Learn from the Amish! Phase out the CFL light bulb!

Learn from the Amish! Phase out the CFL light bulb!

The Lord leads in mysterious ways. In 2001 we moved to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Leacock Township no less, the township with the highest Amish population anywhere. The soil was worked by horses and mules, the buggies were everywhere and the clotheslines revealed their plain clothes waving in the wind.


( Figure 1. An Amish clothes-line from Kishacoquillas Valley, Pennsylvania)

We had built a house in a development bordering an Amish farm and an Amish homestead. One of the most pleasant sounds is when Amish youth get together for an evening gathering, singing their hymns without instruments and especially without amps. One ethereal evening I sat at our porch listening to their pure voices.


( Figure 2 View from our backyard. Notice the work shop/ horse stall to the right. The second story is a gathering room for church and youth meetings)

They started in the key of F#, and an hour and a half later, their singing ended in the key of F#, beautiful three or 4 part singing from memory all the way, since it was getting dark and they did not use electricity.

Most people think the Amish shun electricity so they can continue to live like they did in the eighteenth century, a time when their forefathers came over to escape religious prosecution. Nothing could be further from the truth. Electricity comes from the grid, and that makes them connected to and dependent on the English, as they call us, and that is to be avoided at all cost. So, telephones are forbidden, but cellphones are o.k.  They do obey all laws, so when the Federal Government mandated the use of headlights for their buggies they complied. They tried the normal gaslights first, but the cotton stockings are sensitive to vibrations, and the old kerosene lamps did not give enough light so they were forced to use automotive headlights. This requires a car battery, and they had to recharge their car batteries all the time, but where to get the electricity to charge them? The English are always happy to charge their batteries for a fee, but the Amish do not like to part with their money, especially not to the English.

What to do? There must be a better light source somewhere, the need is there and the Amish must obey the law. So an enterprising Amishman, Elam S. Beiler turned to Silicon Valley and fitted a white LED light into a car headlight, and the first commercially available LED car headlight was mounted  not on a car but on an Amish buggy. This invention had several advantages. The light is superior, lifetime forever and a battery charge gives 100 hours of light instead of about eight hours. But they still had to pay the English for charging the batteries. The Amish did this while the EPA was busy forcing down CFL lights on the rest of us using the excuse that “carbon pollution” is worse than Mercury  pollution.

Last year we moved to State College, home of the Penn State Lions, a town where the Obama stickers are everywhere on their Priuses, bike paths are everywhere, the backyards are clean and neat, beautiful  parks dot the hills with manicured lawns and flower beds, but we could find no clothes lines. We had built a new home in a zoned neighborhood, no clotheslines allowed, an energy efficient “energy star“ home where every light is of the CFL type, and a light post is mandatory.

This post light was equipped with 3 candelabra style CFL light bulbs, and – you guessed it, they all failed after eight months.

This got me thinking. Could we learn from the Amish?  They still shun grid power, but they are not above taking advantage of opportunities. The Government is promoting solar panels with all kinds of tax credits, and they make sense for the Amish since they are going to use them for charging their car batteries.  So, up comes the solar panels on the top of their work shops, and add a wind generator for cloudy days, and their problem is solved.


(Figure 3. A gathering in a newly built Amish homestead. Notice the solar panels and small windmill on the roof of the outbuilding)

One thing leads to another, and next thing you know is to take a car battery and a headlight into the house and use for lightning. After all, it gives a much better light than a kerosene lamp for less money, so why not use it? Then why not wire up the house with 12 v power and plug in 12 V LED lights?  It surely makes sense for the Amish. They are seeing the light, and are still independent of the power grid.

Does this make sense for us?

001003 (Figure 4 and 5. The experimental post light. The CFL light is now warmed up enough to give an equivalent shine. From left to right : LED, incandescent, CFL)

I am running an experiment with the post light, one light is a 40 W incandescent light,  one is a 9 W CFL light and one is a 4.5 W LED light.  Yesterday, the EPA came out with new guidelines for power plants. They with make it unprofitable to make new coal fired plants, so electricity costs will “necessarily skyrocket “, as then Senator Obama so succinctly put it, so energy conservation is now more important than ever if we are to balance our household budgets.  We could start by allowing drying the wash by the sun again. That would save a few kilowatt-hours per day, but that would also make too much sense.

The EPA has been promoting the CFL lights to conserve energy.  There are many things wrong with the CFL lights. They take a long time to warm up, up to 10 min to give full light output, so they make no sense in a bathroom or a closet where you only spend a few minutes, but during that time you want a full light to read the comics or fix your hair. They also have only so many turn on and off cycles before they fail. When they fail they sometimes explode in the base, break and splat mercury all over the nursery, so you have to deep clean or replace the carpet. They take cold temperatures badly, so they should not be used outdoors (I have 5 outdoor CFL lights thanks to energy star).  You are supposed to recycle your broken CFL lights, but most end up in household trash.U.S. landfills are releasing more than 4 tons of mercury annually into the atmosphere and storm water runoff, according to a study in the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Assn.

Incandescent light has only two problems, high energy use and short life. But they cost less.

LEDs are expensive, but their cost is coming down, and they never die, they just fade with time. The announced lifetime is when their light output is down to 70% of the light it once had. They work everywhere except in unvented fixtures, such as hall lights. If they overheat they fail promptly.

So, which light should I use?

For the post light let us consider the three alternatives

Light type            Price      Lifetime               W            energy/yr            bulbs/yr.              Cost/yr

Incandescent     1.50        2000 hrs               40           175 KWh                2                           $20.50

CFL                      7.00        3000 hrs               9              40 KWh                 1.5                         $14.50

LED                     5.00     15000 hrs                4.5          20 KWh                 0.3                           $6.5

It is clear. The LED light is the winner hand over fist.

Bathroom light

Light type            Price      Lifetime               W            energy/yr            bulbs/yr.              Cost/yr

Incandescent     1.50        2000 hrs               40           15 KWh                 0.2                          $1.80

CFL                       7.00        7000 hrs or          9             3.5 KWh               0.25                        $2.00

.                                            5000 cycles

LED                     15.00     15000 hrs             4.5          1.7 KW                  0.02                        $0.47

Here the clear winner is the LED light. Second place goes to the incandescent light bulb. The CFL light is a poor choice even for economy.

Phase out the CFL lights! Follow the Amish! The Amish are more with it than the EPA!!

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Retired engineer, graduated from Chalmers Technical University a long time ago with a degree in Technical Physics. Career in Aerospace, Analytical Chemistry, computer chip manufacturing and finally adjunct faculty at Pennsylvania State University, taught just one course in Computer Engineering, the Capstone Course.

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