Down and Dirty on CFLs
We’ve all seen Compact Fluorescents before, those twirly-looking, little bulbs that are supposed to save the planet but so many people seem to have a problem with. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about these over the years and while they in and of themselves will not save the planet (well, the people on the planet more accurately), they will save you up to 75 percent on the power your bulbs consume and therefore can be a really good place to start when trying to limit your energy usage. Listed below are some of the things that I hear over and over and why they aren’t really accurate reasons for not installing these bulbs.
“I hear that they have Mercury in them and when one breaks I have to call a Hazmat team.” I love this one because it’s a classic example on an urban myth gone wild. There is a small amount of mercury in these bulbs, approx 4 mg generally speaking, and as a result, you do need to dispose of them at an e-waste facility. If they break, you don’t need to sell the house, but open the windows (mercury vapors aren’t your friend) and clean it up extremely carefully. While this may seem like a nuisance, how many bulbs are you breaking on a daily basis anyway, and since you are replacing them less often, isn’t the number even less with CFLs? Just stop playing LaCrosse in the house and you’ll be fine.
“Since there is Mercury in CFLs I don’t want to add that to landfills.” And neither do I which is why I send them to a proper e-waste roundup to be dealt with. That said, the mercury in these bulbs needs to be compared to the unchecked Mercury coming out of electric generating plants, specifically the amount put out by the extra power that an old fashioned Edison bulb would require. Then you’re comparing apples to apples and you’ll see that on the mercury front, it’s the lesser of two evils.
“They’re too expensive.” Sure they’re more expensive, they last about 6 times as long, shouldn’t they be? Having said that, check out any one of these myriad CFL calculators. You’ll see that the average bulb pays for itself in 8 months and then you’re actually raking in the dough. Show me an Edison bulb that does that.
“They don’t come in the sizes or colors I want and they aren’t dimmable.” Wrong again. CFLs now come in generally three different color spectrums, in all sorts of sizes, and yes, even dimmable. I will agree that they don’t dim down all the way, but it seems like a small price to pay for all the positives that are associated with them. And for those of you who turn them on and don’t like the color right off, remember that these are fluorescent bulbs and may take up to five minutes to come up to full speed.
“They hum.” Some CFLs do hum and if anyone has one that puts out “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” I’m looking. That said, in my experience, I’ve found that the ballasts (that’s what is humming) in the cheaper brands tend to be the ones that do the most humming. If you accept that these bulbs may be pricey up front but will pay off in the long run, don’t cheap out and you should be fine. And while we’re on ballasts, they last longest if left on for 10 minutes or more, frequent turning on and off will limit the life of the bulb. That said, when compared to the bulbs they are replacing, either leaving these bulbs on a bit longer, or turning them off quickly and shortening the lifespan of the bulb will save you power and money over the long run, so if you don’t want to think about it, don’t.
There you have it, my top five excuses I hear explained and hopefully satisfactorily. I should add that occasionally I hear, “I’m just too lazy” and am still looking for a good comeback for that one. In addition, there is an email floating around about how exposure to these things causes cancer and internal bleeding, or some other horrific problem, but I have yet to see a reliable source on this. If anyone has any, please check in with us.
So if you are ready to jump on the CFL bandwagon and not sure where to start, I’d suggest the closets. Buy a few different shapes colors and sizes and try them back there. If they turn out to not be to your liking, no biggee. You’ll hone in on the type you like by the time you hit the living room and then you’ll be happy with what you have. And if you’re still not loving these, fear not, use them till they die and by then, LED bulbs will be ready for mass consumption and everything you’re still concerned about will be a thing of the past (but you’ll have saved a ton of money and energy in the meantime).
Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His website(www.sustainabledave.org) and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Give people the facts, and they’ll choose to do the right thing.”