Pros and cons of exposed-filament vintage light bulbs

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Pros and cons of exposed-filament vintage light bulbs
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Pros and cons of exposed-filament vintage light bulbs

Vintage bulbs have emerged as one of the--quite literally--hottest design trends in recent years, appearing in trendy Upper West Side restaurants and the shelves of popular home retailers, as the New York Times reported. In essence, they are exposed-filament light bulbs that mimic Thomas Edison's first forays into the world of electric bulbs. Uncoated, these bulbs feature the glowing filament and contact wires. Though they've been available for decades, consumers are now rushing to purchase these bulbs at top prices for their home. But is there a dark side to this light bulb trend?

What makes exposed-filament light bulbs so popular?

  • Safe near valuables. The mercury contained in compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs is a health hazard. The Environmental Working Group warns not to use them "where mercury exposure is unacceptable or cleanup is difficult … near irreplaceable rugs and furniture." This problem does not exist for incandescent bulbs.
  • Colors appear accurately. The color rendering index (CRI) details whether a color appears natural in the light of the bulb. Sunlight and exposed-filament light bulbs rate at a 100, which is the top of the scale. As noted by EnergyStar, LEDs are at the bottom of the list with a CRI rating of 65 to 90. CFLs come in with a rating between 80 and 90.
  • Take on/off cycling in a stride. The main competitor of the incandescent bulb, the CFL, does not take kindly to on/off cycling. Whereas the long life of the bulbs is an initial draw, this kind of use can significantly shorten their useful lives when "they are cycled several times a day," says Tom Alte from the Illinois State University Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter.
  • Accent classic light fixtures. An exposed-filament light bulb harmonizes with an aged, rustic, or antique lamp. It accents the lamp's features and highlights the beauty of the lines while recalling the way the lamp looked when first put into use. Try duplicating this effect with a squiggly CFL bulb.

The downsides of the lighting fad

  • Short lifespan. Edison light bulbs must be replaced rather quickly. Calculations made by EnergyStar researchers outline that the life expectancy of an incandescent bulb ranges from 750 hours for a 100-watt bulb to 1,500 hours for a 25-watt bulb. Compare this to a CFL bulb, which features a useful life of between 6,000 and 10,000 hours.
  • Vibration intolerant. Cleveland State University researchers note that use of the incandescent light bulbs in a high-vibration environment leads to quick failure.
  • Expensive. Be prepared to spend $10 to $20 per light bulb. If you read the fine print of the sales agreement, you may note that retailers do not accept returns due to the fragile nature of the bulb glass and the carbon filaments. Should a bulb break prior to arriving, you might just have to pay up to another $20 for a replacement.
  • Hot and wasteful. Experts at Consumer Reports note that less than 10 percent of energy used by an incandescent bulb actually goes toward light production; the rest turns into heat. In addition to being energy hogs, having multiple exposed-filament light bulbs in your home could significantly increase its temperature.

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