Engineer's Corner
2:34 pm
Tue January 1, 2013

TheEC: Lightbulbs!

It’s a Star in the East!   It’s shiny Christmas lights!  It’s a slightly-silly, holiday-themed ENGINEERS CORNER on LIGHTBULBS!

Track lights
One of the incandescent track lights at RIPR.
Credit Aaron Read

Here at RIPR, our offices and studios in 1 Union Station were designed in 1999, and designed to look like our original owner’s studios, WBUR.   Their studios were designed and built in the salad days of the dot-com era: 1995.   So to say that incandescent track lighting is a big part of our lighting scheme, is an understatement.

Between the studios and the lobby, there 43 sconces that use regular 75 watt floodlight bulbs; also known as the “E27” base, or “Edison Screw, 27mm.”  Actually, they’re not “regular” as half those sconces are a special kind of tracklight sconce, that grips the bulb around the outer edge of the face, and holds it with three small clamps from behind.   Often only specific model bulbs will fit, but it’s trial-and-error finding out which do and which don’t.   That’s a problem given how frequently we…and I mean “I”…have to change out the bulbs!

Most incandescent bulbs are rated for 2 or 3 years of usage, but only at 3 hours per day.  At the more common 12 hours’ daily use at our studios, these bulbs burn out after only six months. (!!!)  And that means your trusty engineer (who’s not too proud to admit that he doesn’t like heights) gets to climb a 15ft-high ladder more frequently than he’d like!

For years there hasn’t been a very good solution, as most of the sconces are on dimmer switches, and dimmable Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFL’s) were markedly more expensive. 

But with the advent of LED floodlights, the cost of dimmable CFL’s has reached parity with the specific halogen bulbs that fit our special tracklight sconces; about $8 to $10 each.  The difference, of course, that a CFL will last three years compared to the incandescent lasting six months – a much better value.

And dimmable LED floodlights themselves, while still pricey…around $22 each…will last even longer (about five years) and provide better light for much less electricity and much less heat.   That’s a significant consideration in a radio studio where you’ve got lots and lots of equipment that produces substantial heat 24/7.   Best of all, there’s a particular brand of dimmable LED floodlight from Phillips that fits our odd sconce design! 

So as the incandescents burn out, I’m gradually replacing them with LED and CFL bulbs wherever possible, which saves us heat, electricity, bulb costs, and your engineer’s sanity from having to climb ladders every week!