EC Test Lab: Phillips EcoVantage Bulbs
If there is one thing you could pickup from the coverage of the failed BULB Act ("Better Use of Light Bulbs") and media hullabaloo, it's that some people really do not like spiral shaped compact florecent lamps (CFLs). While most of the complaints voiced by grandstanding politicans and pundits were silly, and much of the debate was factually inaccurate, its clear some people are just unwilling to give CFL's a chance, and are determined to dislike them no matter how much the technology has improved in the last two decades.
However, in January of 2012, the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act's (EISA) new minimum light bulb efficiency standards start to take effect and one wonders what these lumen curmudgeons will do when they cannot go buy a traditional 100w bulb? We'd recommend LED's and taking another meaningful look at the current state of CFL technology, but for those of you that are simply unwilling, we've decided to start taking a look at some of the other options.
Among them is the EcoVantage line from Phillips. The EcoVantage family of bulbs (marketed with the tagline “Savings Without Sacrifice”) consists of traditionally shaped (A) bulbs in soft white (45w/55w/75w) and natural light (43w/53w/72w). Each of these bulbs boasts a savings of 25% or more compared to a standard incandescent bulb (at least on paper), although it is worth noting that only the natural light versions are actually EISA compliant.
We tested the 53w (replaces 75w) natural light and the 45w (replaces 60w) soft white bulbs, and generally found them unremarkable. I do not mean that in a bad way, they work like light bulbs. Just like traditional incandescent the EcoVantage bulbs are instant on at full brightness, are completely dimmable, and fit in pretty much any fixture made for an A-shaped bulb. I prefer the Natural Light versions because I prefer crisper light, but that's just a personal preference, they are both functional light sources. That said, the EcoVantage has a not-so-dark secret hidden within - the EcoVantage is not a traditional incandescent bulb, it’s a halogen bulb. Inside there is a pressurized filament capsule, and the only mention of it is in the "Caution" statement. Cool, but not exactly exciting, as Halogen bulbs have been 25-30% more efficent than basic incandescents for decades.
To be clear, I am not recommending the EcoVantage as your path to energy efficiency and it is not something that we are going to add to the Energy Circle store, but I can see its use – if you need to replace an incandescent bulb on an old dimmer switch that isn't CFL compatible, the EcoVantage and other halogen bulb retrofits are a meaningful option with a lower upfront cost ($1.50-$2.25). Although, if you do the math you will find that a good dimmable CFL has a much lower lifetime cost - A 6,000 hour rated dimmable CFL (like the Maxlite 15w dimmable, $12.75) will use 90kwh over its lifetime (total cost @ 0.15/kwh = $26.25), whereas the 53w EcoVantage ($2) will go through 5 bulbs in that time and burn through 318kwh of energy (total cost of $59.70), giving the CFL a 56% lower lifetime cost. If you don't need a dimmable bulb, the math just gets better. Even using a top of the line CFL (GE Reveal 13w, $5.95) the total cost over the same period would be 70% lower (78kwh used, total cost of $17.65, although it would have another 2,000 hours of life left in it).
However, let’s backtrack a moment to the claims about energy savings, and take the opportunity to read the small print on the EcoVantage website for the Natural Light bulbs:
• Saves at least 28% in energy costs (*,1,2,3) o 43W replaces a 60W incandescent (1) o 53W replaces a 75W incandescent (2) o 72W replaces a 100W incandescent (3) * EcoVantage Natural Light complies with the Energy Independence and Security Act 2007 efficiency standards for 2012-2014. 1) Compared to a 60W Natural Light A19 incandescent bulb with 680 lumens, the 43W EcoVantage bulb with 630 lumens provides similar light and at least 28% energy savings. 2) Compared to a 75W Natural Light A19 incandescent bulb with 950 lumens, the 53W EcoVantage bulb with 830 lumens provides similar light and at least 28% energy savings. 3) Compared to a 100W Natural Light A19 incandescent bulb with 1350 lumens, the 72W EcoVantage bulb with 1200 lumens provides similar light and at least 28% energy savings.
These claims of energy savings are based on the nominal wattage of the bulb, which as we have discussed before is not the best way to pick your light bulbs. Light is about lumens, so let’s compare lumens per watt as well as nominal wattage and total lumen production:
EcoVantage Natural Light
Clearly the EcoVantage is more efficient than its incandescent alternative but it is not “Savings Without Sacrifice” - you are sacrificing 7-13% of your total light output depending on the bulb. Such a sacrifice is one you may be quite happy to make, but remember - light is about lumens and wattage means almost nothing by itself.