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What to do after phaseout of incandescent light bulb

By Gene Austin
Friday, January 21, 2011; 8:43 AM

Q. We have heard that incandescent light bulbs are being phased out and the only thing available will be compact fluorescent bulbs or CFLs. We have also been told that CFLs can't be used in covered fixtures, such as globe fixtures. We don't want to have to install a lot of new fixtures, so what can we do? -J. Cole

A. It is true that incandescent light bulbs - the pear-shaped bulbs used for many years - will be phased out starting in 2012 with the 100-watt bulb. The phaseout was mandated by an energy law passed in 2007. However, it is not true that CFLs can't be used in enclosed fixtures. According to General Electric, they can be used in enclosed fixtures as long as the fixtures are not recessed and covered, such as a canister light recessed into a ceiling.

Recessed, covered fixtures can get too hot for the safe use of CFLs. It is also not true that CFLs will be the only light source available. For example, LED lights (light emitting diodes) are also becoming popular for lighting in buildings including homes, and will still be available.

Switching to CFLs actually makes a lot of sense for homeowners. CFLs use about two-thirds less electricity than incandescents with comparable light, and they last up to 10 times longer. CFLs can be used in virtually any situation where incandescents can be used, if you check the package carefully and buy the correct bulb for the use you have in mind. Special CFLs can be used with three-way lamps, light dimmers, and in outdoor fixtures.

A downside is that CFLs contain a tiny bit of mercury, a toxic substance. But the mercury content of CFLs is much lower than that of old-time thermometers and manual thermostats. Because of the mercury, CFLs often require special disposal methods; for information, visit www.earth911.org and type in your Zip code, then click on Other Materials, then Hazardous, then Compact Fluorescent Lights. It pays to call disposal sites to verify the listing.

Q. One of my hardwood floors has had an oriental rug covering part of it for several years. The floor area around the rug is faded, probably from the sun. I want to sell the house in about six months and would like to know what to do about the faded part of the floor. Can you help? -J. Green

A. If you want to restore a uniform color to the floor, the only practical option is to refinish it. If the fading has affected only the finish, refinishing can be done without sanding using a low-speed screening buffer to remove the old finish or a refinishing kit such as Varathane's Renewal No Sanding Floor Refinishing System.

The best bet is to have an experienced floor-finisher examine the floor and advise you. If the fading extends into the wood, the floor will probably have to be sanded as well as refinished.

Fading is caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun, and can affect fabrics and furniture as well as floors. The remedy, of course, is to block out the UV. This can be done with drapes, but most people want to keep windows clear for light and viewing. An option is to use special film on the glass. If you want to install film yourself, use a search engine and the words UV Blocking Window Film to find sources.

Q. We just had a new gas water heater installed in our basement. The house is also equipped with a whole-house fan. The water-heater installer warned me that running the fan could extinguish the pilot light and draw dangerous gas into the house. Is this true? -D. Masciandaro

A. Whole-house fans, which draw cool night air into buildings through open windows and exhaust hot air through attic vents, can substitute for air conditioners in some climates and be great energy savers. But they can create a problem called backdrafting, in which dangerous combustion products, including carbon monoxide, can be drawn into the building.

I can't guarantee this will never happen to you or that your pilot light will never go out, but you can greatly reduce the possibility of this problem by making sure the gas-fired equipment is isolated from the rest of the house, when the fan is running, by a closed door. Make sure there are enough windows open when the fan runs to overcome any combustion-product seepage. Also make sure your gas appliances are properly vented to the outside, and equip your home with working carbon-monoxide detectors. Finally, never run the fan without first opening windows.

I will add that I have personally used a whole-house fan in a home with gas-fired appliances and never had any backdrafting problem.

Questions and comments should be e-mailed to Gene Austin at gaus17@aol.com. Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422.

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