°F combustion temperatures of many common materials found around the home. The heat travels straight up from the open bowl of the torchiere, where it can ignite curtains, artificial plants, bedding from bunk beds, and other flammable materials. The CPSC has even documented 160 cases of the halogen bulbs bursting. In a few cases, the bulbs have scattered hot fragments of quartz around the room, igniting nearby combustibles.

Figure 1. Thermograph comparing a prototype CFL torchiere with a traditional halogen torchiere. Waste heat from a halogen torchiere, right, glows white. The CFL torchiere, left, releases just as much light, but far less heat.
Finally, even the perception that halogen torchieres are energy-efficient is misguided. According to testing at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, torchieres manage only 9.9 to 14.4 lumens per watt (Lm/W) at full brightness and between 1.7 and 3.2 Lm/W when dimmed to one-third power. Their efficiency at full power is no better than that of traditional incandescent sources. When dimmed, this modern-looking lamp is about as efficient as Thomas Edison's first prototype in 1879, about one thirtieth the efficacy of current fluorescent lamps. Not only are halogen torchieres less efficient than many other fixtures, but they are also overlighting many spaces, compounding the energy waste.

Fortunately, energy-efficient, safe alternatives are beginning to reach the marketplace. In autumn 1996, Energy Federation Incorporated received its first delivery of 200 fluorescent torchiere prototypes. Already earmarked for buildings at Harvard University and customers of Madison Gas & Electric, these Chinese-made torchieres utilize three quad lamps and ballasts to provide more light than a 300W halogen, using less than 100 W.

At the same time, Alsy Lighting and General Electric have launched a partnership to build torchieres based on GE's 2D lamp. A 38W 2D fixture utilizing a three-way switchable ballast was exhibited to lighting buyers at the High Point Furnishings show in October 1996. As of press time, a second product was to be introduced at year's end, which will use GE's new 55W 2D lamp to exceed the light output of a 300W torchiere. That product will likely offer three-way switching or dimming, which could be important to customers who enjoy the flexibility of traditional torchieres.

The efficient fixtures currently cost $40-$70, depending on configuration, manufacturer, and sales channel. This is higher than the $10-$30 price of halogen torchieres, but energy savings alone should make the efficient lights pay back in under a year. Extended lamp life is an extra selling point--2D and quad lamps are rated at 10,000 to 12,000 hours apiece, with ballasts lasting three to four lamp lives.

The alternative products may figure prominently in the upcoming roll-out of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Energy Star program for residential light fixtures. (Energy Star is a joint program managed by EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy to recognize voluntary efforts by manufacturers to improve the efficiency of their products.) Torchiere manufacturers are already scrambling to meet a February 1997 deadline from Underwriters Laboratories to make their products safer. Switching to a fluorescent light source could allow torchieres to easily meet that requirement, while also earning the Energy Star label. The label would give consumers a crystal-clear distinction between today's 300W ceiling heaters and the energy-efficient alternatives. Universities, with many halogen torchieres in their dormitories, are expected to be enthusiastic early buyers. For more information on the Energy Star program for residential light fixtures, contact EPA's Lena Nirk at (202)233-9841.
 

--Chris J. Calwell
Chris J. Calwell lives in Durango, Colorado, and works with Ecos Consulting Incorporated as an energy researcher, writer, photographer, and omelette cook. He serves on Home Energy's Board of Directors.

 


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