A rant about light sockets, or: Should the government take away our choices?

Old and new: replacement lamps for bayonet and PL sockets

I’m annoyed.

OK, I am often annoyed. But I am currently annoyed about one thing in particular. PL Lamps.

You’re probably thinking this is an obscure technical thing and are about to stop reading and go and look at something else, but please, stick with me. I’m going to tell you how the government are imposing their choices on you and costing you more money for very little gain. (OK, skip to the last paragraph if you really must!)

Old and new: replacement lamps for bayonet and PL sockets
Old and new: replacement lamps for bayonet and PL sockets

This all stems from a desire to phase out the use of traditional incandescent light bulbs in the interests of energy efficiency. It is an objective that I for the most part agree with. Incandescent light bulbs are grossly inefficient, turning the vast majority of the electricity that they consume into heat rather than light. Modern LED or Fluorescent light bulbs are far more efficient. For example, a 100w traditional light bulb can usually be replaced by a 20w compact fluorescent lamp, using a fifth of the electricity.

While I agree that it is necessary for the population to switch to more efficient lighting in order to reduce our energy usage (both because we are running out of fossil fuels and because we need to address climate change) I generally disagree with behaviour being forced on the general public by the government, and I disagree with the government’s policy of forcing people to switch by banning incandescent bulbs. There are plenty of situations in which a compact fluorescent lamp or an LED lamp is not suitable – many people suffer from or migraines or other health problems that can be made worse by fluorescent lighting – and the option of an incandescent lamp should be available, although hopefully rarely used.

That’s all just background though. Most traditional light bulbs for home use have been banned from sale. The country is switching to compact fluorescent lamps as the readily available alternative. These lamps are now cheap enough for widespread use. They are fitted with the same bayonet socket that our traditional light bulbs used to go in, so it really is just a matter of disposing of the old bulb and fitting the new one. It is also possible to fit other types of lamp, for example LED lamps which are a lesser-used but potentially better technology than CFL.

Traditional bayonet socket
A traditional bayonet socket

That choice is something that is being taken away. My housing association is having work carried out on my flat. As well as a new kitchen, they are carrying out some electrical work to make the flat meet the same new building regulations as for new houses, including replacing the aged fuse box, adding some more power sockets, and replacing the light fittings. It’s this last item that has made me angry.  For decades most light fittings in the UK have used the B22d bayonet socket. It’s standard. You just buy a light bulb, it uses that socket. If you buy a compact fluorescent lamp, or an LED lamp, it uses that socket. If you buy a sound-activated switch, or a remote control switch, or a timer, that goes between bulb and light fitting, it uses that socket. Not any more. You see, in new buildings, the regulations now demand that at least a third of the light fittings in the building are made to only accept low energy light bulbs.

It is easy for the government to demand a socket that “must accept only low energy light bulbs” but implementing it is a different story. A standard socket simply carries electricity over two wires and supplies it to the lamp. You can make the socket any shape or size that you want, but it would still have to have those same two wires. Given that, any kind of lamp can be adapted to fit the socket, be it incandescent, fluorescent or something else. It would be trivial for an enterprising manufacturer to make an adapter to connect a traditional light bulb, or even design an incandescent bulb to fit the new socket.

So in practice, the socket must supply a different kind of electricity so that conventional bulbs cannot be used. Fluorescent lamps provide an answer to this problem. Compact fluorescent lamps actually contain two parts – the lamp tube itself, and the electronic circuitry that converts electricity to the necessary frequency and voltage to drive the lamp. While we have settled on the practice of including both parts in one unit, some manufacturers also produce a light fitting that has the circuitry built in, and the lamp fitting contains only the fluorescent tube. This means the light fitting and lamp will only work with each other. The perfect solution to the government’s demands.

A "PL" socket
A "PL" socket

The problem is that since there is only one simple solution to comply with the legislation, the government has effectively forced a specific technology on everyone. They have also imposed the associated costs which accompany that technology, with both the light fitting and the replacement lamp being more expensive than the standard items. Not only that, but the power output of the lamp is determined by the socket, not the lamp, so that I can now have only a 13 watt light in my living room. Since the socket is entirely different a new lampshade will often be necessary too. How many people know to look for a lampshade to fit a PL socket instead of a bayonet socket? Not many, I suspect.

I am torn on this legislation, and on the whole idea of the government imposing certain solutions and behaviour on people. For the most part I believe that the government should not be able to do this, but I also want some things to go in a direction that they won’t go without government intervention. I strongly resent the government using “Nudge theory” on us, and I’m not particularly enamoured of them deciding to tax some things purely because the government does not approve of their use. Especially so since taxing something to reduce usage will only deter the poor and not the rich, who may not even notice the difference.

What do you think? Should the government impose some behaviour or solutions on us? Which ones? How?

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

12 thoughts on “A rant about light sockets, or: Should the government take away our choices?”

  1. So more use of the earth’s resources and more stuff going in the dumps?  Very good.  Who, or what manufacturer lobbied for this?

  2. Have to admit this could smell of ‘back hander’. The people researching and making LED bulbs must be livid at this sneaky little rule (I personally want LED spots in my kitchen).  I love how this goverment says it needs to be less involved in peoples lives (by you know, providing health care and bennifits) and then goes and says you can only use this one low eneergy solution in your home, even if it isn’t the best.

  3. wtf? I had no idea about this! My immediate response is :facepalm:
    As I suspect you do, I like standardisation. One type of plug/socket for a purpose. You need a really good practical reason to have more than one type.
    and this is supposed to be for environmental reasons, to “nudge” people towards using CFLs? All it’ll do is make people annoyed at CFLs, they’ll see being environmentally friendly as being more difficult, more expensive and just annoying and awkward.
    If you want to “nudge” people what you need to do is to make things easier or significantly better of just cheaper, not harder and more expensive.

  4. The new curly CFT bulbs are a fire risk. They contain a transformer and other electronics in their base that is prone to catching fire. I know this because I had one shoot out a blue flame about three inches long right in front of me in my table lamp. I then searched the internet for evidence of this same thing happening to others and found plenty of it. There are videos posted on YouTube from people whose CFT bulbs have caught fire; some actually show bulbs in the process of catching fire. If they don’t actually catch fire they melt. Two bulbs that burnt out in my mother’s house had black marks and melted plastic around the base. She had said that when they burned out she could smell “burning plastic”. I’ve thrown away my stock of them and stocked up on incandescent bulbs and when they disappear I’d rather get oil lamps and some candles than buy another CFT. Oh yes and “long life”… they’re having a laugh.

  5. There is no requirement to replace existing light fitting with these new ones. None what so ever. You (or whoever owns the flat) is being ripped off. When carrying out a complete re-wire, there’s no requirement to use these. 

    Where a light fitting is installed somewhere new (e.g. in a newly created room – new house, extension, loft/garage conversion, whatever) it is supposed to be of the new type. But it’s at the Building Control Officer’s discretion. Our plans (submitted for building regs approval) showed that we would use them, but like most things on building regs plans, this was ignored, and the building inspector was fine with it.

    In lots of new houses, they pop the smart new fitting in for when the building control officer visits to check, and then pop normal ones in to sell the house. As you rightly point out, people don’t want this new rubbish which requires more expensive bulbs!

    btw, you can make the argument that, in 2011, standard light fittings _do_ meet the regulations (i.e. “only permit the use of energy efficient light bulbs”) because energy hungry tungsten bulbs are no longer available!

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