Mechanics: Your shop lights are safe. The death of the incandescent bulb has been greatly exaggerated

Updated Jan 20, 2014

0116 Drop lightAlmost all the major news outlets reported that come January 1, incandescent light bulbs will no longer be made for consumption in the United States. That worried me in that I frequently use a mechanic’s drop light and clamp lights in my shop. Fluorescents don’t have the candlepower for those applications.

Trouble is, these stories are wrong.

You can still buy incandescent light bulbs, they’re just halogen filled and cost about 4X what the old style bulbs cost. They come in identical shapes and can be used for identical lighting purposes. They’re more energy efficient too. A 43-watt bulb puts out as much light as a old style 60-watt bulb, a 72-watt halogen bulb cranks out as much light as a 100-watt, old-style bulb.

The new halogen bulbs are dimmable and work in three-way lamps as well. They put out some heat as well, which means you should be able to use them to warm your hatchlings in the hen house and the keep the pipes from freezing in the well house. (Two of the more obscure applications I know of.)

But for mechanics, the new halogen incandescents work fine in drop lights and clamp lights to illuminate the dark recesses of an engine bay or show imperfections in auto-body, drywall or woodworking finishes. I bought a four-pack of the new halogen lights for about $3.70 at Home Depot last week. These are the A-type bulbs which throw light in all directions. Same shape as the old bulbs.

I’m not overly concerned about the energy savings.  Bulbs in a drop light or clamp light don’t last long anyway, as they get knocked around quite a bit. So the extra cost is something to gripe about, but it won’t ruin my day.

Compact fluorescents, those corkscrew-shaped light bulbs, are another thing. They’re $6 to $12 a pop, put out a weak, sulfurous yellow light and take 10 to 20 seconds to reach full brightness. They last for years, but I wish the ones I installed in my kitchen would hurry up and burn out. Terrible product, terrible idea.

Many pundits have painted the elimination of old-style incandescents as a collusion between big business, environmentalists and big government. Of course it is.  That’s just the price you pay for electing the politicians you do.