Cash back while helping the planet


A riddle: If you have both a cheap item and a pricier one to use, but the cheaper one costs you as much as four or five times more to operate, what do you do?

Thats the problem facing some people with taking the second step toward using the new-fangled, energy-saving spiral light bulbs of the future.

A friend, CC, becomes passionate over this issue. She was talking with someone else, who was so convinced the new-era bulbs known as compact fluorescent lights or CFLs were good for the environment that the person had taken the first step and bought a bunch for her home.

Now, said that person, Im just waiting for the old bulbs to burn out to replace them with these new ones.

CC, eyes wide, almost shouted. Dont do that! she said, and realized she made have made a uh strong impression when that person raised her own eyebrows and rocked backward a little.

I didnt mean to startle you, CC said apologetically. Its just that every day you wait, you spend so much more on electricity and delay those energy savings. When you think about it, it actually makes more sense to take out the old incandescent bulb right away, even if it is not used up and even if you have to throw it away, and start capturing those savings now. Its like the old bulbs are robbing you.

She said the person paused a moment and then said, I hadnt thought of it like that. Youre right. Im going to change them out, and not wait any longer!

I had the same hurdle when I started using CFLs. After first just getting a small package to test them out, I found I was very happy with the light quality but could not bring myself to just jettison old-style bulbs that were still burning. After all, were conditioned to put in new lights only when the old ones leave us in the dark (after months or years of picking our pockets first).

But in the case of CFLs which some are now calling smart lights I was giving extra money to Dominion Power every day that I delayed. The new bulbs use only fraction of the electricity the old ones burn, so even if I get an old-style bulb for a quarter, it could cost me about a dollar more each month to use.

While trying to get the full use of the traditional (not so smart) bulbs, I was holding onto something that was pilfering my cash every month. I still have tape players as well as CDs, and a VCR along with a DVD player. Heck, I even have an old eight-track machine and a few very old tapes (you remember Blood, Sweat and Tears?). But at least they dont rob me whenever I turn them on. And I dont use them like I do the lights, which is every day, hours on end.

As for the incandescent bulbs, I still havent just put them into the trash (or recycling). They can still go into dimmer lights that dont work with the smarter bulbs. But with 15 CFLs now in my two-bedroom apartment, Ive taken the next step.

And while helping to fight global warming is one of my goals, there is a more practical reward as well. I paid once for the new-fangled bulbs, and have been writing smaller checks to the power company ever since.

John Boyd lives in Alexandria.