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The Light Bulb That Can Change the World 1137

An anonymous reader writes to tell us FastCompany is reporting on the latest and greatest version of the compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). While CFLs of the past may have been efficient, they certainly were not effective. However, according to the article, CFLs have come as far as cell phones have since the mid 80s while still maintaining that high efficiency. From the article: "if every one of 110 million American households bought just one [CFL], took it home, and screwed it in the place of an ordinary 60-watt bulb, the energy saved would be enough to power a city of 1.5 million people. One bulb swapped out, enough electricity saved to power all the homes in Delaware and Rhode Island. In terms of oil not burned, or greenhouse gases not exhausted into the atmosphere, one bulb is equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads."
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The Light Bulb That Can Change the World

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  • Correction (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @04:53PM (#16002370)
    one bulb is equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads
    I think you mean *110 million bulbs* are equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads.
  • But what about RFI? (Score:5, Informative)

    by dwm ( 151474 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @04:58PM (#16002433)
    One of the big problems with fluorescent lights is that they produce a lot more radio frequency interference (RFI) than incandescents. While they are more efficient energy-wise, the RFI issue is a show-stopper for anyone sensitive to such things (radio amateurs and other odd folk).

    Has any progress been made in reducing fluorescent light RFI -- or is even feasable/possible?
  • Re:LED's !! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @04:59PM (#16002443)
    I wish you were right, but LED's are still far less efficient and much mor expensive than flourescents.
  • by OS24Ever ( 245667 ) * <> on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @04:59PM (#16002446) Homepage Journal
    I'd been kicking around the 'replace lights when they burn out with CF lights' idea, and then I sat down and did the math and figured that within a year they would pay for themselves in energy savings. I did a write up [] about it on my boring ass personal blog just to document when I did it so that I could come back and see what power savings I saw.

    I would say that I replaced 18 65W bulbs in regular light fixtures, 20 65W 'globe' lights in three bathrooms, 5 chandalier 45W bulbs, four outdoor 150W Spotlights, not including about 8 - 10 bulbs already installed in the 'light burned out' category since we moved into this home in May 2003.

    I'm keeping track of the power spent so far, and interested to see if there is a noticeable drop. Noticeable to me = $5 - $10 average. I'm not expecting a bill to go down by half, I do live in North Carolina and it's summer time so the AC is on full blast most of the time.

    My next venture is into a PV System to offset the amount of energy I need to buy every month vs. the sun could provide. I'm still investigating that system but it appears that I could invest about $10,000 in a decent system, and get about half back in tax breaks from my state & federal government programs. If I get it in before the end of 2007.

    Honestly with the Slyvania bulbs I used, I don't see a color temp difference. There is a slight delay from 'on' light output to full light output and even though they use a lot less power they are on average much bright light luminosity wise. But just in the last 5 years alone the delay you would see from light switch - light on has dropped to near instantaneous. There are several bulbs I put in 2003 that you can count out a second or so from switch on to light in the room. But these new ones come on when you turn em on.
  • by sugapablo ( 600023 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:00PM (#16002450) Homepage
    Or at least make a big difference []. Problem is, most people couldn't care less.
  • Re:LED's !! (Score:3, Informative)

    by ack154 ( 591432 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:01PM (#16002465)
    But they're more expensive. Not that it's a perfect example, but just look at ThinkGeek []... the cheapest LED bulb they have is $22 ... and that's on clearance!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:02PM (#16002478)
    For those who, like myself, are uneducated about CFL bulbs: amp []
  • Much better bulbs (Score:3, Informative)

    by robathome ( 34756 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:02PM (#16002485)

    I've replaced all the outside lighting and the utility lighting in the basement with CFLs. All in all, I've replaced 700W of incandescents with 137W of fluorescent. They're much brighter, faster to come to full output, and purer white than any compact fluorescent bulb from the last generation.

    They're absolutely perfect for work and utility areas. For living areas and reading light, however, I still prefer tungsten bulbs.

  • by RingDev ( 879105 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:04PM (#16002501) Homepage Journal
    I have CFLs in my bathroom, bedrooms, hallway, washroom and garage. The only reason they aren't in the other rooms is because of light fixture limitations or the existing bulbs haven't burnt out yet. I have two different styles. One is the exposed spiral style, and those ones are warm and bright. All of those ones I have are either in can lights, or behind some type of glass. I had another few that had a spherical bulb over the CFL, those were a bit more warm (just a touch of yellow). The bulb made them a bit large for some fixtures though, so they are now lighting my garage.

  • Re:Correction (Score:2, Informative)

    by nanio ( 937692 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:06PM (#16002520) Homepage
    In context, looks like he meant 1 bulb (per household), not 1 buld (amongst all you bastards). Poor writing, but not absurdism.
  • Re:White light? (Score:5, Informative)

    by tgd ( 2822 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:07PM (#16002534)
    Look on the package for the color temperature of the bulb. You want 2700 degree ones (which match incandescent bulbs so closely, if you didn't know it was CFL you wouldn't guess it).

    Up until recently (ie, the last six months or so) most of the bulbs you'd find in the typical discount stores were 4000-5000 degree.
  • by slapyslapslap ( 995769 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:10PM (#16002564)
    I recently picked up 4 new flourescent bulbs at Walmart that didn't look like coils. They were actually close to the shape of a normal incandescent bulb. I placed the in a bathroom that had 4 lights above a mirror (you've probably seen that kind of setup a thousand times), so naturally you don't need the kind of light you get from 4 100 watt bulbs. I'm surprised at the quality of light that I'm getting, and they don't look funny either. (they're fully exposed bulbs). They even had the "tulip" shaped bulbs that you might put in a ceiling fixture. I may replace my bulbs in my ceiling fans with them.
  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:10PM (#16002566) Homepage
    In terms of oil not burned, or greenhouse gases not exhausted into the atmosphere, one bulb is equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads.

    Setting aside the debate over that statement - if it is even remotely true, then these bulbs are not just simply a 'good idea'. They are a moral imperative.
    Remember where those $100 bills that Hezbollah is handing out come from. Hint: they do not originate in Iran.

    They are a moral imperative only if you are deluded enough to believe that reducing electrical consumption means significantly fewer dollars flowing to the Middle East from the US. Hint: Imported oil makes up a vanishingly small percentage of the already tiny percentage of electricity that comes from oil. Don't be misled by the analogy you quote.
  • Re:So... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bill, Shooter of Bul ( 629286 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:12PM (#16002583) Journal
    I just installed 100 cfl's at the school. They were all from donations so there was a variety of bulbs. Some of them are as you describe, but some were really awesome. SOme of them don't have a warm up time, and some are actually much, much, much brighter than the incadecent equivelent makred on the wrapper. I guess it depends on the brand. How many people at home really know or care about "color temperature"?
  • by soft_guy ( 534437 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:15PM (#16002610)
    Very little of the electricity in the US is generated by oil. Most of the electricity in the US that is generated by oil is backup generators and other specialty uses.

    About half is generated by coal which contributes to pollution. The other big chunks are hydro, nuclear, and natural gas. Natural gas does produce CO2, but by far natural gas is the easiest type of power plant to get the permits to build.

    It is really hard to build new Hydro plants because people are concerned about the environmental impact. When I livedin the northwest, I heard lots of talk about people wanting to get rid of the hydro dams because they believe it would be beneficial to salmon. (This seems NUTS to me.)

    A lot of nuclear plants have actually been shut down. Still, the US gets lots of its energy from nuclear.

    A huge chunk of the electricity used in the US is actually wasted by AC to DC power adaptors for electronics and also for standby mode in other types of electronics (TVs, VCRs, etc.)

    If I could do whatever I wanted with energy policy, I would give serious consideration to re-starting existing nuclear plants that are unused and I would try to get as many people as possible to put solar panels on their roofs. I would also ban standby mode and try to find ways for consumer electronics to generate DC power more efficiently. More hydro plants would be good, but we are close to having as many as can be built. So, I'd look into building a few more, trying to reduce demand, and trying to close as many of the coal plants as possible.

  • by SpyPlane ( 733043 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:17PM (#16002629)
    If you RTFA, you'd see that they broke it down very nicely. The fact that these bulbs can last up to 10 years, saves WAY more energy and materials than the regular bulbs they replace. They even go into how many less Walmart trucks will be needed to haul lightbulbs around. Really, sometimes the articles do give important information!
  • Re:So... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Omega Hacker ( 6676 ) <> on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:19PM (#16002646)
    - are 3x-10x the cost of an ordinary light bulb

    I haven't ever bought regular bulbs so I can't be certain, but I would highly doubt that they are anywhere near the 10x range you imply.

    - are a bit dimmer than their stated wattage equivalent standard bulbs

    I haven't really found this to be the case, and even if it is true for a given brand of bulb, getting a higher wattage bulb to compensate still leaves you with 70+% energy headroom.

    - take a bit of time to warm up

    The latest bulbs I've purchased turn on instantly and are at 80-85% brightness right away. The warmup period is short, but long enough to not be visible.

    - don't have quite the same color temperature as standard bulbs

    You can find them in any number of colors, though granted most of them suck. A bit of experimenting would be in order, though I'm wondering this: where on earth has Consumer Reports been?? Maybe the light and color-measurement tools I'm slowly building up for LEDs should be put to use building a basic site with solid numbers for each of the bazillions of bulbs out there.

    - sometimes don't fit under (e.g.) ceiling fan light domes, especially the 100W equivalent models
    As stated in the article (a fundamental premise of which is that all of these concerns are now effectively solved...), "100W" bulbs are now getting compact enough for straight replacement. It just depends on the brand.

    However, the main beef I have with the assertions the article makes is that CFL bulbs last 10 years. Maybe this is a function of older designs, but we haven't found CFLs to effectively last any longer than standard incandescent. Either the electronics crap out early, or the bulb dims and radically changes color (purple is popular) fairly quickly. The latest round seems to be a lot better, but they still buzz well within my hearing range.

    FWIW, I've personally settled on Commercial Electric bulbs from Home Depot. They turn on instantly to very near full brightness, are bright and have a very nice color temperature (neither too sickly yellow/green, nor glaring "cool" blue). So far so good as far as lifetime...

  • Interesting Factoids (Score:3, Informative)

    by StarfishOne ( 756076 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:24PM (#16002702)
    Slightly OT, because it is not about saving energy by changing light bulbs, but just as important when it comes to saving energy: the so-called "Phantom Load", or the energy which is still being used by devices which are apparently switched off or those that are in stand-by mode.

    It is estimated that between 6 and 16% of all electricity used in the USA on an annual bases is wasted because of this. (Source [])

    It is also estimated that:

    "... all TV and VCR that are turned off cost Americans nearly a billion dollars a year in electricity."
    (Source [])

    And that:

    "[One study estimated] that the phantom load from TV's alone was equal to the output of a Chernobyl sized power plant. "
    (Source []) Also interesting:

    "There is no question that rolling blackouts could have been avoided if Californians cut their dryer use in half. Heck, it would only take something like a 10% reduction in electrical use across the country to shut down half of the nuclear power plants."
    (Source [])

    Personally, I'm more than happy to take the small effort of actually walking to the TV (and other devices) to turn it on/off instead of leaving it on standby. And you're not just saving the enviroment either, being aware and watching devices which "leak electricity" in your house can easily save you $$$ (yes, 3 digit number) on a yearly basis!

    To add a personal bit of evidence discovered while inspecting all electrical devices in the house with something similar to the Kill-A-Watt meter []: it is shocking to discover that a lamp is using 40 Watt while in use, and still 25 Watt when switched turned ""off""! Bad, bad design with perhaps some cheapo, heat generating transformer.

    Oh, and strategicly placed power strips with a single master switch to operate for example your TV/Stereo installation make all of this very simple.
  • Re:How many... (Score:4, Informative)

    by sootman ( 158191 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:24PM (#16002704) Homepage Journal
    Find the answer here. []
  • Re:LED's !! (Score:2, Informative)

    by hAckz0r ( 989977 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:27PM (#16002736)
    Correction! They are an order of magnitude more efficient!

    Just take a look at the power consumption specs here []

    The purchase price still sucks though.

    That being said I am experimenting with a solar lighting system that charges a battery during the day and lights my entire house at night, for free (minus the cost of throwing the system together im my basement of course). My lighting needs will not burn any foreign oil or add to the global warming situation. Not only that but the bulbs will last longer than any of the equivalent CFL's that it would have taken to do the same job! You need to factor in the lifetime before compairing total costs.

  • by c_sd_m ( 995261 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:28PM (#16002741)
    Canadian Tire (something of a hardware store that increasingly thinks it's a department store) carries dimmer CFL bulbs. I believe they're from GE. There are also "soft white" CFL's (for those who find the typical CFL light harsh) and some with plastic "bulbs" surrounding the tube to soften and better disperse the light (also available at Ikea). Dimmable CFL's are still fairly expensive though.
  • We Phased them In (Score:3, Informative)

    by beadfulthings ( 975812 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:29PM (#16002754) Journal
    We started using the CFL's earlier this year simply by replacing incandescents as they burned out. So far, it's been a good experience--not great, but good. I've noted:

    1) Great in the kitchen. We have six older recessed "can" lights, and the CFL's have performed well. It would possibly be better to convert to recessed halogen lights, but that's a spendy proposition. The CFL's illuminate task areas just fine.

    2) Good in the living room and other reading/chatting areas. Haven't had any problems reading, and the light seems warm enough that we don't look like we live in a bus station.

    3) Really good in hallways/stair areas. There's an elderly relative around, and the CFL's have done a better job than incandescents at clearly illuminating the upstairs hallway, stairwell, etc. I think this is because of the "white" quality of the light.

    4) Awful in the bathroom. For some reason--maybe the light paint, glossy tiles, or mirrors--they turn you into one of the undead when you look into the mirror early in the morning. Incandescents are better here.

    A couple of drawbacks we've noticed are:

    1) They can make an odd noise. This seems to be a prelude to one of them going bad.

    2) We seem to get an occasional bad one. That hurts due to the price.

    3) They do take a while to come on. Hasn't been a problem so far except in the upstairs hallway.

    I believe (but am not sure) that we're saving on electricity. Our utility company railroaded through a 72 percent increase over the next three years, so it's hard to tell at this point.
  • Re:So... (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuasiEvil ( 74356 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:31PM (#16002773)
    Actually there are dimmable CFLs. I have three of them in my kitchen over my table - they're some off-breed, but I see that Philips has recently started making name-brand dimmables as well.
  • Re:The trade off (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:35PM (#16002815)
    No, we trade off the small amount of mercury in the CFL with an overall larger reduction in mercury emitted through power production. Net reduction in mercury released to the environment by using a CFL.,1607,7-135-3585_3006 8_30172-90210--,00.html []
  • Except that they don't last 10 years. I've been using CFLs for at least 5 years (back when they used to cost 10 or 15$ each). I've yet to have one last more than two years, and I'd say most don't last more than one.
  • Mercury (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:40PM (#16002879) Homepage Journal
    From Wiki:
    Note that coal power plants are the single largest source of mercury emissions into the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), (when coal power is used) the mercury released from powering an incandescent bulb for five years exceeds the sum of the mercury released by powering a comparably luminous CFL for the same period and the mercury contained in the lamp.

    Given that, and that the Incandescents use 4-5 times as much electricity as Flourescents, that meanst that switching to a Flourescent, even though it contains mercury, will actually reduce mercury emmisions, if you get power from coal.

    So remember, if you want to reduce mercury, you should first work to eliminate coal power plants.
  • by AndyAndyAndyAndy ( 967043 ) <> on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:42PM (#16002892)
    A very good insight into the potential of such technologies is HBO's "Too Hot to Handle" documentary. In part 4, it is brought up that a theoretical solar power plant 100 miles long by 100 miles wide in the Mojave desert would cover 100% of U.S. energy demands. This is using existing technology and under existing energy standards.
    You wouldn't even need to change bulbs!

    You can find the documentary and download it for free through the iTunes store.
  • by tashanna ( 409911 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:45PM (#16002927)

    Rebates are everywhere. Just look []. From the first page:

    In that list there's governments, utilities, and some organizations I'm not real sure about, but the point is that there's rebates all over the place. The one thing to note is that it's all handled locally instead of one big Federal government initiative. Just because the feds aren't doing it doesn't mean it's not getting done. Thank God for that.

    - Tash []

  • Re:So... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:45PM (#16002931)
    I'd use them today, but... you can't dim them. Ruins any house automation setup.
  • by hawkbug ( 94280 ) <psx@fimb l e .com> on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:49PM (#16002969) Homepage
    I'll back you up on that - I have them go bad all the damn time, probably faster than regular bulbs in some cases. It's frustrating, seeing a big "Guarnteed to last 7 years" sticker on the box, and only getting 15 months out of them on average.
  • Re dimming (Score:2, Informative)

    by jtara ( 133429 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:49PM (#16002975)
    Sorry, but the "better" bulbs on that page tout dimming to 20% of full brightness, while the "best" tout dimming to 10% of full brightness.

    Neither of these is acceptable for "architectural" applications, where 2% is the accepted minimum standard.

    While 20% or 10% certainly will save electricity, it's not dim enough to be perceived by humans as "dim". Ok, certainly not "seductively dim". :)

    Full dimming is possible, but only with expensive ballasts and special wiring. Such systems are commonly used today in TV studio lighting.

    The problem with retrofit CF dimmable bulbs is they basically have to put a complete dimmer in a throw-away bulb. There's only so much they can do at a throw-away price.
  • Re:The trade off (Score:5, Informative)

    by RzUpAnmsCwrds ( 262647 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:51PM (#16002996)
    This sheet [] may prove helpful. In summary, CFLs prevent enough mercury emissions (from coal power) to offset their own mercury content. A typical CFL contains 4mg of mercury, over 100x less than a typical thermometer and almost 1000x less than the mercury switches frequently used in older thermostats.
  • by SETIGuy ( 33768 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:55PM (#16003028) Homepage
    I've yet to have one last more than two years, and I'd say most don't last more than one.

    Really? I've still got bulbs I purchased in around 1992 that are still working. The biggest problem I've had is that they dim as the years march on and get moved to places that require less light.

    I have had some last less than a year, but I've found that those are related more to the fixture used than the bulb. Enclosed fixtures especially those with multiple bulbs will reduce the lifetime due to trapped heat. Any fixture where the bulb doesn't fit well and ends up under stress is also a bulb killer.

    The biggest problem I have with compact fluorescents is the accumulation of dead bugs in ceiling fixtures. With incandescent bulbs the changes are frequent enough that bugs don't have time to accumulate.

  • Re:Correction (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheGavster ( 774657 ) * on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:10PM (#16003150) Homepage
    I know Exxon-Mobil is big, but this is freaking General Electric teamed with Wal-Mart we're talking about. Their combined market cap is almost $600 billion (~4% of the GDP). I think that these things might be here to stay.
  • Re:So... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:12PM (#16003164)
    How many people at home really know or care about "color temperature"?

    Lots of people, though they may not call it that. That's why you see incandescent bulbs marketing under various descriptions like "soft white" or "daylight" or "warm". People definitely have preferences for color temperatures.

    Of course, for some professions -- artists, graphics designers, photographers, and so on -- it's indispensable.
  • by Chuck Messenger ( 320443 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:13PM (#16003167)
    I've been using CFL's for a couple of years now.

    The cost isn't a real issue. The fact that they are 3x-10x more expensive to buy is ameliorated by the fact that they last many times longer. That factor alone probably makes them a wash. When you add on the HUGE savings in energy, plus fact that you don't need to mess around with changing lightbulbs so often (saving you labor), then they're an easy win financially.

    I don't believe they take any longer than regular light bulbs to warm up. If they do, it's never been an issue for me. There is a short flicker when you fire them up. So what?

    I also don't believe they're dim compared to their watt rating. Even if that were true, you could easily solve that by using higher-watt-rated bulbs. The cost savings is still going to be huge.

    As for color temperature: "real" lightbulbs have a _horrible_ color! People who are used to them just don't realize it. They put out a strong sickly-yellow hue. Try taking an indoor foto without a flash, and you'll see what I mean. With CFL, you have much more control over the light color. I believe you can choose to match incandescent, if you want. But more likely, you'll want to use one of the natural light colors. Yes, those bulbs may be more expensive (don't know for sure), but again, the cost savings will still be huge.

    It's true that they sometimes don't fit, altho I've always been able to solve the problem -- by buying a better-shaped / smaller bulb.

    One problem is that I haven't found a reasonable replacement for my spotlights. The CFL versions are way expensive. Maybe they also would pay for themselves, but it's not a slam dunk like it is for regular light bulbs...
  • by jandrese ( 485 ) <> on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:14PM (#16003172) Homepage Journal
    I've discovered that quality matters a lot with CFLs, unlike regular light blubs where even the off brand guys do a reasonable job. For instance, the "America Something" brand that Wal*Mart sells is complete trash. Their colors are all over the map, they flicker, and they rarely last more than a couple of years. Half of the time the instant on stuff doesn't even work properly with them.

    I have been very impressed with the Commercial Electric brand sold by Home Depot however. I installed a ton of them 5 years ago when I bought my house and thus far only one has failed. They aren't even all that expensive, you can sometimes find 6 packs of 15 watt bulbs for ~$10-$15 on sale. I redid my Mother-in-Laws place with a couple of those packs and saved her a bunch on her power bill because she has this annoying habit of never turning lights off. Plus, I was tired of changing half of her bulbs everytime we went over there.

    I've also experimented with the GE brand and a few others, but that was back before isntant on was common and many of them take several seconds to light, which turned me off on them.
  • by lelitsch ( 31136 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:20PM (#16003224)
    You mean like in California? PG&E gives cash back on all kinds of energy saving appliances including light bulbs [].
  • by adamjaskie ( 310474 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:20PM (#16003228) Homepage
    My central heating is gas powered, and more efficient than heating with electric bulbs, most of which are making heat near or above my head, where it soon floats to the ceiling, where it doesn't benefit me at all. I'm happy to transfer the heating load to the more efficient, better heating equipment during the winter, and let my lights provide more light than heat during the summer.
  • Re:So... (Score:3, Informative)

    by QRDeNameland ( 873957 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:27PM (#16003279)
    I haven't found that at all. In fact, I started using CFLs a few years ago for hard-to-reach enclosed ceiling fixtures for the sole reason that I wouldn't need to replace them as often. I haven't replaced one yet, though since they've been coming down in price I've been using them to replace all my incandescent lights.
  • by puppetman ( 131489 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:30PM (#16003304) Homepage
    We have about half a dozen in our 20-bulb house (I counted - it's a small house).

    I read some, "They whine and buzz" - might have been older versions.

    "They're dark" - ditto.

    "They have mercury in them" - true, but as put it: []

    "Ironically, compact fluorescent bulbs are responsible for less mercury contamination than the incandescent bulbs they replaced, even though incandescents don't contain any mercury. The highest source of mercury in America's air and water results from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, at utilities that supply electricity. Since a compact fluorescent bulb uses 75 percent less energy than an incandescent bulb, and lasts at least six times longer, it is responsible for far less mercury pollution in the long run. A coal-burning power plant will emit four times more mercury to produce the electricity for an incandescent bulb than for a compact fluorescent."

    But before you take all the wonderful things I've said about them at face value, there is something I learned the hard way: check the color of light the bulb produces.

    From the Wikipedia [],

            * "Warm white" (2,700 K) provides a light extremely similar to that of an incandescent bulb, somewhat yellow in appearance;
            * "Soft white" (3,500 K) bulbs produce a yellowish-white light;
            * "Cool white" (4,100 K) bulbs emit more of a pure white tone; and
            * "Daylight" (6,400 K) is slightly bluish-white.

    I accidentally bought "Daylight" bulbs for the bathroom. It made the room a psychotic blue-ish tint (I imagined Jack was going to start chopping through the bathroom door with an axe - "Here's Johnny"). Warm white seems like the color to get. Unfortunately, I bought an 8-pack, but fine for utility lighting, etc.
  • Re:How many... (Score:3, Informative)

    by xeoron ( 639412 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:43PM (#16003375) Homepage
    I love and use them too, but there are problems. 1) can't use them on with dimmers 2) some sockets can not use them because of the fat width right above the metal screw part
  • Subsidies (Score:4, Informative)

    by jsky20 ( 998666 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:49PM (#16003420)

    If you live under the domain of a more enlightened electric utility company (or, if you prefer, a more regulated utility), there may be subsidized bulbs or rebates available for your CFL lamp and fixture needs. [] offers limited quantities at subsidized prices, primarily in the New England area. Even if you're not covered by the subsidy, EFI offers retail pricing and honors manufacturers' warrantees -- if your 10,000 hour CFL goes out a few years too soon, it will be replaced with minimal hassle.

    Brand can be king and you get what you pay for. If you've had a bad experience with a particular brand but like the concept of CFLs, try another. There are some really shitty CFL manufacturers, to be sure. If you don't like the light it gives off, try a different color temperature (higher is whiter/"bluer", 2700k is "standard," about as close as they get to an incandescent temp) and wattage.

    Mercury content is fairly negligible and is offset by reduction in coal-burning plant pollution. They can be recycled with many local recycling programs. Magnetic ballasts in CFL fixtures have been replaced by more efficient electronic ballasts that cut down on intereference, hum, and slow start times.

    In addition to CFL subsidies, rebates are offered on Energy Star appliances. Check [] if you're in the market and take the time to do the math in terms of overall price and energy payback.

    Call your utilities and see what else they might have to offer. There are low-interest loan programs out there for more efficient heating/cooling equipment. Replace your windows. Get an energy audit. Take advantage of federal tax credits. Learn how to regulate solar heat gain. There are any number of ways to cut costs and bring energy demand down regardless, if CFLs aren't your bag.

  • Re:How many... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Cmdr-Absurd ( 780125 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:56PM (#16003453)
    1) can't use them on with dimmers

    In general this is true, but there are dimmable CFs out (for several years actually). See for example: hp/cPath/25_44_169 []
    TFA doesn't seem to explain that the twisty-type is not the beginning and end of the design -- well, if you look inside that really is the design, but manufacturers are doing better and better about hiding this -- reflectors and such.

  • But I later learned there is real scientific evidence that full-spectrum light will put you in a better mood

    There are full spectrum CFLs, check here: []

  • by green1 ( 322787 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @07:09PM (#16003518)
    there are dimmable CFL bulbs available in my local hardware store, I even made the mistake of buying some... 2 major problems:

    1) they are HUGE, (ok, I have yet to ever see a CFL bulb as small as a normal light bulb (they're all close, but they never quite fit in the same fixture, but these ones are gigantic and I can't cram them in anywhere)

    2) the dimmable range seems to be from 100% down to 75% anything lower than that they just cut off... sure they dim, but not enough to be usefull, my incandecent bulbs on the dimmer live at about a 20% level most of the time, the CFLs were simply too bright

    in general I love the CFL bulbs, I've replaced most of the bulbs in my house with them, the exceptions are 2 lights that are on dimmers, and my bathrooms (though I had to modify most of my light fixtures to crram even the smallest CFL bulb in to them)

    the reason I haven't done my bathrooms was orriginally that for a room that you were only in for a couple minutes at a time, the start up time of CFL bulbs was a pain, (though that has improved greatly recently) however I am still wondering about startup current, it used to be said that flourescent bulbs used a lot of current when first powering on, and that you had to leave them on for a while to actually gain savings over incandecents that had a lower startup current... not even sure if this is true anymore, and I can't find info on it anywhere...
  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @07:22PM (#16003596)
    Their spiral full spectrum [] does look like a possible replacement for normal bulbs, but at $20 a pop it would cost me $160 just to fill up the main fixture in my living room! They claim it lasts 13 times longer, but it also costs 40 times as much to buy. Of course energy savings are the main thing, but the article says it takes 5 months to recoup a $3 flourescent, so it would take about 3 years to recoup those babies.

    Has anybody found bulb-sized full-spectrum CFLs for closer to $5 a pop?

  • by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @07:24PM (#16003608) Homepage
    The interferance really isn't that big of a deal. I work with critical RF communications equipment, and our facility is lit entirely by fluorescent. Unless your equipment is particularly poorly designed (like you built it yourself in a wooden box), or you use an unshielded antenna run, we're talking interferance well below -90dBm, which isn't anything to get your panties in a bunch over. Granted, you can see the difference on a Spec-An. inside just by turning off the lights, but if you hook it to the shielded antenna cable, the difference is almost immeasurable.

    One of my co-workers is also a HAM fanatic. His light sockets are exclusively populated with CFLs, and he gets more interferance from the switching power supply than the lightbulbs.

    At any rate, the RF is produced by the same process that creates the light -- the ionization of gas -- so there's really no way to prevent that. You could put a Faraday cage around it, but that would dim the light considerably.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @07:35PM (#16003657)
    Elemental mercury really isn't a problem; combinded to form a organic-mercury compound it's very toxic and most people confuse the two.

    It's not a problem to you when it's sealed in the bulb, but it damn sure can't go into the landfill. Once it gets into groundwater, it very easily becomes methylated to become that nasty toxic stuff.

    Long-term, elemental mercury is pretty damn toxic too. I'd mostly be worried about it being around kids. Still, if everyone burned CF's, there'd be a lot less mercury released from coal plants.
  • by PJC1 ( 301605 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @07:37PM (#16003667)
    It's a myth that you can save electricity by leaving fluorescent lights on. Fluorescent lights do use more current when starting, but it's trivial assuming the lights are going to be off more than a second or so. This has always been the case. However, startup is harder on a fluorescent bulb's electrodes than it is on an incandescent bulb's filament, so a CFL may not last much longer than an incandescent lamp if the lights are usually only on for a couple of minutes at a time. Average life calculations are usually based on a 3 hour switching cycle.
  • Re:How many... (Score:3, Informative)

    by plantman-the-womb-st ( 776722 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @07:43PM (#16003689)
    All of my home lighting is LED using the luxeon 3 and 5 watt models. I use about 1/20th the energy that I used when I was using CFs. Granted, I had to build nearly all the fixtures and powersupplies myself, but the 5 watt units only cost about 7 $US and put out light equal to an 80 watt tungsten. They cost far less and use way less energy that CFs, I don't know why they haven't caught on.
  • I've seen a few LED bulbs, and they all seem to flicker at an annoying frequency. I am assuming that this flicker is being fixed with new, better circuitry.

    I remember Flourescent Lights flickering around the same frequency in the 70s though the early 90s --- most of those problems went away as the new electronic ballasts were introduced.
  • by PJC1 ( 301605 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @08:08PM (#16003805)
    Be careful. There is no official scientific definition for the phrase "full spectrum," so marketers are free to use this term how they choose. If you're interested, I came across a website [] with graphs of spectral distribution for a number of light sources.
  • Re:How many... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Kazymyr ( 190114 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @08:11PM (#16003823) Journal
    You need a Schmidt trigger circuit [].
  • by WillAffleckUW ( 858324 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @08:13PM (#16003833) Homepage Journal
    I love and use them too, but there are problems. 1) can't use them on with dimmers 2) some sockets can not use them because of the fat width right above the metal screw part

    1. There are three-way compact flourescents. Actually, it's really a combined one, but then that's what a three-way bulb is, two filaments (say 300 is a 200 watt plus a 100 watt, each switch position gets you 100 watt (200 is off), 200 watt (100 is off), 300 watt (both on)) or in this case two tubes stuck together.

    I don't recommend using compact flourescents in ceiling fans, even though they exist (usually fat short bulbs), as the vibration cuts down dramatically on their lifespans.

    2. There are a lot more shapes and sizes of bulbs now. Go to Home Depot - you'd be amazed.
  • by tap ( 18562 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @08:30PM (#16003916) Homepage
    Don't believe the advertising copy, they play fast and loose with facts!

    If you look at the effeciency of one of the best high-power white LEDs, the Luxeon K2 [], it produces 60 lumens at 1.197 watts, for about 50 lumens/watt. A typical CF bulb (reading off the package) is 900 lumens and 14 watts, for 64 lumens/watt. If you look at a higher power verison of the Luxeon K2, it's 120 lumens in 3.72 watts for only 32 lumens/watt.

    White LEDs are NOT seven times more efficient than flourescent bulbs, they are LESS efficient.

    Consider the price too. I bought those 900 lumen CF bulbs at Home Depot for about $1.75 each. The white Luxeon K2 is $3.45 each for a less efficient (45 lumens) binning, you would need 20 of them to make a 900 lumen light bulb. And that's just for the LEDs, you'd still need electronics (which are not 100% efficient themselves!) to make an actual bulb. For example, that clearance bulb at ThinkGeek is $25 for a bulb with the power of one 60 lumen K2 LED. 15 of those $25 ThinkGeek bulbs would cost $375 and have the light output of just one $1.75 CF bulb!

    The only advantage of LEDs is that they are more efficient the less powerfull they are. CF is more efficient the more powerfull it is. If you look at normal lightbulbs in the 900 lumen range, CF wins by a lot. If you look at something small like a one watt flashlight, there are no 1 watt CF bulbs, so LEDs are best.

  • CFLs and dimmers (Score:3, Informative)

    by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <falconsoaring_2000 AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @08:55PM (#16004017)

    They have mercury in them, which actually makes them suck much worse if they do break. That said, they save a ton of energy, and while they don't work well (read: at all) with dimmers, good ones are intensely bright. I have them everypace in my house that they fit (maybe 50% of possible locations).

    Most CFLs are not designed to be used with dimmer switches. []Special adaptors [] are available for larger bulbs and General Electric make Soft White [] dimmables which are available in the US but not the EU. LEDs might be the best bet if this issue affects you...

  • by dieman ( 4814 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @08:56PM (#16004023) Homepage
    Plus, a CFL fixture has less Hg in it than the amount of Hg the coal plant to fire your old lighting would put into the air. The Hg in the CFL is easier to recover, to boot. I don't remember the citation for the study on this, however.
  • by rs79 ( 71822 ) <> on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @09:05PM (#16004054) Homepage
    "I used to do the CFL bulb in every socket thing. But I later learned there is real scientific evidence that full-spectrum light will put you in a better mood. Since then, I replaced all bulbs in my house with GE Reveal incandesent bulbs."

    Oh help.

    A certain component of sunlight in the near-UV region has been shown to affect seasonal depression. There are receptors in the top of your head that when near-uv hits it are stimulated to synthesize serotonin. That's whay you feel better when you go outside into the blue room and get some sunlight and why many people get depressed in mid winter (which is also why we have "march break").

    You are NOT going to create this near-UV from an incandescent bulb, period. What you're getting with the GE bulb is a more bluish, less yellowish light. It has zero effect on your mood.

    Vita-Lite (tm) is a full spectrum tube that does have this important UV component. Flourescent tubes work by creating UV when an arc excites mercury vapour. This UV then zaps the phosphour coating on the inside of the tube which converts it to visable light and the makup of the phosphour is what determines what kind of visible light the tube emits.

    GE Chroma 50 and GE Chroma 75 are a (much!) cheaper replacement for Vita-Lite full spectrum tubes. The GE tubes will be marked "C50" or "C75" respectivly and are marketing these days in stores as "super sunshine" or something like that. Philips Colortone 50 is also equivalent. I think Osram/Sylvania makes one too but the name escapes me. These are the "big three" in fluorescent tube makers are make tubes for other companies to resell. Some of the Asian companies that make CFL's do such a poor job there was a recall on them as they were a fire hazard and I've watched ones not subject to the recall burst into flame. Stick with the "big three". They work.

    Vita-lite makes one in a CFL. Not cheap (like all vita-lite products). The other GE/Philips/Sylvaina ones are available as 4' fluorescents pretty easily in stores. They do make them in other (smaller) sizes but they're special order, hard to come by and not cheap - 90% of all tubes are 4' and there's economy of scale.

  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @09:16PM (#16004102) Journal
    I'm glad to see a few people recommending Home Depot's CFL's here. I just bought a few of those to try out, a few weeks ago. For the last couple years, I've really tried to like CFL's and use them around my house. I have a small place built in the 1950's that has a small fuse panel still (no breaker box) and the electrical service is one of the smaller capacities the electric company puts in homes. I used to have a lot of problems of blowing fuses if too many things were turned on at the same time and the microwave or a vacuum cleaner was started up.

    Since going to CFL's in the bedrooms and basement, I've not blown a single fuse. So that alone has made them worthwhile for me.

    That said though, I wasn't impressed with the CFL's I bought, to date. I think I have a few GE's and some Sylvanias, and like someone else said - the electronics seem to go bad first on them. They're very intolerant of heat build-up, so they died in just 1-2 months when I experimented with putting them in enclosed glass fixtures in my kitchen ... and others just started coming on intermittently or suddenly died after just under a year of occasional use. All of them I've used came on instantly when working right - but the light doesn't feel "white" enough until you leave them on for a few minutes.

    I haven't really felt like they're saving me anything on my electric bill, but I suppose they do.
  • by gumbi west ( 610122 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @09:25PM (#16004134) Journal
    My CFLs are on instantly and the suplier said they only go to 90-95% instandly, but I can't tell. But the real reason that I love them is that I hate changing bulbs.
  • Re:Mercury (Score:3, Informative)

    by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <falconsoaring_2000 AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @09:36PM (#16004196)

    I know it's rather selfish, but I'd rather reduce the risk of spilled mercury in my home than reduce mercury emmissions in the environment.

    Great idea, eat and breath mercury instead of touching it.

  • Re:Mercury (Score:2, Informative)

    by Chingatch ( 932280 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @09:44PM (#16004240)
    Elemental mercury, like you roll around in your hand is harmless. It cannot be absorbed by the body. Where is gets toxic is when it is vaporized by heating, made into mercury oxide, etc. only then will it be absorbed into the body. Same with lead, a 50lb hunk of lead is harmless, unless you drop it on your toe. Lead oxide in paint is toxic because it can be absorbed through inhaling sanding dust or eating paint chips. If you ate a fishing weight, it would just pass harmlessly through your system. (unless it came out sideways!) So the "Mercury Hysteria" over liquid mercury is unfounded, based on ignorance.
  • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @10:06PM (#16004351) Journal
    [LEDs] use 1/30th the power of a regular light bulb, vs. 1/4 with a CFL.

    NO! WRONG! That ThinkGeek page says 1/30th, because they're also MUCH DIMMER than the incandesent bulbs they are comparing with.

    That 1/4th figure for CFLs, however, is for equivalent brightness.

    LEDs are really only useful for flashlights and perhaps car lights... Portable applications where you really can't practically use CFLs for one reason or another.

    Only thing really holding it back right now is price and the fact they
    wouldnt sell many to repeat customers with an 11 year always on lifespan, lol.
    ...and the fact that those are basically night-light bulbs. Scale them up (or buy several) to compete with your 60 watt bulbs, and you'll be distinctly disappointed with the higher power consumption compared with CFLs.
  • Re:Too much work (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @10:48PM (#16004549)
    "Part of his money will go into developing cleaner energy sources"

    Yeah, but that doesn't happen. Let me introduce you to the basic economic principle known as an external diseconomy []. Basically, the idea is that when someone pollutes but isn't forced to clean up 100% of the pollution, society becomes the victim of an external diseconomy. So society as a whole has to foot the bill to clean up that pollution or society has to live with the pollution. And if you know anything about pollution you should know this, it's relatively easy to clean up the majority of it, but infinitely expensive to clean up 100% of it. Right around the 90% level it starts getting extremely expensive, so it's basically economically impossible. Once the cat's out of the bag there's no getting it back.

    That's the whole problem any time you hear a comparison of the cost of a renewable energy source like wind or solar, versus coal, oil, and natural gas. I've not seen one comparison where they take into account the cost of cleaning up 100% of the pollution caused by the non-renewable sources. That cost is quietly brushed under the carpet rather than prominently featuring in the calculation as it should.
  • by Technician ( 215283 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @11:21PM (#16004704)
    If you look at something small like a one watt flashlight, there are no 1 watt CF bulbs, so LEDs are best.

    CF's would make a lousy flashlight bulb for the simple reason they are also not used in spotlights. They are not a point source light that can be focused into a beam. A 1 watt LED makes a great flashlight. I have one.
  • by Circlotron ( 764156 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @12:27AM (#16004972)
    I have an 18 watt Philips CFL in the kitchen that has been used daily since 18th August 1995. It cost me AUD$25 IIRC. I always write the date on the base with a felt tipped pen. Anyway, the important thing is the reason this lamp has lasted so long is that the filaments in the tube are preheated before the tube strikes. There is about a 0.5 second delay from switch-on to appearance of light. I have bought a number of cheap $2 lamps and without exception they come on instantly and in the process gradually rip the cathode coating off the still-cold filaments and deposit it on the inside walls of the tube, leading to the characteristic blackening of the tube at each end. Finally, as less and less of the emissive material remains, a current crowding effect occurs leading to localised overheating and failing of the filament. This occurs in about 18 months. A place I worked at a while back was developing a 12 volt dc fluorescent tube ballast and we found that if we preheated the filaments we could get >300,000 starts (we gave up the test after 6 weeks) but if we started from virtually cold filament it would only go several thousand starts and then fail. If designers of cheapo CFLs would only make them start properly their typical 18 month liftetime would be so much longer.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @12:37AM (#16005013)
    Tacoma, Washington recently decided to add another span to their overloaded Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge. (You might remember the original one was Galloping Gurdy... yeah, it's that bridge.) The designer who created the new bridge came up with a great idea... the Tacoma Narrows is known for having insanely-fast currents while the tide is coming in and going out. His idea was to put turbines in the base of the bridge tower to generate power during the tide shifts. Selling the generated power would, over the course of a few dozen years, pay for the construction of the bridge while at the same time providing clean energy to everyone nearby. Win-win!

    But of course, this is Washington Wacko-Environmentalist State. Instead, his plan was cancelled because the Wacko-Environmentalist movement decided that turbines, even covered with safety grilles, would kill fish-- and God knows that the lives of 3 fish a year is more important than tons of clean power! So now the bridge has a conventional base with no turbines and, as an added bonus, all of us non-wackos have to pay TOLLS to cross it!

    This should be modded "-1: making shit up". There are currently ideas to install dozens to hundreds of underwater turbines near the Tacoma Narrows bridges, but it would be a huge, very complex, and very costly project. Currently it's only an idea being studied (or planned on being studied). No turbine project was canceled to save 3 fish, but of course slandering environmentalists and liberals is far more important than truth or facts (which is why Republicans can no longer be trusted). [] 2737p-4630866c.html []

    None of this is really relevant to the article, but since this got modded +5 I had to respond.

  • Re:RF Noise? (Score:3, Informative)

    by nroose ( 738762 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @12:37AM (#16005014) Homepage
    I have all CF bulbs in my house (2200 sq ft, 6 people) (there are few bulbs outside that I can't use CFs for), and I have wi-fi, and no problems. The beauty is that they save the environment, save me money, and save me time by lasting much longer.

    I replaced all the incandescents as they went out. Long before I was done replacing them, I was already saving enough money on the electricity to pay for all the CF bulbs.

    There are a very wide variety of bulbs. I find that the local Ace has better selection than any place else, including Home Depot, but I also like some bulbs that I can only get elsewhere, like the ones from IKEA. One time last year, I got a killer deal at Walgreens. Sometimes I get deals on them at Costco as well. I do wish they would fit in the outdoor flood light sockets I have.
  • by TuballoyThunder ( 534063 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @01:27AM (#16005182)
    Since they are excellent UV emitters, they are not a good choice [] for a person who has lupus [].
  • Re:electrical use (Score:3, Informative)

    by Wanderer2 ( 690578 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @11:18AM (#16007637) Homepage
    Why is it that they say devices on standby (TV being the obvious example) use so much power? I'd have thought standby took virtually no power; just an LED and an infrared receiver. What's suck up the rest? Anyone know?

    I used to wonder about this too. From a previous discussion on here, I learnt that CRT teleisions keep the tube warm when on standby, which means it takes less time for the screen to become visible when turned on than from a cold start. Keeping the tube warm in this manner means that standby mode sucks up a lot more power than you'd expect. It's also a not-uncommon cause of fires, according to my friend whose father is a fireman.

    A previous /. story [], but probably not the one I was thinking of...

  • Yes, AM Radio (Score:2, Informative)

    by Mariner28 ( 814350 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @12:33PM (#16008322)
    Not only AM radio. It also affects amateur radio (ham radio, which uses AM, otherwise known as Double Side Band (DSB), Single Side Band (SSB), FM and digital), and thousands of industrial/commercial radio links, like SCADA links for controlling oil and gas pipelines. But CFLs, while noisy, aren't the biggest offender. Those cheap little wall warts (DC power supplies) and older PC switching power supplies are notorious and prodigious producers of RF noise.

    And you know what was the worst offender in my house? A Linksys wireless router! Second worse was a Linksys 5-port switch. Killed my ham radio reception from 40 meters up to 10 meters. Kinda makes running a software defined radio (SDR) on a PC an oxymoron...

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