Really only one word: controversy. When you mention CFLs nowadays, you’re likely to get some strong feelings on the subject and it ranges from adoration to contempt – similar to the feelings Charlie “Winning” Sheen stirs up in people. So where does this controversy come from? Well, it seems CFLs have become somewhat of a poster child in the fight over government’s role in the “greening” of our economy. With all that attention comes the inherent spread of misinformation by both the admirers and the haters.
When you look at the dialogue surrounding CFLs, there are a few different takes on things. On the one hand, you have people claiming the government cannot tell homeowners what light bulbs to use in their homes, especially when these bulbs contain mercury and allegedly pose a health and safety risk. On the other hand, people argue CFLs reduce electricity consumption lowering green house gas emissions, which the government has the authority and responsibility to control. Beyond the politics of it all, there are other people who simply have had a bad experience with CFLs, whether due to the shape, color, light quality or lifetime of the bulb.
With all the banter on the subject, it can be difficult to figure out what’s accurate. Rather than debate the politics, we think a much better solution is to provide people with good information and let them make a choice that fits their needs. We’ll leave the controversy of CFLs and coverage of Sheen’s latest mishaps to the 24hr news teams and dive into what’s important for you to know when considering CFLs in your home. Here are some basics that highlight the pros and the cons:
1. How much money do I save using CFLs? For a light that is on an average of 2 hrs a day, you’ll save $6 per bulb every year. Multiply that by the average number of lights in a home and you’re looking at saving $140 a year.
2. I started using CFLs and I didn’t save that much, how come? CFLs save you the most money for lights that are on a lot. Now that doesn’t mean you should stop turning off your lights, although your kids would love to have that pressure off their shoulders. What it does mean, is that you’ll save the most money by replacing bulbs that are on for more than an hour a day.
3. How long does a CFL bulb last? CFLs last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. This means you’ll buy 1 CFL for $3 instead of buying 10 incandescent bulbs for $6.50.
4. Why do my CFLs burn out after 3 months then? Switching CFLs on and off repeatedly decreases their lifespan (also see #10 below). So, for the light in the closet that you turn on 10 times a day but it only stays on for 15 seconds, using a CFL doesn’t make sense.
5. Do CFLs contain mercury? Yes, CFLs contain mercury. The next question should be, how much? About a 1/4 as much as old thermometers. You know the non-digital ones you would stick under your tongue 10 times before you got a reading that was in the range of possible. So, when you hear people say CFLs pose a health and safety risk, they’re overstating things a bit.
6. Once my CFL burns out, what do I do with it? Because CFLs contain a small amount of mercury (see #5 above), you can’t just toss them in the garbage. You can check with your local dump or recycling center to get more info about recycling in your area. If that seems like a hassle, you can also buy ready to ship boxes to recycle your used bulbs. All you do is fill up the box with your old CFLs and ship it off to be recycled.
7. Why does my CFL make my skin look like it hasn’t seen sunlight in years? Most likely it’s an older CFL or see #10 below. CFLs now come in multiple colors/shades just like incandescent bulbs and across all the different wattages, so you should be able to find a CFL that works for you.
8. How do I figure out which CFL is right for me? For most situations all you need is a 13-15W spiral CFL to replace your 60W incandescent. For bulbs with different wattages, check out this table to find the correct replacement. CFLs come in all the various shapes you need for your different fixtures (globe, reflectors, A-shape, candle, etc) and dimmable and 3-way bulbs are also available.
9. Why does it take so long to turn on? Spiral CFLs on the market today rarely have this issue, but some globe and reflector shaped bulbs can take 10-15 seconds to reach maximum light output.
10. I still don’t like CFLs, what do I do? Some CFLs are just made poorly. The brand you buy has an impact on the color of the light, how quickly it turns on, how long it lasts and whether or not you buy another one. If you’re unhappy with your current CFLs, try a different brand.
The next time you hear spirited conversation about CFLs, the list above should help you sort through the facts and make an informed decision. While CFLs may not be the best fit for all situations, the reality is CFLs will save you energy and money. The technology for CFLs is also constantly improving to meet consumers’ demands and when compared to the technology of incandescent bulbs, the benefits are difficult to ignore. Think of it this way: only 10% of the energy used by an incandescent light bulb actually serves the purpose of a light bulb, to produce light. The other 90% of the energy is released as heat. In a world of iPads, smart phones and cars that drive themselves, calling the incandescent light bulb technology is like calling Charlie Sheen one of the great philosophers of our time. It just doesn’t make sense. When it comes down to it, the conversation about switching from incandescent bulbs to CFLs should not be dominated by controversy, but by the acknowledgement that CFLs offer a great step forward for homeowners both financially and environmentally.