The Good: Quality light, Bulbs last long, VERY energy efficient, Environmentally responsible
The Bad: Initial cost, Inconvenient warranty
The Basics: This compact bulb saves energy and is just as easy to use as a regular lightbulb! It even gives off a nicer light than regular bulbs, giving it added value!
One need not be a disciple of Al Gore to want to save the world by preventing catastrophic climactic change. Sure, it helps to be a bleeding heart liberal when we talk about all the little things that can and should be done to protect the environment, but even the most conservative businesspeople can appreciate one of the most compelling arguments for going green: it saves money! At the end of An Inconvenient Truth, the film notes a series of actions individuals may take to help reduce the problems of global warming.
One of the most simple is to change the standard incandescent lightbulbs in one's house to compact energy-saving bulbs. So, despite working to change over all my lights over to energy-saving bulbs, it did take a last chiding from Al Gore to finally replace the last of my bulbs. I've chosen the GE Softwhite 60 light bulb and have been using them for the last four years consistently. This is not some crazy liberal conspiracy; I initially changed over to the energy-saving bulbs in a Spring when I could compare the actual effects with my electric bill based on the closest to objective testing as I could conceive. Because there were not extreme shifts in heating or cooling in my house (I compared two Mays - before and after the switchover) and because my television viewing was steady and there were no new appliances added into my home, I estimated by changing over the thirty lights in my house to the GE Softwhite 60, I save $12.00 a month. Keep in mind that part of that savings is a result of a drop in taxes as a result of the lower energy cost, but still, $12.00/month is no shabby savings and it quickly makes the cost to change over from standard bulbs worthwhile (within a year for me!).
For those who don't know what the big deal is, the GE Softwhite 60 is a lightbulb that has a spiral core that rises out of a standard lightbulb bottom. The top looks like a twisted up fluorescent lightbulb and when it is turned on, it gives off light that is a quality that is instantly reminiscent of a classic fluorescent light (the long kind one usually finds . . . well, everywhere, like in department stores). This bulb starts out giving off a soft, white light that is like a fluorescent light.
But, I've jumped ahead of myself. The Softwhite 60 is a lightbulb that uses mercury and whatever else (there are no "ingredients" on the package, it could be a mercury-covered wizard in there for all I know!) to create light. There is no filament that is visible in the bulb, so they are a bit sturdier than standard lightbulbs. The filament in a regular lightbulb is the thin wire-like thing that is where the light comes from and what breaks when the bulbs burn out. Perhaps the lack of something so fragile is why these bulbs are guaranteed to last five years with normal use. I have - literally - dropped a bulb, caught it on my foot and still gotten it to work. The Softwhite 60 bulbs are durable!
The base of the bulb is identical to a standard lightbulb and as a result, it fits in any socket that a standard lightbulb will fit in. While the base above the screw-in portion is a little wider than the standard lightbulb, unless one was using specialty bulbs to begin with, the Softwhite 60 will fit anywhere that a classic lightbulb will fit.
Why should you change over from the standard lightbulb to the Softwhite 60? Standard lightbulbs tend to last approximately two to three years (sometimes dramatically less) with regular use (estimated by the lightbulb industry at four hours a day, seven days a week). The Softwhite 60 lasts for at least five (I have two that are older than that). Standard lightbulbs that generate 800 to 1000 lumens operate on 60 Watts of electricity. This bulb, which generates 825 lumens runs on 13 Watts!
For those taking their time with the math, that means that one Softwhite 60 uses 1/4 the energy of a standard lightbulb and averages two and a half times the lifespan of the usual 60 Watt bulb! In other words, with the cost to operate 1 60 Watt lightbulb, four Softwhite 60s can be lit and still save the user electricity! This is the socially responsible way to light your house and you can even keep your house brighter for less money!
GE does not make any guarantee about lowering your electric bill, but with the cost of electricity rising, changing over to the Softwhite 60 will lower your bill, assuming your usage does not increase dramatically. Will you notice a difference using the Softwhite 60 other than lower electric bills? Yes. There are two differences in daily usage I've observed.
The first is that sometimes, especially with new bulbs, the Softwhite 60 will take a few minutes to get up to maximum brightness. When you turn on the light, the bulb will come on at a dimmer than usual setting. Within five minutes, it will reach its maximum brightness and the user will be bathed in a gentle white light of a similar quality to fluorescent lights. This effect is liable to make everything seem more vivid in one's living space at first. Standard lightbulbs cast a dirtier, slightly yellowish light to them. The Softwhite 60 has the faintest violet quality to the white light and this highlights light colors that come under it and will wake the user up to the real colors in a room, especially if that room is usually dark! The only other time after the initial two or three uses of a bulb where this delay is exacerbated is when temperatures are particularly low. My house if often fairly cold and as a result, sometimes the bulbs take six to ten minutes to reach full brightness in the winter.
The other thing one is liable to notice is that the bulbs glow for three minutes after they are turned off. This was an effect no one had warned me about and it was initially unsettling. Strangely, I've noticed that when the lights go out, my eyes adjust quicker to the darkness than they did when I used other lightbulbs. Perhaps that is a result of the quality of light as well.
Unfortunately, there is truth to the argument that the initial outlay for these bulbs is a bit more than many people are comfortable with. While the standard lightbulb can be bought for 4/$1.00 on sale, the Softwhite 60 is liable to run consumers $3.00/bulb. That price goes down when one buys a bulk pack at most places and the cost for bulbs has been dropping over the years since these were originally released. The outlay cost can be inhibiting, but the day to day savings can be worth it! Also, some states have grants for homeowners (especially seniors) to help make home improvements that make their homes more energy efficient. Switching over to lightbulbs like the GE Softwhite 60 is usually recommended and may be covered (at least in part) under such a grant!
Finally, the Softwhite 60 has a problematic guarantee. If the bulb burns out in less than five years, GE will replace it, assuming one has the original cash register receipt and proof of purchase. This is fine, assuming one knows this going in. I do not know (yet) how well they honor that guarantee. I've had one (out of thirty in my home) burn out in less than five years. I am still waiting for my refund. It is worth noting that point of sale locations will not - at least that I've yet found - deal with the warranty. It must go through GE.
Also, GE (nor, usually, your retailer) will not replace bulbs that break due to carelessness. As a result, always screw and unscrew the bulb by holding the plastic base below the glass of the bulb (and not the bulb itself). Unscrewing the bulb using the glass may cause the glass to become detached from the base and break the bulb. As with standard lightbulbs, it is highly recommended not to place anything that is extremely cold on a hot bulb. This, too, may cause the glass to shatter in a way that is not covered by the warranty.
For day to day use, this is an excellent bulb and it may help the user to their part to use less energy which can save the world. Or save you some money . . . whichever works!
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For other home and garden product reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.