Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Hummer in the Living Room

George Kovacs, the man who introduced the halogen torchiere to America, died last Friday.

What Kovacs' obituary doesn't mention is that a halogen torchiere is like a Hummer in your living room. Much as the behemoth SUV guzzles fuel, a halogen torchiere uses a 300-watt bulb to replace a lamp using a 75- or 100-watt incandescent bulb (or nowadays a 20- to 29-watt compact fluorescent bulb). This wattage is necessary because the torchiere is inherently inefficient: it reflects light off the ceiling instead of directly illuminating the room. A wiser populace would have steered clear of these electricity hogs when Kovacs brought them to America, coincidentally around the time of the first oil crisis in the early 1970s. Alas, style often wins out over efficiency.

Their heyday came in the 1980s when countless knockoffs appeared. Prices went into freefall as every store tried to offer the cheapest halogen torchiere to attract customers. I held out until a home improvement store (maybe Builder's Square or Handy Andy, both long gone chains) offered one for under $15. That was an amazing price considering that a halogen bulb alone cost $7-8. My torchiere was surprisingly well made and sturdy. It lasted about a decade before I became conscious of its energy consumption and threw it away.

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