Upon Further Review

Maybe compact fluorescent bulbs aren’t such a great idea after all.  I had barely hit the "publish" button for Wednesday’s blog on saving money by using CFLs when I came across an article by Elizabeth Weise in USA Today about some of the problems associated with them.

According to Weise, only 11% of consumers have at least one CFL in their homes.  Some of the drawbacks?

  • Some people remember the first generation of the bulbs which put out a strangely-colored light.  While they still only give off light that’s about 80% as true as natural sunlight.  Bulb manufacturers are working on the problem.
  • The don’t start up at full brightness.  It can take up to a minute for them to reach full output.
  • They don’t like hot or cold.  Below 30 degrees, they take even longer to heat up.  High temperatures cut into bulb life.  Putting them into enclosed fixtures can cut their useful life by as much as two thirds.  Even so, a CFL that lasts 3,000 hours compared to its normal 10,000 is still a big improvement over an incandescent that lasts only 750-1,000 hours.
  • To get higher wattage in a CFL, the bulb has to be bigger.  A lamp that can take a smaller 60 watt bulb may not be able to hold a 120.
  • A lot of the CFL bulbs wont work with a dimmer or in a three-way fixture.  They make noise, they burn out quickly, and they may not dim.
  • There are some concerns about disposing of CFLs which contain mercury.  You don’t have to call the EPA, but you should wear plastic gloves to pick up the pieces of a broken bulb.  It may contain from 1 to 5 milligrams of mercury, compared to the 400 milligrams of mercury used in older thermometers.  There is no national program to dispose of used CFLs, but there are local programs in some areas.

So, what’s the bottom line, Mr. Wizard?  I’d say my earlier suggestion to replace incandescents with CFLs still applies.  Their short-comings are minor compared to the amount of electricity (money) you can save.  Unless you routinely keep your store temperature below 30 degrees, or above 80, you shouldn’t have a problem.  Besides, if you keep your store temperature below freezing, you’re already saving plenty of energy.  Let’s not get carried away.

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