26 Aug “Energy Efficient” Lightbulbs: Are they worth it?

Ron and I keep a fairly green house. We recycle, we conserve water in our toilets (waiting to flush if we do number-one), and we use eco-friendly household cleansers. So it made sense for us to buy energy-efficient light bulbs or CFLs, compact florescent lights.

They cost a lot more than conventional light bulbs, but they’re supposed to last at least three times as long. Also they consume only about 25% as much energy. This sounded great to us, so we went out and bought a bunch of them. We thought that we could live with the less than eye-friendly light they put off. But then we noticed that many of these light bulbs weren’t lasting the years they’re supposed to last.

And then, when it came time to dispose of the bulbs, we discovered that they contain mercury and have to be handled in a special way. Mercury? Is that the best we can do?

At that point, we began to seriously re-evaluate the use of the highly-touted CFLs. The more we thought about it, the more it seemed like a scam. Well, maybe not a scam but something that the light bulb manufacturers were pushing really hard before they had perfected their product. I just can’t believe we’re putting these things in our houses when they’ve got mercury in them. Where is all that toxic waste going to go when we dispose of millions and millions of these bulbs?

If you factor in the disposal of these lights with their initial cost, are we really saving resources? On top of that, these lights are made to be turned on and kept on. That’s when they are most efficient. But isn’t that wasting energy too? Did you know that the cost of lighting your house is only about 8% of your total electric bill? So how much are we really saving?

If you use CFLs, you should install them only where you use a light that is on a good amount of time, like in the kitchen. Also, CFLs can’t be used with a dimmer switch. Also, you shouldn’t touch the glass part with your fingers. Ron tells me you shouldn’t touch any light bulb glass with your fingers because teh oil on your fingers will shorten the life of the bulb.

You might have heard that the old incandescent light, which has been with us for over 100 years, is being phased out. A federal law, passed in 2007 made this a reality. It’s called the Energy Independence and Security Act . It says that, by 2014, the current kind of incandescent light bulb has to be 30% more energy efficient than it is right now. This doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the incandescent bulb but it could be. I bet many people will be hording the good old reliable incandescent bulb in the next couple of years.

Ron and I want to do our part to help make this a cleaner world, but as far as we can see, the CFLs are a bad deal. Too expensive, too limited, and too toxic. We’re going back to the old bulbs.
A response from two of our readers

The article you wrote about CFLs really hit home with me. Thanks for addressing this, as I’ve been meaning to put a writeup on our site for sometime about them, I’ve hated the things ever since they were first trumpeted to be the best thing since instant oatmeal, not only because of their ugliness, the unnatural light they emit, and the toxic waste factor, but also because they overheat and become fire hazards.

When we bought our house, someone had put a CFL in the porch light. I wasn’t crazy about it, but it got put on the “when I get around to it” list. Well, one evening it looked like there was a light wisp of smoke coming from the light. I took a ladder outside and sure enough, the thing had overheated, to the point to where it melted the plastic on the lamp socket of the fixture. The plastic base of the CFL bulb was also toasted. Needless to say, we got rid of the few we had that very night. I have some pictures of the damaged socket after I took the fixture down the next morning. These things are safety hazards and have no place in a home, historic or not!

Tom and Jada Lawson at colonialrevivalrestoration.com

Ron Tanner