This article was originally published in the November/December 1994 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online November/December 1994


How to Keep 'Em Down Home in the Socket


Simply putting a compact fluorescent lamp into a fixture where an incandescent once was does not make a successful retrofit. High retention rates, crucial to CFL retrofit programs, start with the auditor or installer.

by Bruce Manclark

Bruce Manclark heads Delta-T, a research organization in Eugene, Oregon.


Compact fluorescent lighting technology has changed radically in the past three years. The lights have gotten smaller, the light quality has improved, and the variety of sizes and shapes has increased. Five years ago, I was happy just to fit compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) into existing residential fixtures, and I carried a fishing tackle box full of a large assortment of lighting parts to make my job possible. The smaller, brighter CFLs of today, however, have made most of the adaptive hardware unnecessary.

Physically, it is now possible to place CFLs in almost all of the standard-base fixtures in a house. Past problems caused by lamp harps which were too small, or undersized diffusers, have been all but eliminated for the lighting retrofitter. Imagine being paid by the number of incandescent bulbs replaced. Thanks to the shrinking CFL, your paycheck has grown. The new lighting products do make our jobs as auditors and installers easier, but do they make it too easy?

To fit a CFL into a fixture where an incandescent once was does not by itself constitute a successful retrofit. The long-term success of any CFL retrofit program depends on whether the occupant enjoys the new CFL and keeps it in place for its service life (see Energy Fitness Inside View, HE Nov/Dec '92, p.5 and Conversions + Conversations = Conservation, HE Nov/Dec '92, p.13). Program evaluators frame occupant satisfaction in terms of resource persistence or resource decay. The more people who keep the CFLs in place, the higher the persistence rate and lower the decay rate. The ultimate cost of the resource is highly dependent upon these rates. A CFL that is removed one week after placement costs the utility the same as one that stays in place for 10,000 hours of run time.

Persistence rates and decay rates are important concepts to evaluators but to the person installing the CFL, the only question should be, Will this person be happy with this retrofit? If the installer can answer yes, then persistence rates will be high, management will be happy, and the lighting program may be continued next year.

Satisfying customers should be the goal of any successful enterprise. Lighting retrofit programs are no different. Ensuring customer satisfaction with CFLs involves understanding both lighting practices and customer relations. The lighting manufacturers have taken care of most of the really hard technical stuff. They provide us with such useful information as lumens and operating temperatures right on the box. Making customers happy, the softer side of a lighting program, is the hardest part for an auditor/installer to master. Involving the occupant in the retrofit process may be the single most important step in assuring high customer satisfaction.

Just because something is free doesn't mean you don't have to sell it. In many programs, the CFL is given free to the occupants. While this is great for the occupant and a good way to ensure high penetration rates, it is still important to convince people that your product is beneficial for them and overcome any obstacles (real or imagined) they may have to it.

Before they purchase a product, customers have to become at least partially convinced that the product is something they want or need. Simply screwing a CFL into a socket ignores this important part of the sale. The customer now has the product but lacks any feeling for why they needed or wanted it in the first place. It is a little like a free root canal; you wouldn't want it unless the dentist convinced you that you needed it.

By involving the occupants in the retrofit process, you educate them about CFLs and complete the sale. Consumer education is at least as important to the success of lighting programs as it is to weatherization. While CFLs are familiar to the average auditor/installer, they may seem strange and unusual to the average consumer. Describing the differences between CFLs and incandescents is critical. Explain about warmup time, so the owner/occupant won't make a decision about satisfaction in the first minute. Explain how long CFLs last (this will increase their perceived value).

Many people have negative feelings about fluorescent lighting in general. Complaints about flickering are often expressed. Take the time to tell them that the new electronic ballasts turn on and off at a rate in excess 10,000 times a second, so they won't notice the flicker often experienced with older, magnetically-ballasted fluorescents.

Finally, make sure they are aware that CFLs can save them money. On several occasions during the evaluation of projects, the occupants were unaware that the CFLs were intended to reduce their electrical consumption. All they knew was that the utility representative put them in for reasons they were not really sure about. The effective auditor/installer educates, overcomes objections, and makes the occupants feel that the CFLs just installed in their home can benefit them.

The Right CFL For the Job

While improvements in the soft side of lighting retrofits may yield higher customer satisfaction, understanding some of the technical issues is also important. Listed below are a few areas that are often overlooked by auditors/installers.

Customers use lighting for security, illumination of tasks, creating a certain look, or, here in the foggy, rainy Northwest, to add more light to a very dreary day. Knowing if a table lamp is used for reading or for security purposes is key to determining how many lumens will be needed to produce a good retrofit. Knowing the use is also an indirect way of asking how many hours a particular light is used each day. I have found it more useful to ask burn-time questions indirectly. Rather than asking, How many hours a day do you use this lamp? I would ask, When does this lamp get used? If the occupant answers, When I watch TV at night, I would follow up with the question, About how many hours per night do you watch TV? If you find out that a table lamp is left on all night for security purposes then you know that light gets used a lot. People are generally better at answering questions that probe what a lamp is used for than how long the lamp is used.

The amount of foot-candles needed is different for different people. The occupant is the ultimate judge of whether a particular retrofit is bright enough. Light meters are important tools to have on the job, but dissatisfied light meters don't remove CFLs. When it comes to lighting levels, occupant perception is everything.

As we grow older, the amount of light required to perform a task such as reading a newspaper increases dramatically (for most people starting at about age 40). The light level needed continues to increase at almost geometric rates. Senior citizens particularly need high levels for activities like reading. If an auditor/installer finds a lot of 150-watt lightbulbs in a house, there is probably a good reason. No single CFL currently available on the market that can match the output of a 150-watt lightbulb (although installing a socket doubler with two high-wattage CFLs will do in most circumstances). Attempting to replace a 150-watt incandescent with a 27-watt CFL will not work. The CFL will be removed quickly and the old 150-watt incandescent will be back in service.

The best retrofit may be one that actually increases the light level. This tends to impress people with CFLs and may make the task being illuminated easier to perform. Also, remember that all fluorescents tend to decrease their output as they age, so making one brighter to begin with may help keep the light levels above minimal acceptance during the last 2,000 hours of the CFL's service life.

It is tempting to try to maximize the drop in wattage while retrofitting. This may make the paper savings look good, but when the evaluators come and discover a high percentage of CFLs removed, the savings suddenly disappear.

CFL + Fixture = Usable Light

How light is distributed is a function of the interaction between the lamp and the fixture. It is easy to fall into the trap of just focusing on the CFL. While replacing a 75-watt bulb with a 27-watt CFL in a porch light may work well, trying the same exchange may prove unsatisfactory in a table lamp. Incandescent bulbs in a table lamp (especially ones equipped with shades that are not conical) produce high light levels directly beneath the shade. A CFL in the fixture will produce similar levels around the room, but not directly beneath the lamp. If the lamp is used to illuminate a task on a table, the occupant will be dissatisfied. Because an incandescent's filament is wider than the base, light is emitted directly downwards (towards the table). In most CFLs, the base is wider than the light-emitting tubes, resulting in significantly less direct down lighting.

More Tools in the Tool Bag

Manufacturers have responded to changes in the market by providing a wide variety of CFLs to choose from. No longer are we forced to fit a Philips SL18 into every socket. Installers/auditors should be equipped with a wide variety of styles and wattages. Having a wide selection is a good way of increasing both penetration and retention rates.

While the need for adaptive hardware has diminished with shrinking CFL size, there are still a few pieces that every retrofitter should carry. Below is a list of types of CFLs and pieces of adaptive hardware that should be in every retrofitter's tool box.

Circular Fluorescents. This old-style CFL works great in table lamps where downcasting is a necessity.

Reflective CFLs. CFLs that have their own reflectors can help maximize the wattage drop in recessed fixtures, such as can lights. By focusing the light emitted by the tubes, CFLs can easily replace incandescent bulbs 5 or 6 times the wattage. Osram Dulux 11-watt and 15-watt reflective lamps are wonderful for this application.

CFLs with Protective Shells. The Philips SL18 with its polycarbonate shell is great for bare bulb fixtures which may get bumped by broom handles or tall people.

CFLs with Low Temperature Ballasts. A lot of customers use outdoor lighting 8 hours a day, making it a good candidate for retrofitting. If you work in a northern climate, make sure the CFL is designed to start and operate in cold weather. The Philips SL18 is also a good candidate for the outdoors.

Socket Extenders. These little devices are nothing more than screw-on extenders that add about an inch to an inch-and-a-half onto the base of the CFL, thus allowing the retrofitter to place CFLs into fixtures not designed for the extra width of most CFL ballasts.

Socket Doublers. Replacing a 150-watt lightbulb in a table lamp can be done with a socket doubler (or y) and two 23-27-watt CFLs if there is room under the shade. Because the CFLs are at an angle, there is also direct downcasting. This may sound extreme and expensive, but is it very easy and the cost per delta-watt is the same as changing from a 75-watt incandescent to a 23-27-watt CFL.

Whether the discussion is about retention rates, rates of decay, or persistence, the critical issue is customer acceptance. Assuring customer acceptance is partly technical, but is also a matter of involving the occupants in the retrofit process. Education and just the right amount of sales talk will assure that the resident has bought your product.




Related Articles

Bright Prospects for Lighting Retrofits (Hasterok)
Energy-Efficient Lighting for the Home (Byrne)
Fixing the Fixtures (Siminovitch and Mills)
Lighting Makeovers: The Best is Not Always the Brightest (Conway)
Putting Energy-Efficient Lighting in Its Place (Polsby)
Remodeling Bathrooms: Let the Energy Savings Flow (Johnston)
Remodeling Kitchens: A Smorgasbord of Energy Savings (Sullivan)
Steps to Successful Lighting Programs (Fernstrom)
Training Guide for 'Total Comfort' Professionals
Understanding Power Quality (De Almeida)
What to Do when the Lights Go Out (Polsby)
Whatever Happened to the E-Lamp? (Atkinson)

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