Friday, June 07, 2024

The Lava Lamp Crisis

Three of Dave's working lava lamps

The incandescent bulb's heat is bad for global warming

For about ten years, Canada has been announcing that incandescent bulbs are being phased out and last August the United States banned the sale of most incandescent light bulbs.  

The sales ban is to help fight global warming. Incandescent bulbs use more energy to produce the same amount of light as LED bulbs. This is largely because much of the energy in incandescent bulbs goes to creating intense heat. If you've ever touched a turned-on incandescent bulb, you learned this the hard way.

But some things we like use this heat

While the heat makes incandescent bulbs less efficient for lighting, it makes them useful for heating things. For example, old Easy-Bake Ovens used a 100-watt bulb to cook Betty Crocker treats.

And I need incandescent bulbs to heat the wax in my lava lamps and create the spooky flowing movement inside them.

It seems that Hasbro has developed a heating element that can replace the 100-watt bulb in an Easy-Bake Oven. But a heating element alone won't work for a lava lamp because you need light to see the hypnotic flowing lava. Without an illuminated incandescent bulb, a lava lamp is a dull bottle holding a dull lump of wax.

The right bulbs

The Noma R14 E17 - 25 Watt bulb - at Canadian TireAfter some research and experimentation, I have the following recommendations.

For smallish lamps (16" high, 3" diameter):

  • 25 watts
  • E17 base (the "intermediate Edison screw", smaller than your usual bulb)
  • R14 or R39 shape

[While it is easier to find 40 watt bulbs with E17 bases and an R14 or R39 shape, I suspect it is a bad idea to use the stronger wattage. It might also be unwise to use a globe-shaped S11 or a cylindrical T8, but I'm prepared to do it when my R14s and R39 burn out and can't be replaced. I did once melt a hole in a plastic-based lava lamp using an S11 globe-shaped bulb.]

For the larger, original lava lamp (16" high, 4.5" diameter):

  • 40 watts
  • E26 base (the "medium Edison screw", the size used in most bulbs in your house)
  • R14 or R39 shape

A tip

If you get excited and think you've found some R14 shaped bulbs with E17 bases for a really good price at Rona and then two days after you get home with your super cheap bulbs you realize that they are actually 40 watt bulbs that are only good for your big lava lamp that needs an E26 base, I have good news. You can order E26-to-E17 socket adapters on Amazon that work just fine.

Getting bulbs while they last

Every time I've been in a hardware store in the past few years, I've checked for bulbs. Often, there have been none but when there was one or two, I bought them. They haven't been cheap. It has been many years since I've seen a suitable bulb in a grocery store or a dollar store.

Haraqi - R39 E17 25 Watt bulbs from Amazon
Right now, the only places I've been finding suitable 25 watt bulbs are Canadian Tire and Amazon.

Canadian Tires has the a Noma R14 E17 25w bulb for $7.49

Amazon has Haraqi R39 E17 25w bulbs at $14.99 for six ($2.50 each).

Lowes, Rona, Home Hardware and Home Depot don't seem to have any suitable bulbs.

In closing

My best wishes to any of my fellow lava lamp lovers. I'll be happy to share any news I get on this crisis with you and will be grateful for any news you have for me. And while I hate to talk about future projects, I have been thinking that it's time for me to make my own lava lamp (and could use any tips on where I can find perchloroethylene.)


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