The old idea that CFLs are ugly light (true in the 1990s when they hit the market) is a thing of the past. I just read a Popular Mechanics study showing that while the incandescent bulb measured slightly brighter than the equivalent CFLs, the test subjects didn’t see any dramatic difference in brightness. And the results that Popular Mechanics calls “the real shocker”: “When it came to the overall quality of the light, all the CFLs scored higher than our incandescent control bulb.”
So I’m trying to get mainly energy efficient bulbs for all our lights, or at least the bulbs that need to be replaced which are a lot right now. It’s pretty confusing. Right now the city of Seattle is sponsoring this promotion so you can buy the CFLs for about a dollar. Really cheap. I already bought about 20 of them, but realized there are so many things I don’t know about them.
And while I know that CFLs (compact florescent light bulbs) can use less than a third of the energy of a conventional incandescent bulb, I’m learning they’re not always a perfect substitute:
- You want to have them in fixtures that:
- You use more than 2 hours a day.
- Are on for at least 15 minutes.
- Are well ventilated. (Some of our overheads don’t get any air flow which is probably why a couple died out sooner than normal).
- You don’t want to use them for task lighting (unless you get the circular ones- not sure what those are) because they shine all-over, not just down.
- They have a little mercury in them so have to be recycled.
The end of that myth about CFL light quality
It actually says a lot of this on the back of the CFL packaging, but I had never bother reading it until I was trying to find out brightness levels- because it said some people find the white light too “office/store bright”.
Though the old idea that CFLs were ugly light (true in the 1990s when they hit the market) is a thing of the past. I just read a Popular Mechanics study showing that while the incandescent bulb measured slightly brighter than the equivalent CFLs, the test subjects didn’t see any dramatic difference in brightness. And the results that Popular Mechanics calls “the real shocker”: “When it came to the overall quality of the light, all the CFLs scored higher than our incandescent control bulb.”
Turning CFLs on & off
I had heard that you want to avoid turning florescent bulbs on and off, but it seems that it’s still worth replacing incandescents even if those spots you’re in and out of a lot.
According to Energy Star, “even when turned on and off frequently, a CFL uses less energy than its incandescent equivalent. While there is a brief surge in energy use when a CFL is turned on, with today’s starting technology, that surge usually lasts about a tenth of a second and consumes about as much energy as five seconds of normal operation.”
Though they do add that turning a CFL on and off more frequently will also shorten its life so they recommend using CFLs where they are on for at least fifteen minutes. So I took them out of our closet because those are enclosed and we maybe have those lights on 5 min a day when grabbing the first thing to wear. Maybe that’s why they flickered whenever I turned them on- they are totally enclosed. Makes you realize you sometimes need to get all the info.
Mercury in CFLs
While I didn’t know that CFLs contained mercury, it turns out it’s still worth replacing incandescents, at least if you’re getting your power from coal-fired power plants.
“Coal-fired power plants are the largest man-made source of elemental mercury because mercury that naturally exists in coal is released into the air when coal is burned to make electricity. Coal-fired power generation accounts for roughly 40 percent of the mercury emissions in the U.S. EPA is implementing policies to reduce airborne mercury emissions. Under regulations EPA issued in 2005, mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants will drop by nearly 70 percent by 2018. The use of CF bulbs reduce power demand, which helps reduce mercury emissions from power plants.”
“It’s L-E-D like the NFL”
Another option I’ve heard a lot about- or at least their potential for the future are LEDs. I just spent the past couple weeks looking for the right LED night lights: they last years and “cost pennies per year” (as it says on the packaging which is why I figured it was energy efficient, though a lot of the packaging for the different options talk about efficiency, but I started realizing only a few were LED.)
I actually know very little about LEDs though and my husband actually makes fun of me because I was pronouncing it like a word (“lead”) and he was saying you’re supposed to call it L-E-D, saying each letter separately like the NFL. I guess that’s because LED stands for “light emitting diode”.
I had picked up a bunch of night lights (wanting to have something for the kids to get to the bathroom and our room at night without having to leave a light on) and was trying to pick between them. But the type I was looking for that I had originally picked up at Home Depot wasn’t carried at all the drug and hardware stores I looked at and I wanted something that was subtle so the LED term kept coming up. They even have LED Christmas lights but I’m assuming they’re not as cheap.
Lighting tips for the home
I should probably just get these “Lighting Tips for the Home” book from the American Lighting Association (cheap, $5) or at least read a bit more on the site about how to light the different rooms. They talk about using dimmers, motion detectors and lighting in layers. It also sounds like halogens are better than incandescents.
I feel like I’m slowly selecting my lighting for this house. It sounds ridiculous that it’s so hard to figure out, but at least I’ve learned to say L-E-D.