Residential Lighting: Do you think living simply can make a difference?
Ed Begley Jr.: I think it already has. Take California, for instance. Since the early ’70s, per capita energy use in the nation has gone up considerably in every state but California, where we promote a lot of energy efficiency. We have four times the number of cars in L.A. since 1970, yet we have half the smog. So, I think we can do it.
RL: Is lighting important?
EB: Lighting is No. 1. It may not be sexy, but it’s a great entry-level move into energy conservation and saving money. I always advise people to buy the most energy-efficient light bulbs they can, and in so doing they’ll save some dough right away. In the late ’80s, I put in compact fluorescents in every single fixture in my home. I still have some bulbs from the early ’90s. They cost $16 back then, but they’re still burning.
RL: What’s the biggest hurdle to living green?
EB: The misconception that it’s going to cost a lot of money. It is part of a cultural problem. Everybody is interested in the short-run — what do I get today? It took me 20 years to afford solar electric and 15 years to afford a wind turbine. I did the cheap and easy first. I started with light bulbs. You get a payback in a few months, and it keeps paying money.
RL: Could lighting showrooms drum up more awareness?
EB: They probably could. There are now places like Light Bulbs Unlimited where people talk you through all the different bulbs. I’m so excited about LEDs. For now, they are expensive, but that’s not going to last forever. I think LEDs are the future.
RL: What about the mercury content in CFLs?
EB: To buy the bulb puts less mercury in the air than not buying them, because burning coal puts mercury in the air where you can’t recycle it. There is a miniscule amount of mercury in the bulb, much less than what is emitted from burning coal, which winds up in lakes, rivers and streams. The better choice for now is to buy CFLs — and buy LEDs when they get cheaper.
RL: Is forcing people to be green through legislation the way to go?
EB: The air in Los Angeles is the perfect example. The Clean Air Act proved to be good. Even with four times the amount of cars in L.A. there is half the smog. The Ohio River used to catch fire up by Cleveland, but with the Clean Water Act that doesn’t happen anymore. So, there have been some successes with legislation.
RL: What’s your new book about?
EB: It’s a more detailed book than my first. This book helps you get deeper into the technologies and problems and solutions. I discuss how to conserve, produce — such as power with a little wind turbine or solar panels — and manage. So, it’s conserve, produce and manage. And lighting plays a big part.
Ed Begley Jr. came to the attention of fans with the hit television series “St. Elsewhere,” which earned him six Emmy nominations. Since then, he has appeared in many television and theatre projects, including the series “Living with Ed” on Planet Green TV. His new book, “Ed Begley, Jr.’s Guide to Sustainable Living: Learning to Conserve Resources and Manage an Eco-Conscious Life,” was released last month. Check out an excerpt specific to lighting below.
A NEW CHOICE: CCFLS
So as you can tell, I love CFLs. I’m probably their biggest fan. But now there’s something even better: a CCFL, or cold cathode fluorescent lightbulb. My wife, Rachelle, tells me the name is just hideous, but this lightbulb is a beautiful thing. I absolutely adore CCFLs. CCFLs actually have several advantages over CFLs:
1. Many experts say they last even longer, as long as 25,000 hours (compared with 10,000 for CFLs).
2. They produce even less heat.
3. They’re dimmable (most CFLs are not).
4. They turn on instantly (whereas some CFLs can take as long as five minutes to reach their full brightness).
5. There’s less flicker.
6. They’re not affected by frequent on/off cycles, so you don’t have to think about how long you’re going to be out of a room and do a cost/benefit analysis to figure out if you should turn off the light or if that’s going to be causing too much wear and tear on the bulb—so you’d be sacrificing longevity for a little savings in energy, which is not a great trade-off.
7. They contain far less mercury than traditional compact fluorescents.
8. They tend to be smaller and lighter than CFLs. In fact, one of their earliest common uses was in thin computers.
CCFLs work somewhat like a neon lightbulb. Interestingly, they’re becoming a popular choice as a replacement for neon lighting. If you go to Las Vegas, many of those colored lights you see up and down the Strip are actually CCFLs. Hotels like The Mirage understand that operating all those lights uses a lot of energy—which costs a lot of money—so they’ve taken steps to reduce their energy usage by switching over to CCFLs.
I should warn you right up front that CCFLs are an emerging technology. So don’t run out today and replace all of your existing lightbulbs with CCFLs, at least not yet. For starters, CCFLs are not as bright as CFLs right now, and they’re also not quite as efficient. But with all of their advantages, clearly they show great promise. To find CCFLs for sale online, see Resources, page 341.
Excerpted with permission from “Ed Begley, Jr.’s Guide to Sustainable Living: Learning to Conserve Resources and Manage an Eco-Conscious Life” (Clarkson Potter)