October 28, 2010

Common Misconceptions About Compact Flourescent Lamps (CFL)

I'm a big fan of CFL's.    They work great and save money and energy.   I think they are one of the easiest and best ROI energy savers you can get.   But there seem to be a vocal minority of people who hate CFL's or are at least very cynical of them.  Today I'm going to examine the common complaints that people have with CFL's and then counter each.

Sylvania 29490 23-Watt CFL Mini Twist 6 pack, Soft White

1.  The quality of the light

This in my opinion is usually people talking about CFL's from many years ago.  When CFL's first came out they only had one light color : ugly.   Old CFLs produced a light that was very high temperature and not as 'soft' as a typical incandescent bulb.   It was a typical fluorescent bright light.   The spectrum of light in CFL's has changed a lot.    Today you can get CFL's in a light temperature equivalent to a typical 'soft white' incandescent bulb.   The warmer temperature CFL's may cost a bit more and you need to specifically look at temperature of the light to get one similar to an incandescent.

2. They don't last as long as they're supposed to

Then you probably bought cheap quality CFLs. My house is full of CFL's and has been for over 10 years since I bought it.   Most of the CFL's have lasted the full 10 years and

3. They are full of evil poisonous mercury

Yes there is in fact mercury in CFL's.   But the worries about it are overblown.  A very small amount of mercury is used in CFLs and they contain about 4 milligrams within the tube.   I would recommend that you don't break open a CFL and lick the inside.   Of course you'd be stupid to do that right?   You'd never stick evil mercury inside your mouth like using a common household thermometer.  That old style mercury based thermometer has about 500 milligrams of mercury in it.  But you knew that right and you've thrown out your thermometer I'm sure.  You also don't eat any fish right?  Cause eating a can a week of common tuna will get you about 4 mg of mercury over a year.  Monthly servings of a larger fish like shark will get you the same amount of mercury.   Now of course I don't want to downplay the hazard of mercury.  Mercury should be avoided.   But the amount of mercury in CFL's is relatively small and can be safely avoided with proper handling.   By comparison, the amount of Mercury in fish is not safely avoided with proper eating.

4. They are too expensive and not worth buying

CFL's do have a high initial cost compared to an incandescent.  However spending $3-$5 today will get you a bulb that saves you many times that amount in lower electricity use and longer lasting bulb.

5.  I can't find the right shape CFL for my light fixture

Again I think this is an out dated impression people made a few years ago and have kept.  Look again or look harder.    There are many varieties of CFL out there on the market now and they come in all shapes and sizes.

6. They take too long to warm up and they flicker

Another out dated item that used to be true but isn't any longer.  I remember when I was a kid the fluorescent bulb in my parents garage could take literally minutes to warm up and turn on.   Modern CFL's are virtually instantly on.   I've also never seen a CFL flicker.    Generally fluorescent bulbs can flicker if they are dying out so this is not normal behavior but just a sign they're going bad and will need to be replaced.

7.   They don't work with dimmers or 3 way lamps

This is generally true of most CFL's.    But they now make dimmable CFLs as well as 3 way CFL's.   You do have to find the special design CFL's if you want to use them with a dimmer switch or in a 3 way lamp. 

There are a lot of reasons that people cite for not liking or using CFL's but most of them are outdated or simply wrong.    If you don't believe me then check out the light bulb aisle next time you're in Home Depot and check em out for yourself.

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