This article was originally published in the March/April 1999 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online March/April 1999

Customers Turn Out 
for Torchiere Trade-In

By Chris Calwell

Chris Calwell is head of Ecos Consulting and lives in Durango, Colorado. He has been working on the halogen torchiere issue since 1994, and devotes much of his time to the development of an online information resource and catalog for Energy Star torchieres at

A trade-in event at which customers could swap their old halogen torchieres for new CFL ones turned out to be a great promotional opportunity--and provided interesting data on halogen torchiere use.

Figure 1. This graph shows the power consumption of 813 torchieres, of which 569 were in working condition. The 500-plus torchieres that had 300W lamps actually used anywhere from 265 to 335 watts.
Figure 2. The majority of respondents use their torchieres in the living room.
The participation of the local fire department was critical to the success of the Milwaukee event. Here, a firefighter demonstrates how rapidly a halogen torchiere can cause a towel to burst into flames.
More than 813 halogen torchieres were recycled at the event.
Fire hazard was a big reason that consumers traded in their halogen torchieres for CFL ones. The author examines a halogen torchiere that was returned. Note the charring from a fire.

Successful Repeat in Sacramento

Ecos Consulting conducted another turn-in event in Sacramento, California, on November 14, 1998. The media response was again very strong, but the weather was far less cooperative. Nevertheless, customers arrived more than two hours early for the event; at its peak, the line of people and cars was more than two hours long.

Energy Star torchieres were available for $15 to people who turned in halogen torchieres and for $20 to those who did not. About 3,000 people showed up for the event. They purchased 1,500 Energy Star torchieres in four hours, and recycled approximately 2,500 halogen torchieres. 

The message from this event was clear: Customers are willing to pay as much or more for Energy Star units than they paid for halogens. Energy Star can sell, not just on price, but on value--with greater safety, larger energy savings, and longer bulb life all contributing to that message.

Residents of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, flocked to a local fairground on October 24, 1998, for an opportunity to trade in their old, unsafe torchieres and purchase new compact fluorescent (CFL) models that meet the standards of the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program (Energy Star includes specifications for energy efficiency, lighting quality, safety, and reliability). In the first 90 minutes, all 690 Energy Star torchieres manufactured by Lights of America (LOA) and distributed by Home Depot had been sold--a remarkable one every eight seconds.

The customers who purchased them recycled approximately 225 halogen torchieres, which means that most customers purchased more fixtures than they returned. In total (including those returned by customers who didn't buy replacements), approximately 813 halogen torchieres were measured and recycled, filling a large industrial dumpster to the brim. Each torchiere included about 15 to 20 pounds of recyclable steel. About 1,100 potential customers had to leave without a new torchiere after all the stock was sold out. Halogen torchieres typically sell for $12 to $20. Our Energy Star units sold for $10; they would normally sell for $30.

Portland Energy Conservation Incorporated, Pacific Rim Resources, and my company, Ecos Consulting, put on this event as part of our third-party Energy Star Light Fixture program on behalf of Wisconsin Electric Power Company. Our goal was to promote the new CFL torchieres and remind consumers of the safety problems associated with halogen torchieres. To demonstrate these problems, firefighters at the event placed a cotton towel over the top of an older model that had no safety cage or thermal cutoff switch. The towel began smoking after 5 seconds and burst into flames after 75 seconds. The operating temperature of the halogen fixtures was measured at 700°F-800°F, while that of the Energy Star alternatives was only 100°F-200°F.

Our promotion of the event proved wildly successful (see Turning on the Media Switch). Kickoff time was 9 am, but the line of people waiting to trade in their old torchieres began forming at 7:30 AM. That line grew steadily longer throughout the morning, with as many as 40 to 50 people waiting at any one time.

Rejects Yield Research Data The torchieres that were turned in for recycling were examined for research purposes. Data analysis of these units revealed the following key results. Of the 813 torchieres recycled, 569 (70%) were in operating condition. The remainder were divided approximately evenly between units without bulbs (which in many cases had been removed that day by the owners), and units with bulbs that failed to operate due either to a wiring problem or to bulb failure. The average power use at full brightness of all the operating torchieres was 304 watts. The sample was distributed remarkably evenly around 300 watts (see Figure 1).

More than 500 of the torchieres were nominally 300 watts, but with actual power use randomly distributed between 265 and 335 watts. This wattage distribution is probably due to wide tolerances in the bulbs and the circuits that power them. Given that torchiere-style halogen bulbs are commercially available at power ratings of 100, 150, 200, 225, 300, 350, 500, and 600 watts, it is not surprising that a wide range of power consumption levels was observed.

Safety Falls Short We also gathered information about various safety aspects of the recycled torchieres. Only about 9% of these units were fitted with metal safety cages, which have been required by UL since early 1997, and are available for free retrofit at major retailers. On the other hand, about 90% of the units had tempered glass covers in place over the halogen bulbs. These covers serve two vital safety purposes: screening out some of the ultraviolet light output from the halogen bulbs, and helping to trap fragments that might otherwise scatter into the room when a bulb fails catastrophically.

We also took note of the labeling on the fixtures regarding maximum allowable wattage of bulbs. About 10% of the fixtures were originally shipped with 500W bulbs and were labeled for use with a bulb of no more than that wattage. Another 88% of the fixtures were rated for use with a bulb of no more than 300 watts. The remaining 2% of fixtures no longer contained any visible label. Eleven of the fixtures labeled for a maximum of 300 watts contained bulbs that used at least 400 watts; actual figures ranged from 407 to 537 watts. All of these fixtures appeared to violate UL safety guidelines, which only certify halogen torchiere fixtures of 300 watts or less.

Conversely, 24 of the fixtures labeled for a maximum of 500 watts were using bulbs with a nominal wattage of 300. This indicates that a large number of people replaced their original 500W bulbs upon burnout with lower-wattage alternatives.

Torchiere Usage Info The results from survey cards filled out by customers tell an intriguing story about these people's characteristics and their motivations. We collected 187 survey cards, representing 380 torchieres purchased (55% of the total number sold that day). Each person surveyed purchased an average of 2 new Energy Star units, recycled an average of 1.25 halogen units, and retained an average of 0.4 halogen units.

The people who filled out the survey cards reported using their torchieres an average of 3.9 hours per day. Seventy-four percent of respondents used their torchieres in the living room; 44% used them in bedrooms; 25% used them in offices; and 8% used them in the dining room (multiple answers were allowed). These results are shown in Figure 2.

What motivated the respondents to recycle their old halogen torchieres and purchase new Energy Star units? Many indicated that more than one factor
was responsible.

Customer Concerns The two most frequent concerns that customers expressed about the Energy Star units for sale at the event concerned their brightness and their stability. Customers wanted to know whether the products would be as bright as the halogens they were replacing. Our informal tests demonstrate that this depends heavily on the light output of the particular halogen torchiere they have used and somewhat on the type of Energy Star unit they purchase as well.

Some other customers noted that the bases of the Energy Star units were substantially lighter than those of the halogens. They thought this might make the Energy Star lights less stable on carpeted or uneven surfaces. In fact, four or five customers insisted on removing the original bases from their halogen torchieres before recycling the fixtures for the express purpose of threading the heavier bases onto their Energy Star fixtures. In addition, a few of the customers were disappointed that their only color choices were white and black, but they were encouraged to see samples of other models and styles from an array of manufacturers that would reach retailers in 1999.

Many customers said that they had already decided to unplug their torchieres; they were delighted to have a chance to recycle something they viewed as waste. A satisfying number expressed dissatisfaction with the bulb life and general product quality of their halogen torchieres, and were encouraged to hear that the Energy Star units would operate far longer between bulb changes.

Many customers appeared confused about the distinction between Energy Star fixtures and replacement compact fluorescent bulbs. They were hoping that a compact fluorescent could simply be retrofitted into their existing halogen torchiere, and were thus mildly disappointed when they learned that they needed to recycle the entire fixture and start over.

Customers also expressed some confusion about the price of the units offered at the event, as compared to the usual retail price. Discussions with customers revealed that it would be clearer in future events to offer the best possible price to those who had recycled one or more halogens first. At our subsequent event (see Successful Repeat in Sacramento), we sold the Energy Star torchieres for $15 to those who recycled a halogen, and $20 to those who didn't.

Subsequent Developments Based on the number of rain checks issued and the average number of units purchased by each customer, we believe that 2,000 to 3,000 Energy Star units could have been sold, if available, and that more than 1,000 halogens recycled that day. Many late arrivals were reluctant to recycle their halogens until they could be certain of having Energy Star units in hand to replace them. Ecos plans to conduct many more turn-in events in 1999 in California, the Pacific Northwest, and Wisconsin, where many more Energy Star units will be available.

Turning On the Media Switch

Our turn-in event shows one way to generate media attention for the best possible turnout. Pacific Rim Resources handled most of the media work in advance; they also retained local staff to assist with the logistics of the event itself. Briefing packets were sent to local TV, radio, and print media outlets to generate interest in a televised press event, which was held several days in advance of the actual turn-in. Three camera crews showed up to capture footage of local firefighters demonstrating the fire safety risk posed by halogen torchieres. Local newspapers were also contacted.

The turn-in event was scheduled for a Saturday. From Wednesday on, there was a steady stream of media announcements. Brief stories ran on three of the four major local television stations on Wednesday evening. Newspaper ads ran from Wednesday through Saturday morning. These ads gave the number of a toll-free hot line that people could call for more information. The hot line received hundreds of calls before and during the event. Local radio stations ran recorded advertisements and public service announcements, and offered torchieres as phone-in giveaways. 

The turn-in event was held in an open space at the State Fair Park, adjacent to a very heavily traveled portion of Interstate 94. The park's electronic billboard featured regular, rotating announcements of the event in order to reach passing motorists. On Friday, banners were also posted in visible locations near the turn-in site. 

As customers moved along the line, they passed a tent displaying the new Energy Star units, and then passed a tent in which display boards and brochures described the advantages of Energy Star torchieres over halogens. Customers returning halogens went next to the measuring station. Then they moved on to the cashiers' station to make purchases and fill out survey cards.

No customers went away empty-handed. After the torchieres were sold out, customers collected rain checks, store lists, and Energy Star program brochures from staff until 4 PM. By midday, Home Depot's local and regional managers had become aware of the phenomenon that was occurring at the park, and they brought four additional staff members, in Home Depot uniform, to help answer customer inquiries. 

Three of the four local television stations sent camera crews to film the event, and a live radio feed was also on hand. Two of the returned torchieres bore obvious evidence of fire damage (melted plastic and charring), and one of the TV crews was able to interview the woman who returned one of them. We gave brief TV interviews to each of the camera crews as well.

As part of our survey, we asked how people heard about the event. Nearly 76% saw our advertisements in the newspaper, 23% saw TV coverage, 19% heard radio coverage, and nobody reported having seen the electronic billboard announcement adjacent to the freeway (again, multiple answers were allowed).

Home Depot management was so impressed with the event that they placed an order for approximately 8,000 additional torchieres from LOA. The first 3,500 were sold as a part of efficient-lighting events held on November 13 and 14 at two of Home Depot's three Milwaukee stores. These events included special promotion of other Energy Star fixtures and efficient screw-based bulbs. 

Home Depot also responded affirmatively to our suggestion that it continue the turn-in events at its own facilities, and that it publicize the recycling option through local media channels. We are currently assisting in that media effort. A second Home Depot lighting promotion took place in early December, when more products arrived from LOA. Home Depot said it would be willing to stock a variety of Energy Star fixtures from several manufacturers if its November sales are strong. 

At least two local lighting specialty stores with whom I met also expressed interest in stocking higher-end torchieres, especially if they could offer choices, styles, and colors not already found in the mass market home centers.

This issue clearly struck a chord with residents of the Milwaukee area. The fact that it did so gives us new confidence that a torchiere turn-in event may be one of the best ways to establish consumer interest in Energy Star lighting. 



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