If you’ve been following our CFL journey of learning so far, you know that I’ve replaced over 30 different incandescent light bulbs in our home with their equivalent CFL bulbs.
To get the answers and learn more about today’s CFLs I reached out to four different CFL manufacturers. Neptune Light, Overdrive Lighting and Technical Consumer Products (TCP who make the DuraBright brand), all of whom make the new bulbs I installed. I also wrote to Greenlite, a favorite of our friend Burt.
One of the four companies got back to me less than 24 hours later. It was Jeff Beck writing on Neptun Lighting’s behalf.
Many of you know that Jeff Skunk Baxter, formerly of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, is today an expert on counterterrorism and missile defense, but who knew that guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck was now an expert on energy saving lighting?
As it turns out, Neptun’s Jeff Beck does his rocking as the company’s Director of Sales, which put him in an even better position to answer our questions about their new dimmable bulbs and to fill us in on Neptun’s story and place in the industry.
Beck told us that Neptun Light is the leading manufacturer of dimmable CFL’s with more than 25 models in various wattages and numerous shapes. You can see some of those bulbs in the photos throughout this post.
From doing our green homework we knew that Neptun’s CEO, Andrew Bobel, is also the company’s founder and its Chief Engineer and we were intrigued by the 40 patents their website says he holds. We wanted to know more and Beck filled us in on Bobel’s background and Neptun’s history.
“Andrew has been in the lighting industry for more than 25 years and holds key patents on linear lamp ballasts, CFL ballasts, dimmable CFL ballasts and many more. He is the inventor and patent holder of the End-of-Life Protection Circuit that has now been mandated in all Electronic Linear Lamp Ballasts,” Beck told us.
“You in fact may consider him one of the ‘Fathers of the CFL Industry.’ It was Andrew that first convinced TCP (Technical Consumer Products, which sells to Home Depot under the Commercial Electric and N:Vision brand names) to enter into the CFL industry in the first place,” Beck went on to say.
Beck shared more about Bobel’s relationship with TCP, the big dog in the CFL industry, “Andrew then spent the better part of seven years (1995-2001) designing and patenting additional CFL models, licensing them to TCP as their sales grew into the tens of millions at Home Depot alone. As of last year TCP sold more CFL’s in the US than any other manufacturer.”
It will be interesting to see if TCP responds to the email we wrote them asking our questions about their products and their company. Jeff Beck has set a high standard in terms of responsiveness and direct, frank and thoughtful answers to our questions. We really appreciate that he didn’t just send us the usual boiler plate corporate verbiage.
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According to Beck, after developing a full line of products for TCP, Bobel decided he would begin designing the next generation of products using more sophisticated materials and electronics. However this time he decided to start his own company, Neptun Light.
“He then spent the next few years in R&D designing, testing and perfecting his newer designs. We started selling standard CFL’s nearly two years ago and released our dimmable lamps in January of this year,” Beck related.
Then he answered the questions I had for him:
Jeff Beck – The buzzing noise comes from the RFI Inductor Choke that every dimmer has. However older dimmers seem to have more of an issue with this than newer models which is one of the reasons we recommend using our lamps in conjunction with dimmers made after 1995. To further address this issue and other performance related issues Neptun has designed a line of dimmers which will eliminate all audible buzzing. Our line of dimmers are designed for both CFL’s and incandescent and they incorporate an adjustable range to eliminate flickering at levels below 10%.
Creative Greenius – Is there an initial burn in period for all dimmable CFLs or is it specific to the manufacturer?
Jeff Beck – As you can imagine I cannot speak for other manufactures, but considering the large number of individual electrical components used in dimmable CFL ballasts, I would recommend a burn-in for all dimmable CFL’s.
Diodes, inductors, and other small components are made in runs of millions at a time and though they are nearly identical they sometimes have the slightest tolerance variations. Then combining 30 components that may or may not have an initial variance causes the lamps to perform with slight variations from one another at the low end. However, as our lamps are burned in these variances dissipate and the lamps function more uniformly.
Creative Greenius – What range of dimmability should we expect from R20 type bulbs?
Jeff Beck – We expect a dimmable range down to 10% from all of our dimmable models. However, the obtainable low level is sometimes restricted by the range of the dimmer used in conjunction with our lamps.
Neptun dimmable CFLs were designed to work with all standard dimmers on the market today but with the vast number of dimmer manufacturers each having multiple models with different mechanical ranges, some existing dimmers are going to work better than others.
Furthermore, none of the mainstream dimmer manufacturers are making dimmers specifically for CFL’s, in fact many of them including Lutron print right on their box, “Not for Use with Compact Fluorescent Lights”. We often say that Lutron did not design their dimmers to work with our lamps; we designed our lamps to work with their dimmers.
We have approved numerous dimmers for use with our lamps but when an end user is not getting the expected range we have until recently recommended the Lutron SkyLark. However, as we come closer to full production of our dimmers we will simply sell one of our models instead. Our dimmers will be available by mid December and will retail for less than, if not all dimmers currently available further facilitating the use of energy efficient lighting.
Jeff Beck – As far as differences between our CFL’s in general, we have incorporated a number of advancements that places us at the forefront of CFL technology. As I mentioned, we have over 25 models of CFL’s where you might find two or three from most other manufacturers. However in addition to that, all of our CFL’s, both dimmable and standard, use Amalgam rather than liquid mercury which eliminates the worry of mercury contamination if broken or when disposed.
Finally, all of our CFL’s are certified for totally enclosed fixtures, on nearly all other CFL’s you will see printed on the box, “Not for Use in Totally Enclosed Fixtures”, in the case of Sylvania you cannot even read that unless you first buy the bulb and open the package as the warning is written on the inside panel of the package.
Creative Greenius – That’s great to know. Although I’m not surprised to hear that about Sylvania, who I consider a Legacy light maker. Thanks so much for your time and all the great info, Jeff.
Jeff Beck – My pleasure, I’m glad you found the information useful. And on a personal note, kudos to you for shining a light on the “20th Century Manufacturers” that resisted this industry simply to sell lights that have a shorter life span. Again, it is a pleasure corresponding with you, please let me know if there is anything else I can do.
I’ve got to say I dig Jeff Beck even if he’s not the former Yardbirds member and I dig Neptun Lights. I learned a lot from him and I’m impressed with their company, their approach and their products. I’m especially intrigued by Andrew Bobel and the talents and brainpower he brings to the operation. I admire a man who can both create new ways to do things and successfully turn that creativity into superior, marketable products.
Neptun lighting is located in Lake Bluff, Illinois in the Chicago area. They manufacture their product in China through their “NEPTUN China” manufacturing facility in Shenzhen which NEPTUN Light has full ownership and full control of giving them the ability to ensure the quality and consistency of their products.
I look forward to keeping in touch with Beck and keeping our readers up to date on Neptun’s continuing story. I found their bulbs on www.1000bulbs.com but they’re available at other on-line retailers too.
One last note – one concern that some folks express about Compact Fluorescent Lights is mercury and how to dispose of the bulbs. Uninformed nay-sayers declare that the energy saved is offset by the hazardous waste these bulbs are supposed to present. Those people are wrong.
CFL bulbs do contain mercury and cannot be thrown in your garbage. The mercury is about the amount that contained in this dot: As you’ll read in this link to Popular Mechanics, unless you get that dot on your hands and then lick your hands you’re not going to have a problem.
That’s not a Neptune bulb on the left, but it is typical of the electronic parts each bulb uses.
All CFL bulbs need to be properly disposed of and it’s not hard to do – especially since you’ll only be doing so every 4-7 years or so. And a growing number of retailers and city waste disposal sites and collections will take your bulbs.
The Creative Greenius says, if you’re really worried about mercury then your focus should be on shutting down all coal fired power plants – NOTHING on the planet puts more mercury into our air and environment.
We’ll have more on Killer Coal in an upcoming post.