Garden &Global Warming &Lighting &Pool20 Feb 2013 12:03 pm

Discovery Magazine

GreenerHouse in the post box

The latest issue of Discovery magazine has arrived in my post box, and I was pleased to see that my insurance company has been perusing GreenerHouse. A cover article titled 31 Ways to Make a Difference to our Earth quotes liberally from GreenerHouse, especially in the section giving suggestions for what you can do to make your home “more ecofriendly.” It’s clear and compact, so I have reprinted it here. If you want more detail, the information is extracted from more comprehensive posts on composting, LED lighting and pool pumps.

Lighting23 Nov 2012 06:13 am

Karebo installs Philips LEDs

I didn’t even have to climb a ladder

If you’re tired of Eskom taking your money, I have good news. The national electricity company want to give you a gift worth at least R10 0000.

The gift is in the form of LED downlights, and these freebies are already lighting up my house—and saving electricity. If you have halogen downlights in your ceiling, or tracklights that use the small halogen reflectors, and if you live in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban or Port Elizabeth, this present is for you.

Until this week, when I wrote about the program for the Mail and Guardian, Eskom’s Residential Mass Rollout was actually a well-kept secret, marketed quietly to avoid long waiting lists. That is changing rapidly, however, so if you want these bulbs in a hurry, I suggest you sign up right away. Tell your friends about it only after you’re already in the queue.

For this year, Karebo is the only service provider, and will keep installing until they run out of approximately 1.7 million LEDs. From next year, Eskom promises to expand the rollout and enlist more installers as partners.

If you are interested, here are the steps:

1. Count how many downlight bulbs you can use. The maximum number you can get for free is forty. Note separately how many of those bulbs are on dimmers.

2. Consider whether you would also like free CFL bulbs, low-flow shower heads, a pool timer or geyser timer. (More about those below.)

3. Go to and click on “sign up” in the box that should pop up in the upper-left corner of the screen

4. Fill in your details.

5. Make a deposit if you are paying extra for dimmable bulbs. (More on that below.)

6. Wait a week or two to be contacted for an installation appointment.

And here’s what you will get:

LEDs: These are top-of-the-line, warm-white, Philips bulbs rated at the same light output as 50 watt halogen downlights. They would retail for R250 to R300—if you could find them. The LEDs come in four flavours. The mains voltage, non-dimmable bulb has the lowest consumption, just 5.5 watts. That’s barely 10 percent of the 50 watt bulb it replaces. It also has the longest lifetime: 40,000 hours. They carry a three-year warranty, but I’ll consider myself lucky if I outlive these bulbs. The mains voltage, dimmable bulb is the same, except that it uses 6 watts and costs R25 extra. (For a bulb worth more than R250, it’s a steal.)

The low-voltage, non-dimmable bulb uses 7 watts, and is rated for 30,000 hours. The dimmable low voltage LED uses 10 watts. In addition, the low-voltage transformer draws some power, again proving that low-voltage is not the same as low wattage. The low-voltage LEDs not only draw slightly more power and have shorter lifespans, but they also bear the risk that a small number of transformers are incompatible with them.

Three years ago, Greenerhouse predicted that the best way to prepare for the LED revolution was to only install mains-voltage downlights. Unfortunately, I put the lights in my ceiling before I knew that. So to get the very best free LEDs, I ripped out my transformers in advance of the installers’ arrival and rewired the fixtures using R30 kits that I bought from Lighting Warehouse. (Radiant brand, models HG10 or HG11) But I’m hard-core, deep-green. If you have low-voltage lights and don’t want to fuss, get the low-voltage LEDs. I didn’t succeed in removing two of my transformers, and the two low-voltage LEDs I installed work perfectly.

Dimmers can also raise compatibility issues. Of the three dimmers in my house, two—Clipsal 2000 series—are working flawlessly with the new LEDs. One is not. At various points in the rotation, the lights will flicker and even go out. For now, I’ve learned how to position the dial so that the lights work as they should, but Karebo offers a R250 dimmer for the LEDs, and I plan to purchase one.

One final limitation: Eskom only wants working, 50 watts halogen globes. For years I have paid extra for the most efficient halogens, 20 and 35 watt IRC, energy-saving bulbs. Even if I had kept all of my old low-voltage sockets, I would have had to buy 40 new bulbs, just have to have Eskom destroy them. Buying new bulbs for no purpose other than to have them crushed felt like the most wasteful thing I’ve done all year. But in the end it has saved a lot of electricity.

CFLs: Eskom has been offering free CFLs for years, but if you missed the opportunity last time, these globes will cut your electricity consumption in fixtures that use ordinary screw or bayonet bulbs. Karebo will install a maximum of twenty.

Shower heads: I already have a low-flow shower head that I love , so I didn’t accept this gift. Karebo claims that this shower head is used in some five-star hotels. I have spoken to one homeowner who years ago removed low-flow shower roses from his home because during his showers he had to “run around chasing drips of water.” This same fussy person is very happy with the low-flow heads Karebo recently installed for him. Karebo does admit, however, that a few customers have asked for their old shower heads back. As with the lights, the installers have to keep the originals to prove to Eskom that they did their job, but, amazingly, they keep track of each shower head for a period of time in case customers want Karebo to reinstall them.

Geyser Timer: Again, I’m happy with my Geyserwise, so I said “no, thank you.” Eskom may soon insist on installing geyser timers for those who want free LEDs and do not already have their own geyser timer or solar hot water system. The timers are installed on your DB board and have four pre-programmed settings, all of which keep the geyser off during Eskom’s peak times: 6 to 8 in the mornings and evenings. This is definitely good for the country and good for Eskom. It plays a part in reducing the risk of load shedding. But is it also good for your electricity bill? Well, if you only use hot water at limited times of the day, a timer could save some electricity by keeping the geyser off while you are at work. And if Eskom carries through with its promise to charge varying rates according to the time of day, the timer could one day save you significantly more.

Pool timer: The intention here again is to keep your pump off during peak hours. Otherwise, it has only a few advantages over ordinary timers. It knows to reset the time after a power outage, for example. Karebo’s managing director says that the main opportunity for savings is that the installers will calculate for you the optimum running time for your pool and pump size. Since most people run their pumps for too long, these savings could be significant.

And the end result? Nearly every room in my house is filled with warm, beautiful, bright light. No one in my family has made a single complaint about the quality of the light. And I still marvel at the fact that my TV room is lit up by a mere 11 watts and one rather large bathroom by 27 watts. My electricity consumption, which I check almost daily, has been 12 kilowatt hours or less for 11 of the last 20 days, something that has never happened before. I would estimate that my savings now in the summer are at least 3 kilowatt hours a day, which should cut my monthly utility bill by at least R100. The savings will be much greater in the dark of winter. And the cost-benefit analysis has never been simpler: all benefit, no cost.

Lighting14 Oct 2011 05:17 pm

Fixture with Osram Parathom LEDs

The scene above, which I photographed in my kitchen this week, is the beginning of a revolution in the way I light my house. My entire kitchen is now illuminated with LEDs, using less than 30 watts to light the entire, 5m x 5m space.

Two turning points set me in this direction. The first was a leaky roof, which blew out the transformers on one of the low-voltage halogen fixtures mounted to the ceiling. This gave me a good opportunity to start from scratch with a 220v, GU10 fixture, since LEDs, unlike halogens lamps, are better suited to ordinary, mains voltage. (Remember: Low voltage does not equal low wattage.) At Lighting Warehouse, I found a three-bulb ceiling light with a design perfectly suited to LED globes, since the radiating fins that cool the bulb are exposed to the air, as you can see above. I paid R360 each for two of these fixtures.

The second turning point was the downward slide in LED prices. I thought I had found a good deal in May, when some Makro stores were offering both Philips and Osram LED downlighter globes to replace 35 watt halogens for R295. Then I found the Osram LED at Lighting Warehouse for R250. Now that same bulb at Lighting Warehouse has dropped to just R200!

If R200 doesn’t sound to you like a bargain price for a light bulb, let me take you through the math. The Osram Parathom PAR16 35 bulbs you see pictured above use 5 watts to produce the light of an ordinary 35 watt halogen. (Actually, my Watts Up meter says they use just 4.8 watts.) If the light is on 5 hours a day at R1 a kilowatt hour—we’ll all be paying more than that by next year—it will save R55 every year on electricity alone. But the savings are greater than that because LEDs last just about forever. Philips puts a 3 year warranty on its LEDs and Osram offers a 5 year warranty. But the bulbs are rated to last many years longer. Over the course of two years, you would expect to replace a R40 halogen once, and the cost of two halogen bulbs plus the excess electricity they use is R190, about equal to the price of the LED. After two years, the LED actually pays dividends.

I chose the kitchen in part because it’s the most-used room in the house. But at R200 for LEDs, I will also consider replacing halogens in rooms that are used less constantly. The R200 Osram LED is not meant for dimmer switches, so for now I will avoid rooms with dimmers. The Philips Master LED bulb at Makro is dimmable, but I have not seen it for less than R295. By my calculations, even if the lights are on just 3 hours a day, the R200 LEDs will pay for themselves in three and a half years. (These simple calculations do not take into account the time value of money, the interest you could have earned if you had saved your R200 instead of investing it in green technology. As I’ve said before, you wouldn’t charge Mother Earth interest, would you?)

The quality of the LED lighting in my kitchen should give no one pause. LEDs have a reputation for projecting a very narrow beam. That is somewhat true for these Osram bulbs, but since they were replacing halogen bulbs that already had beams of 36 or 38 degrees, these 35 degree lights do not have a noticeably greater spotlight effect. I do think that eight bulbs would illuminate the corners of the kitchen a little better than six, but I felt that way about the halogens as well. My Osram LEDs are listed as “warm white,” and their colour is good, just slightly cooler than a halogen, but still warm. Most LEDs have a Colour Rendering Index of about 80 out of 100, which is considered very good, but not perfect. I would not choose them for an artist’s studio, but I don’t think anyone would notice the difference even as they walk between my halogen-lit entrance hall and into the light of the kitchen LEDs.

I have not yet seen LED replacements for 50 watt halogens in the stores; they will be here soon. One day we will have affordable, ultra-efficient LED bulbs to suit every fixture. But my kitchen is proof that there is no reason to wait for that day to get a head-start on a greener future.

Lighting30 Mar 2011 10:58 am

Not such a bright idea

What grown man would get excited to see a light bulb selling for less than R100? Me, if the lamp in question uses ultra-efficient light emitting diodes. LEDs are the future of lighting, with low power consumption and incredibly long lifetimes, but their high prices have kept consumers away.  So when I noticed a R94 rand Eurolux LED at my local Builders Express, I took a closer look and took notes. The last LED globe I had seen that was meant to replace a halogen downlight had a R372 price tag on it. Was this too good to be true?

Yes, of course it was. The packaging of the Eurolux LED is inexcusably devoid of technical information, except to say that it delivers 50 lumens, a rather useless piece of information for the average consumer. It turns out that 50 lumens is an equally useless amount of light, unless you are just looking for a decorative accent to highlight your teacup collection. A 50W halogen, the most common size of downlight, delivers about 10 times that much light.

Eurolux, a company from the Philippines—despite its name—has very good prices and is prominently displayed in many South African stores, but I do not trust their quality. I have seen too many Eurolux compact fluorescents fail while major-brand CFLs continue burning brightly. I buy almost all of my lighting supplies from Osram and Philips, and I believe the premium I pay for those brand names is compensated by their durability. (Eurolux, like Philips, does carry a three-year guarantee on their LED products; Osram LEDs are covered by a five-year guarantee.)

LEDs are falling in price, but for now, expect to pay R300 and up for a good-quality bulb. That may seem like a ridiculous price for a globe, but depending upon where it is used, LEDs can be a financially sound investment. According to Philips, Makro Woodmead and Strubens Valley and Pick N Pay Faerie Glen currently sell a 7 watt Phillips Master LED GU10 bulb for R299. My calculations suggest that over the course of 4 years, in a room where the lights are on 5 hours a day, this LED bulb is no more expensive than buying and using the equivalent 35W halogens at R40 each. After those 4 years, the LED pays a return on your investment. (The calculations ignore the cost of capital. You wouldn’t charge the environment interest, would you?)

If the bulb is in a location where it burns less frequently, it takes longer to pay for itself, and vice versa. At 3 hours a day, expect a 7 year payback; at 6 hours, the initial outlay is recouped in just 3 years. LEDs are improving rapidly, so the temptation is strong to wait. My advice is to buy a few now for a room where the lights burn longest, and gradually add more rooms as better and more affordable LEDs become available. Sometimes you have to spend a little to save a lot.

Heating and Cooling &Lighting &Solar &Water Use/Greywater29 Jul 2009 01:43 pm

Real Simple 1 Real Simple 2

The July issue of Real Simple magazine is now off the newsstand. So in case you missed it, I am reprinting my article about green renovations. The editors asked that the information be presented  as a series of questions for the various contractors that might work on a home renovation. I couldn’t really do justice to any of the subjects covered in that format and the space allowed, so I will try to expand upon some of them in future posts.

Crumbling house prices and economic jitters have convinced many homeowners that it’s safer to adapt what they have to what they need, rather than jump into a shaky housing market. But can a renovation help your house adapt to the planet as well?

Throwing a few photovoltaic solar panels on the roof won’t make your home green. And environmentally sensitive architects have moved beyond the singular obsession with energy efficiency. The catchphrase of green building in the 21st century is “embodied energy.” How much fossil fuel went into the bricks, cement, steel and glass that make up your house? What quantity of greenhouse gases is your home responsible for even before you switch on the first light? For some houses, the embodied energy of day one will exceed the sum of a few decades worth of electricity and gas bills.

Building in harmony with nature means working with the local climate, local suppliers, and even local soil. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead of waiting for easy answers, start with the right questions. And if a contractor stares blankly at the ceiling in response to your queries, you may want to look for someone with greener credentials.


How earthy can our house be? Green architects agree that adobe, cob and rammed earth are wall materials of first choice for low embodied energy. An architect who has worked with them will know whether they suit your project. The biggest concern: banks will not approve a bond for new structures supported by such raw materials. A home renovation, however, may be able to get financing.

Can we aggressively pursue passive solar? The right combination of windows, walls and floors can supply most of your heating needs in sunny South Africa. But a large roof overhang is vital to keep the high summer sun out. If your architect cannot calculate the ideal overhang based on your latitude, orientation, roof pitch and height, find another architect.

Can we build around a wood stove? If you have a local source of sustainable wood, such as suburban tree fellers, a closed-combustion wood stove is the greenest way to heat. But with all of your warmth concentrated in one spot, careful designing is needed to help the heat reach colder parts of the house. Keeping the stove central to an open plan but away from any double-volume ceilings is a good start.

How can our home use nature’s air conditioning? Your architect should know how to take advantage of prevailing winds. Low windows on the cooler, south side of the house can draw breezes to force out summer heat from high windows on the north side. Drain the pool of heat on your ceiling with small, high windows that you can leave open all night without worrying about cats or cat-burglars. Transom windows aid the flow between rooms. Trees or shutters can shield western surfaces from the afternoon sun. Don’t let some sweet-talking salesman convince you into electric air-conditioning until you’ve given nature a chance.


Global Warming &Lighting &Uncategorized07 May 2008 09:42 am

frogs on CFL

Those Frogs Still Prefer CFLs

Yesterday in my daughter’s science class, the subject of energy efficiency came up, and another girl in the class mentioned that she had heard that our house was full of energy-saving devices. So my daughter had to explain what we were doing at home to save electricity. One boy asked if manufacturing those compact fluorescent light bulbs doesn’t use more electricity than making a common incandescent globe.

She didn’t know the answer. And neither did I. But I was glad that the younger generation thinks about the carbon footprint of the products we buy, and I thought it deserved a little research. After much digging, I came up with some information from Osram about the electricity that goes into making their bulbs.

Osram says that they need 3.36 kilowatt hours to produce each 15 watt CFL. This is about two-and-a-half times the amount of electricity required to make the equivalent 75 watt incandescent globe, 1.29 kilowatt hours. An incandescent bulb is a simpler product, after all. So the advantage goes to the incandescent on day one.

It loses the advantage quickly, however. If you use the two bulbs for four hours a day, by the 9th day, the incandescent has used so much more electricity that it has lost its advantage. By the end of a year, my very rudimentary life-cycle analysis shows the CFL winning the race by 25.26 kWh to a whopping 110.79 kWh for the incandescent.

Even if you were burning these bulbs in Iceland, using carbon-dioxide-free geothermal and hydroelectric power, the CFL would be more environmentally friendly because it lasts longer and so one CFL is the equivalent of several incandescents.

If, like Noah, you know that the world is going to be swallowed up in a flood in a few days, an incandescent bulb is the green choice. If you think the flood might take a few more years as the Greenland ice cap melts, you should buy CFLs.

Lighting &Uncategorized09 Apr 2008 11:19 am

I just received a comment to a year-old post about compact fluorescent lamps. The reader raises concerns about mercury in CFLs. I replied to him at length with my own comment, but the information is too important to leave it buried there.

The issue of mercury in CFLs keeps rearing its head. I once read a long article in the Star that left the reader with the impression that CFLs’ negatives may outweigh their positives.

This is simply not true. If you read what the independent experts have to say, it is clear that compact fluorescents reduce the amount of mercury in the environment in the long run. One thorough article on the subject notes that:

CFLs represent between 0.006 and 0.04 percent of U.S. anthropogenic [mercury] emissions

It concludes:

CFLs prevent the emissions of substantial quantities of mercury, greenhouse gases and other pollutants; they reduce consumer energy bills; and they last far longer than incandescent alternatives. They are currently the environmentally preferable product despite their mercury content – whether they are recycled or not.

Two other web pages worth reading on the subject can be found at the Natural Resources Defense Council and Popular Mechanics.

The reason CFLs can contribute to mercury emission reductions despite containing mercury is that coal-burning power plants are the world’s largest contributor to mercury emissions. In the U.S., they are responsible for about a third of the mercury released. Since coal accounts for less than half of U.S. electricity generation and about 90 percent of South Africa’s electricity generation, it’s safe to say that more than half of all mercury released in South Africa comes from Eskom. Cut your electricity consumption and you reduce mercury pollution.

Aside from the broader environmental issue, some people are concerned about exposing their families to a source of dangerous mercury in their homes. John Balbus, M.D., the Chief Health Officer at Environmental Defense, writes

The exposure from breaking a compact fluorescent bulb is in about the same range as the exposure from eating a can or two of tuna fish.

Still, if a bulb breaks in your home, it’s worth following a few precautions such as using disposable paper towels to wipe up—not a vacuum cleaner—and washing your hands when you are finished. For more details, you can read the instructions suggested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

I don’t want to go too far in minimizing the dangers of mercury. It is a serious poison, and we should all try to reduce our contribution to mercury pollution in any way we can. Batteries are a very large source of mercury, so you should only buy watch batteries and alkaline batteries that are mercury free. (Recyclable batteries are even better, of course.)

In buying CFLs, the best recommendation is to stick with major international brands such as Osram, GE and Philips. They have to comply with EU standards that allow no more than 5 mg of mercury in a globe. Osram CFLs have 3.5 mg according to their technical marketing manager in South Africa, Wally Wilmans. Cheaper brands may have more.

There is no way to recycle CFLs in South Africa currently, but Eskom has a working group tasked with this issue. CFLs last so long that before the bulb you buy today burns out, even Eskom may have come up with a plan.

Lighting &Uncategorized02 Feb 2008 09:40 pm

frogs on CFL

Frogs love CFLs

E TV news tonight featured a report on me and my house, looking at ways to save electricity. The tour of my house that I gave to the eTV reporter earlier in the week made me realise that I have not yet adequately described on GreenerHouse how I try to save electricity on lighting. So here is a summary of what I have done.

1. IRC Energy Saving Halogens from Osram. Fluorescent bulbs save the most electricity, but in the public rooms of the house, I have compromised by including halogen downlighters, often in tandem with fluorescents. There is a myth out there that the term “low-voltage” in low-voltage halogen lights means that they save energy. The voltage has no impact on the amount of electricity you use. You pay for watts, not volts.

That said, if you search you can find special halogen bulbs that do save electricity. They are made by Osram, and they convert some of the excess infra-red (heat) radiation back into visible light. As a result, a 35 watt IRC (Infrared Coating) halogen gives on the light of an ordinary 50 watt halogen. A 20 watt IRC is as bright as a 35 watt halogen. Most people with downlighters have far more light than they need, so they can replace their 50 watt bulbs with 20 watt energy-saving halogens. Almost all of my downlighters are using 20 watts.

These savings come at a price, however. Osram’s energy-saving halogens cost considerably more than ordinary halogens, though they do last longer, which helps compensate for the cost. They are also harder to find. Look for them in better lighting shops and large DIY centres. The bad news is that Osram has stopped importing the 20 watt versions of these bulbs; they only sell 35 watt bulbs. I’ve found a source in the U.S., but not at quantities to sell. Please call Osram at 011 207 5600, ask for sales and nag them to start importing the 20 watt ones again.

2. Compact fluorescents. So much has been written about CFLs that it’s a waste of my time and yours to tell to write at length about how much money and electricity they save. Despite knowing that they are the right bulb to buy, many people still avoid them, for some reasons that I would like to address.

Myths and Old Ideas: Flickering, Headaches, Greenlight, Start-up power.

CFLs have electronic ballasts, so they don’t flicker like old fluorescent tubes with magnetic ballasts and are unlikely to cause headaches. The colour of the light from modern fluorescents is still not perfect, but it is a far cry from the green pallor given off by old tubes. I buy good-brand (Osram, GE, etc.) warm-white bulbs and find that their glow is pleasant enough. Mixing IRC halogens with warm-white bulbs improves the colour even more. Some people avoid all fluorescents because they believe that they use so much more power when starting than incandescents that they must be left on for a long time to avoid the wasted power on re-start. This urban legend, which I believed for most of my life, is debunked here.

They don’t fit.

The newer spiral designs of CFLs take up less space than but the globes are still slightly larger than a conventional incandescent. For this reason, I avoid lampshades with the wide, flat look that became popular a few years ago. A lampshade with a little height works better. Two ceiling fixtures that I have used very successfully can be found at Radiant, the wholesaler that supplies hundreds of lighting shops in South Africa. In their catalogue under downlights>fluorescent is the BA-01 downlighter. I light a long passage in my home with four BA-01 fixtures fitted with 8 watt “triples.” These CFLs have three glass loops instead of two, so they are shorter and don’t protrude from the fixtures. My large patio is lit with two JG-56 ceiling fixtures. (Look under Ceiling Lights>Decorative Modern.) Each has three 11-watt CFLs, so I can light the whole patio for 66 watts. Most ceiling fixtures are too flat to take anything other than an energy-hogging halogen, typically using 150 watts.

I also had trouble fitting CFLs under the glass domes of three bedroom ceiling fans, so I removed the dome and replaced them with a giant 20-watt CFL globes. These are not always easy to find. I special-ordered mine from a lighting supplier. Osram calls theirs the Osram Dulux EL LL Globe.

3. Dimmers. The problem with dimmers is that people use them as an excuse to put too much light in a room. Running halogens at 50 percent power all the time because you put too many lights in your room is a bad idea. The lamps become increasingly inefficient as you reduce the power. In other words, two 50 watt halogens at half their brightness will use more watts than one 50 watt halogen at full power. Halogens also need to work from time to time at full power or their lifetime is diminished. If your halogen-lit room is too bright, first put in lower wattage lamps, and then use the dimmer to save more electricity when you have that romantic dinner.

There is a myth that fluorescent tubes cannot work on dimmers. Even most of the staff in lighting stores believe this. But I have concealed fluorescent tubes in my lounge that I work on a dimmer every day. This requires a special electronic ballast that is made for dimming. If you want to be able to dim fluorescent tubes, seek out the most intelligent looking person in a good lighting store and don’t take no for an answer.

4. Outdoor Security Lighting. I don’t have any proof, but I think that a remote sensor light that only turns on when someone walks past it offers more security than a light left on the whole night. I use them at all approaches to my house. As it turns on, dogs and householders are alerted. I do have proof that they save a tremendous amount of electricity compared to leaving lights on. Also, outdoor lighting is terrible for migrating birds. The International Dark Sky Association has many convincing arguments against what they call “light pollution.”

There will come a time when we can buy LED and Microwave lights that will use even less electricity. Neither the environment nor Eskom can afford to have you wait for that day, however. And once you’ve filled your house with all of these wonderful lights, don’t for get that the best thing to do with them, of course, is to leave them off.

Lighting &Uncategorized05 Dec 2006 11:35 am

It’s the gift-giving season, and I see shoppers loading their trolleys with enormous boxes of biscuits. They will give most of these to people who work for them, I would guess. I’m sure the biscuits will be appreciated, but consider topping up that biscuit assortment with a gift that will keep giving for years to come. If someone you know has an electricity bill that eats a significant portion of their budget, consider giving them compact fluorescent globes.

My housekeeper returns to her newly electrified home in the North-West province during the holidays. About a year ago, when she was complaining about that her pre-paid meter there was running down too quickly every time she bought more electricity, I asked how many light fixtures she had in her home. The answer was seven, all of them using 60 watts or more. Since she didn’t have a refrigerator or geyser, these were probably the bulk of her electricity consumption. So last Christmas, I gave her 7 compact fluorescent globes that use just 11 watts each. She claims they made an instant improvement in her electricity expenditures.

Sadly, the very people who can benefit most from such an environmentally friendly technology are often the people whose budgets prevent them from paying more today to save energy in the future. That’s why compact fluorescent bulbs make a gift that is, well, brilliant.