Tuesday, July 24, 2012

CFL not the Canadian kind

Not the Canadian Football League, but Compact Fluorescent Lights.  They are an energy saving, and thus cost-saving way to "go green".  So how much energy can they save?  According to the energystar website:

" If every American home replaced just one light bulb with a light bulb that's earned the ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars."

Incredible impact!  So, how does this directly effect YOU?  CFL bulbs last longer, up to 10x longer than your standard incandescent bulb.  They also give off significantly less heat (75% less!), so your house will be cooler, you'd be amazed out much the standard bulb heats up your house!  Yes, CFL bulbs tend to be more expensive than your standard incandescent bulb.  BUT, there are ways to decrease that cost some.  Your local power company may be willing to help you out.  Salt River Project, my power company, has a program in place to offer discounts on CFL bulbs at the local hardware store.  Also, while this offer has ended with SRP, check your power company to see if they have something like this going on, SRP was offering, FOR FREE, a 6 pack variety pack of CFL bulbs.  I have found CFLs in multi-packs at Costco in the past for a really good price.  SRP also has a handy-dandy calculator so you can see how much CFLs will end up saving you, you might be surprised!

There are a few things to be aware of if you go CFL.  One, very important detail, they contain a small amount of mercury.  So, this means, do NOT just chuck them in the trash in 4 years when they burn out (no joke, we just had some burn out that we put in when we moved in our house 4 years ago), you should recycle them, Lowe's, Home Depot, Ace, etc should have recycling centers for this type of thing.  If not, use earth911 to find a recycling center near you.  The other one is that they don't look like your incandescent bulb and you may have to find the equivalent wattage for your lamp.  Also, generally they do not work well in dimmers, there may now be special CFLs on the market for this purpose, but there were not when we were looking last.  Also, for similar reasons, they do not work well with timers, so if you want to swap out your outdoor lights for CFLs and use a timer, be aware of this.  
So there are pros and cons, but I think the pros outweigh the cons substantially!  Give them a try, replace the next bulb that burns out with a CFL and see what you think!


  1. You Rarely Get the Rated Life of a CFL

    Get used to frequent recycling. One of the biggest myths in all the CFL hype is the rated life of the bulb. You'll see blog post and article after article repeating the same misleading "fact" that you will get 6,000 or more hours of life from the CFL. Well, both consumer complaints and lab research are showing how untrue this is.

    First, studies have proven what consumers have been discovering. CFL’s rarely meet their rated life in real world applications. Why? Well they may have been used in the wrong application. But they also depend on being turned on continuously or at least for 4 hours at a time to meet their rated life. If they are on for only 1 hour you get a 20% to 50% reduction in lamp life. If the CFL is used with 5 to 30 minute use cycles like most incandescents, the life is reduced 70% to 85%. That means your 6,000 hour bulb is now lasting 900 hours, less than many incandescent bulbs.

    Second, the lifetime quoted on a CFL is just an average, meaning that 50% of the lamps can and do fail before the stated hours and can still be considered a valid rating.

    Original article: http://homerepair.about.com/od/electricalrepair/ss/CFL_recycling_3.htm

    1. Agreed it depends on your application, for us, in our home, CFLs have most definitely lasted longer than a standard incandescent. LEDs would be great, however, they are even more expensive than CFLs.

  2. I have mixed feelings on CFL mainly because of the mercury. While I understand the energy advantages, if a CFL bulb breaks in your house, it's not just a matter of sweeping up the glass. The mercury is a major toxin and as a chemist I am extremely hesitant to bring mercury into my home when it's not necessary. A mercury spill (even an extremely small spill like a CFL bulb breaking) creates chemical hazardous waste that must be dealt with appropriately. Your every day person is not equipped to handle it. Even with all my chemistry training, I would not feel comfortable handling a broken CFL bulb without the right protective gear.

    Most homes have enough toxins that are difficult, if not next to impossible, to avoid. I don't see the advantage of bringing in more toxins.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Unfortunately incandescent bulbs are not free of toxins themselves, the filaments can contain lead and should really be recycled as hazardous waste as well. Mercury is serious stuff but it does not require a hazmat suit to deal with the stuff from a CFL bulb, this might be worth your read: http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/cfl.asp
      LEDs also contain toxins such as arsenic, so it truly it is a matter of of pick your poison.