December 16, 2009
Energy conservation has become a hot topic over the past few years. Consumers are urged to turn off lights, use less hot water, and switch to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in place of incandescent bulbs. I agree with the first two points, but I take issue with the idea of switching every light bulb in one’s house to CFLs. While they do have substantial energy savings over incandescent lamps, they also have a hhandful of negative traits that are rarely discussed as frequently. Here’s what you may not know:
- CFLs contain mercury. Lamps that are unbroken pose a minimal health hazard – but as soon as they are tossed in the trash and end in a landfill, they are going to break. Once this happens, people may be exposed to toxic levels of mercury vapor and/or other metals, which can be breathed easily – or easily absorbed by the ground in landfills. Proper cleanup and disposal procedures should be followed to prevent mercury poisoning. See web links and numbers at the end of this article for proper disposal information.
- Most CFLs are not designed for dimming. Dimming CFLs can damage the bulb and/or dimmer that controsl it – thus shortening lamp life. For screw-in CFLs that are dimmable, proper ‘burn-in’ or ‘seasoning’ procedures should occur before dimming. Even then, when dimmed they often dim to 20% or so, then shut off abruptly, or they flicker. Higher performance light fixtures are available, but are not size or price-matched with screw-in CFLs.
- When CFLs are dimmed appropriately, they do not become visibly ‘warmer’. The color instead looks blue-white, making the environment look washed out and skin look pasty. A stark contrast to the warm white color often desired for a pleasant and relaxing ambiance.
- CFLs should really be used in areas where lights will be left on for a lengthy period of time.When used in areas where the light is switched on and off frequently, CFLs tend to have a shortened lifespan.
- Utility or work spaces are best for CFLs. According to the Home Lighting Control Alliance, CFLs should only be used where lighting color and quality are not important.
Luckily, other lighting options exist to provide you, the consumer, with a better overall ‘green’ lighting experience…to save energy, the environment, and ultimately save money and time.
Light emitting diode, or LED, lights are one great option to consider instead of compact fluorescent bulbs. In new construction or as a retrofit solution, LED lights do tend to cost more upfront, however, one LED ‘bulb’ may last as long as 50,000 hours: 50 times longer than that of an incandescent bulb and 5 times longer than that of a CFL. Here are a few more facts in favor of LED lights:
- LED lights NO TOXIC MERCURY
- LED lights use less energy than other lamps on the market: 85% less energy spent per incandescent lightand 50% less than a CFL
- LED lights are dimmable AND produce a warmer light quality. Everything looks more lifelike and the warm, pleasant ambiance desired when dimming is attainable.
- Overall savings matter. On average, one 65-watt light for 50,000 hours would cost around $325, but with one 12-watt LED light, it costs around $60. Replacing bulbs less frequently saves resources, time and money.
- See for yourself. Energy calculators help you see your savings over time: http://www.creells.com/calculator.aspx
As you can see, simply swapping out light bulbs for CFLs isn’t the only option available. In many cases, it may not be the best answer at all. With new fixtures becoming available – and prices dropping – consider LED lighting when trying to conserve energy in the home. In the long run, it saves more energy, more money, is dimmable, and produces a pleasant light quality. It’s a win – win!
CFL disposal information:
Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Hazardous Waste Program: 1-800-361-4827
LED lighting information: http://www.creells.com/index.aspx
Home Lighting Control Alliance: www.homelightingcontrol.org