You may have heard that starting next year (this year in California) inefficient light bulbs will be phased out. By 2014, general use light bulbs must be 25% more efficient than they are today. Bulbs that don’t have a chance of meeting the new efficiency requirement will effectively be banned, and this includes the 100 watt incandescent bulb. The new standard for light bulbs is part of President Bush’s 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act and is predicted to save businesses and consumers up to $35 billion and cut global warming carbon dioxide emissions by up to 594 million metric tons over thirty years.
Critics of the new standards are incensed over what they describe (inaccurately) as a ban on their beloved incandescent bulbs.
Here are a few comments made about CFLs on the Fox News network:
“The government is cramming down our throats these awful toxic light bulbs that the American people don’t want.”
“CFLs have a lot of mercury in them…when one breaks, you have to move out!”
“When I put them into my house, it looks like an operating room; it’s a real bright blue light!”
All this vitriol is a bit silly since all incandescent bulbs are not going away—only the really, really inefficient ones are.
Look, not everyone is a fan of CFLs (I hate all the plastic they come with) and standard bulbs are still superior to CFLs in some applications, but wider, wise use of CFLs can save us money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And they aren’t nearly as bad as some at Fox News would have us believe.
CFL critics love to dwell on the fact that CFLs contain mercury, something that concerns me as well. But we need to put that amount of mercury (about 4 milligrams per bulb) into perspective. Mercury is also emitted by coal-fired power plants to power light bulbs—about 10 milligrams per inefficient incandescent bulb over five years, but only 2.4 milligrams per efficient CFL over the same time period. In the final analysis, mercury pollution from inefficient standard bulbs is far greater. Especially when you consider that the mercury inside CFLs can be captured for responsible disposal and mercury in vapor form is much more dangerous than in the solid state form.
More about that mercury: Mercury is a toxic substance, so handle CFL bulbs with care. If you do this, chances are you will never break one. Problem averted. However, accidents do happen, so be prepared. Read the EPA’s clean up guidelines for broken CFLs now (or soon), before a breakage occurs, so if it ever does happen, you’ll know exactly what to do to protect yourself—which will not include moving out of your home.
When it comes to light “color,” the criticism that all CFLs give off harsh, cold light is just wrong. There is a bewildering assortment of “colors” within the CFL category including “warm/soft white,” “cool white,” “bright white” and “daylight.” One problem: these attempts to describe light are useless to the consumer since there is little consistency among the labels from one manufacturer to another. Check the package for a Kelvin number instead which measures light color. “Warm” (yellowish) light will be around 2,500 degrees Kelvin. “Cool” (bluish) light hovers around 5,000 degrees Kelvin.
If you like neither CLFs nor incandescents there’s always the super energy efficient and mercury free LED. If you can afford them, they are great!
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