A dark search for bulbs


Answer: Only one, but they need to have an advanced degree in electrical engineering from MIT.

I thought replacing a 60 watt bug light bulb on my front porch would be easy. But as someone who has owned a home for 33 years, I should have known better.

My journey into the dark world of modern-day light bulbs began with a trip to the hardware store. It didn’t go well.

“We don’t have the 60 watts anymore. They’re incandescent and they’re doing away with them. You need to get LED bulbs. They give off the same amount of light but are much more efficient.”

“OK, let me have four of them.”

“We don’t have them, either.”

A Google search confirmed what the guy in the hardware store told me. Incandescent bulbs, which have been around forever, are wildly inefficient, wasting 90 percent of the energy needed to light them. The Biden administration just announced new rules to speed up their demise, beginning next January.

So, what’s a good alternative? An hour spent Googling only complicated matters. There are basically five kinds of bulbs: halogen, incandescent, LED, CFL and fluorescent, that come in a whopping 56 different shapes and sizes.

With that many options, how is the average consumer such as myself supposed to know what kind and size replacement bulb is needed? Evidentially, it’s quite easy. Or so says ledlightinginfo.com:

“To know the base of a light bulb, identify if it is a screw type that has threads around the base, or a pin type that has 2 points of contact on the base. After that, measure the diameter of the screw base, or the distance between the two pins, in millimeters.”

Yeah. That’s not happening.

After another hour of Googling, I discovered the most commonly used light bulbs have a 32e base. Armed with this valuable information, I headed to Amazon, where I quickly found a listing for “A19 Yellow LED Bug Light Bulbs, 8 Watts, Non-Dimmable.”

The ad copy assured me the 8 watts are equivalent to a 60W incandescent and that the bulb provides “bright and vibrant colored light to any space of your home and is an ideal bug light for outdoors.” It promised to cut the cost of lighting my home with “zero flickering, zero delay and zero worry.”

The “zero delay” immediately caught my attention. A few years ago, I was suckered into buying six, expensive compact fluorescent bulbs, the ones that look like a pig’s tail. There’s roughly a 45-second delay from when I first click them on until they’re up to full strength. Then, they fill the room with all the warmth and subtlety of a dangling bare bulb in a gas station bathroom at three in the morning.

Two of the A19 bulbs cost $12.95. Not cheap, but they are good for 10,000 hours of use. I added four to my cart and hit the “Buy Now” button.

The A19s arrived the following day. I immediately knew I was in trouble when I screwed the first one in and the bulb dimly lit, even though the wall switch was off. It happened with all four. How was this possible? I still haven’t the slightest idea. I managed to shut off all four bulbs completely (or so I thought) by toggling the switch a few times. Then I set the timer for later that evening.

At dusk, the bulbs lit, not in the warm amber glow as promised, but in a harsh, garish greenish-yellow. I’m pretty sure you could see my house from space with these things. At a minimum they could cause permanent damage to the retinas of me and my neighbor across the street. I quickly shut them off (or so I thought, again) and went to bed.

The next morning the lights were, magically, back on, but only dim. More Googling. It turns out the manufacturer failed to mention “non-dimmable” means, not only can’t you dim them, but you can’t use them with a timer. I packed them up to be returned.

After much clicking and scrolling on Amazon, I ordered four, 60-watt Edison Light Bulbs. They’re clear, dimmable and the filament emits exactly the warm, yellowish glow I had been looking for. They look very much like the first bulbs created by Thomas Edison in 1878. I now see them all the time. They are, as they are fond of saying on HGTV home shows, “on trend.” They are also incandescent and not great for the environment but, because they are considered decorative, they are exempt from federal energy laws.

I’m sitting in my office typing this in the dark. I’m trying to conserve the bulb in my desk lamp. I have neither the time nor the energy to start this whole process again should that bulb burn out.

Let there be light? Maybe. But not without a hassle.

John Ficarra of New York City is a retired editor of MAD Magazine.



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