How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb?


By Clean Energy Corps standards, it usually takes two. If we were all psychiatrists, it would only take one person to change the light bulb, but the bulb would really have to WANT to change. Unfortunately none of us are mental doctors used to talking people out of dangerous situations and with all SCA programs, safety comes first! We don’t want anything to happen to anyone while they are alone in a strangers home, so we change out the bulbs in pairs. I’m sure you can understand.

In the lighting program we run, we aim to help residents save $100 on their energy bill and reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 400 pounds. We accomplish this by replacing their inefficient incandescent bulbs with more efficient CFLs. That’s compact fluorescent lamp for all of you who are not trained lighting specialists. (Don’t feel bad, I just had to look it up again to figure out what the L stood for.) We usually change between 15 to 20 bulbs in each home to help program participants with these reduction goals.

Now I do not know how many of you have tried to change out 20 bulbs AND convince people to also have an energy assessment in their home AND tell them about how to properly recycle burnt out CFLs or clean up broken ones (whatever you do, do NOT sweep them up with a broom or use a vacuum! Use a stiff piece of cardboard and put it all in a plastic bag. Then bring it to Home Depot) AND explain Clean Energy Options (a program where you can require that your electricity supplier purchase your electricity demand from a renewable source) AND do data entry for the bulbs changed out for DOE verification purposes AND find out any community groups the home is affiliated with AND give them information about buying replacement bulbs of appropriate color temperature and wattage in less than an hour, but it can certainly be a feat. This may also be why it takes two people to change out each light bulb.

So I want you to go home and time yourself and see how long it takes you to change all of your bulbs to CFLs. And when you come back, no matter how fast you were able to do it, you will still feel defeated. Because you will then read that Kate and I changed out 37 light bulbs in under an hour. You read correctly – 37 light bulbs in one visit. In less than one hour.

And there is no way you could do that. AND do all the other stuff we do in our lighting visits that I didn’t ask you to try. But it is okay. Because we couldn’t either. Not by ourselves. And here is the takeaway message.

People want to help you to help them. And they want to learn anything new you can teach them. We are here to serve, so when people ask if they can help us change out their bulbs, we let them. We don’t feel bad, because hey! They are getting these bulbs for free. And we have a lot of stuff besides lighting we also have to do, so the faster we can get out of there, the better!(Don’t worry, I won’t give you another long list, though it does exist.)

They learn what the CFL wattage equivalent is for each incandescent bulb and why we can’t change their outdoor lights. We explain that we put a bulb with higher light output in their bed lamp so they have enough light to read at night. We get them excited about the future of lighting when they find out that LEDs will be cost competitive by the time their new CFLs burn out.

The beauty of letting people help is that it becomes a family affair –the mom gets involved, the dad gets involved and the kids wonder why Daddy isn’t watching Rudolf with them for the 100th time and come to find out what is so cool about the curly Q lights.

They ask us questions and we are able to make energy use a little less mysterious. We tell them that the local church they belong to is one of our coalition partners and $25 will go back to the church once they complete their energy assessment. They feel good about saving money and helping out their community. They realize we genuinely care about the work we do and even though they didn’t pay us, they sure got a heck of a value. They tell all of their friends about how awesome we are and then the entire town signs up for our program. They all have energy assessments, get insulation and install solar panels. Our program is a raving success and gets rolled out on a national level. Everyone in the country reduces their energy waste by 20 percent. We no longer have to worry about not having power for weeks because energy distribution becomes localized. There are no more wars ever and asthma rates reduce dramatically.

Okay, so maybe this doesn’t all happen overnight. But this is what we are trying to do here. And it all starts by changing out a few light bulbs.