Some time back there was a discussion of “Compact Fluorescent Bulbs” on WUWT. This posting is to document the reasons I like “regular bulbs” for a lot of uses.
Keep in mind that I do use a lot of CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs. I’d guess about 3/4+ of my fixture have them. Where they are appropriate. The “issue” is with a Government Mandated “one size fits all” ban on regular bulbs (when ‘one size fits all’ never does…)
To that end, the “problems” with curly bulbs and why some of us like our
fries bulbs straight up and old fashioned.
BTW, it looks like there is a minor movement developing as a bit of a backlash against the Curly Bulb Nazis:
From (I’ve added bold to some points):
Consumer groups call for end to EU light bulb ban
Consumer protection organisations have demanded a suspension of the EU ban on incandescent light bulbs, citing official tests that showed the new compact fluorescent lamps to be dangerous if broken.
The energy saving bulbs show mercury levels 20 times higher than regulations allow in the air surrounding them for up to five hours after they are broken, according to tests released Thursday by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA).
“If the industry can’t manage to offer safe bulbs, then the incandescent bulbs must remain on the market until autumn of 2011,” said Gerd Billen, the leader of the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (VZVB).
His group encouraged the federal government to push for a suspension of the ban in Brussels until there was a safe and practical alternative.
“It can’t be that the state bans a safe product and replaces it with a dangerous one,” Billen said.
In September 2009, the EU began phasing out incandescent light bulbs in a bid to save energy and protect the environment. Their replacements were meant to be the energy-saving bulbs such as compact fluorescent and LED lights. The complete phase-out of old light bulbs is to occur by 2012.
So far the UBA has tested just two types of lights.
“There was energy savings of up to 80 percent compared to incandescent bulbs, but this should come with safer products that have no avoidable health risks,” UBA President Jochen Flasbarth said, calling the mercury danger the “Achilles heel” of the energy saving bulbs.
Flasbarth recommended that consumers use energy saving bulbs with protective plastic casings in areas such as children’s rooms to avoid the danger in the short term.
I was an early adopter of small fluorescents (even before compact, back when they were a 6 or 9 inch ring with a ballast in the middle… still have two of THEM in use…)
They have “issues”. Lots of issues.
First and foremost is mercury. Can’t use them in the fridge (also VERY slow to light due to cold) unless you don’t mind mercury in the food when someone whack it with a spoon diving for the leftover mashed potatoes. Really ought not be used anywhere food is prepared or consumed, IMHO. Yes, folks will eventually break one somewhere. Then exactly HOW LONG is that area mercury contaminated? An area near my dining table is in such a state…
And, as we saw in this posting, mercury is a pretty bad character and can even make birds “Go Gay”:
Second is lifetime. I’ve had several (often though not exclusively Sylvania brand) that had very high “infant mortality”. Some DOA, some Dead In A Week. But also several that have lasted years. The lifetime is often NOT nearly as long as advertized. Lifetimes have shortened as the prices have dropped from the old $12 bulbs down to the discount made in China subsidized $1 bulbs. This puts more mercury where it does not belong.
Many don’t fit in many fixtures / lamps. I’ve spent untold hours searching for a bulb that would “work”. Things are a little better now, but not better enough.
Bulb gripping lamp shades don’t ‘fit’. I’ve got two lamps with the bulb gripping wire loops sort of perched on top of the bulb. These are rarely used lamps and a cheap Edison bulb would be just fine for them. But no, they have to look goony as the shade tilts instead… No, I’ll not toss them out and buy new. They have emotional connections. So how do you fit a spherical grabber onto this:
And exactly how good an idea is it to have a mechanical and structural function being performed by that delicate curly glass tube? How much mercury from those being bumped, twisted, or just folks trying to install them?
Hummmmmmmm….. Many CFL bulbs have an audible hum. There are a lot of times and places you don’t want that. Say, for example, a recording studio or in a sound lab. Even when listening to a fine $5000 audio file stereo setup.
On / Off Cycles: You get 10,000 IF you are lucky. Take a 10 x a day light like the kitchen or bath, you get 2 years plus a bit IF lucky. Some bulbs are more sensitive to this than others. I’ve had some go in a single year. More mercury to the landfill. Also, at start up, the older magnetic ballast bulbs have an incandescent warming element in them to vaporize the mercury. THAT is not nearly as efficient a mode as when warmed up and running… and it happens every time you turn the light on/off/on…
So, about those flashing signs… be they road signs, advertizing signs, warning signs, or just “art” where you want the lights to change frequently… Yeah, that’s gonna be a problem…
Warm up time: Fast Light needs, like motion sensing security lights? Nope. Fridge? Even if not a mercury problem, it won’t light up enough before you want the door closed. Closet? Hope you can wait a while for that towel. During the ‘warm up’ you are running a little incandescent heater in the bottom of the magnetic ballast type, so your energy efficiency is nowhere near advertized… In some places this is a feature. Bedrooms, for instance. Makes that “first morning light” or “midnight run” more tolerable as it does a gentile ‘warm and brighten’ over about 10 minutes. Great if you have 10 minutes to wait to find that shoe under the bed…
Flicker: While much better with the 20 kHz electronic ballast (it was horrid with the 60 Hz magnetic ballast and I can’t imagine what it was like on Euro-50 Hz…) it can still be an issue for some bulbs and for some folks. The good news is that more bulbs are electronic ballast these days. The bad news is that they tend to blow out quicker and they add toxic waste to the waste stream as the electronic parts in them are more toxic than iron and copper in the magnetic ballasts. The magnetic ballast tends to be in the fixture or in a reusable adapter. The electronic tends to be built into the part you throw away…
Headaches: Some folks get headaches from the flicker. I know of 2 personally. Is it really appropriate for The Government to by force of law mandate that some of the population are just going to be screwed? Really?
Color Rendering Index: On the bulb will be a CRI number if you are lucky. Over 85 gives OK color ‘trueness’, under that are the sickly green and strange yellow ones. Most cheap bulbs have a lousy CRI but you can pay $10 / bulb or more and get decent. Incandescent has a 100 CRI (though a low, so redder, color temperature). This makes photos taken under CFL crappy compared to other lights. So a photographer is not allowed to buy a cheap $1/2 Edison bulb for his photo room? I can only hope there is an exemption for photographic color temperature specified bulbs. I have two nice light stands that need them.
Color Temperature: 5000 K bulbs are available. Good for security lighting that is on all night as it has a very blue cast that’s offensive to criminals. 2700 K is the common orange / yellow icky bulbs. 4200 K or so are the “ok” ones, but with a lousy CRI they can still look sort of greenish or pinkish.. This makes it hard to get the ‘color balance’ right for photos and can give lousy photos. What to do, what to do….
This shows up in particular in Bathrooms and Kitchens. In the bathroom, women putting on makeup do NOT want to be balancing their “look” for greenish tinted lights. In the kitchen, I spent months finding a CFL that had a good enough CRI so that I could make sure yellow dishes looked right. I found bananas were a decent test case. When they looked puke yellow / green, you knew it was a bulb that was not going to work. So when you spend $100 for a really nice dinner out, do you want that “puke green and baby shit yellow” look to your dinner? Or are you willing to pitch in an extra nickel for an incandescent bulb cost to enjoy ALL aspects of the meal?
In California we’ve had a mandated kitchen and bath fluorescent law for a while. The result? Folks have them installed to pass the inspection, then (often the realtor will provide this service) will change them out for “lights that look good”. Lots of added expense. More landfill food.
Not heat tolerant. Many fixtures (especially older ones) expect a very heat tolerant incandescent bulb. The CFL sits in the fixture building up just a little heat, but it freaks out at a much lower temperature. Sometimes they just die. Sometimes they have an overheat fuse trip (that may or may not reset on cooling). Sometimes they just cook until they reach a fiery end.
Exciting End Of Life: I’ve had several of these things reach End Of Life in ways that were, er, “Not Good”. VERY hot fixtures (as the incandescent glow bits were trying constantly to light the light – typically only in magnetic ballasted lights). I have a porch fixture with burn / scorch marks up the side from this. I notice it trying ‘to light’ for about an hour one evening (it’s on a light sensor, built in and designed for it so IF I were on vacation it would not have been caught for what, two weeks?) and yanked the bulb before anything burned up. Electronics frying with interesting displays of arcing and who knows what chemicals in the gases emitted when plastics and electronic bits bit the dust. Even a bulb fracture or two. Do not put in fixtures which can’t take a small fire without burning the house down. Do NOT use in rooms with oxygen in use (IMHO).
Lousy cold weather performance: At some low temperature, they simply will not start. This does vary by bulb and type, with the electronic ballast usually doing better. Barn in Iowa in January? “Good luck with that”. Minnesota on the back porch in February? You must be joking… We won’t even talk about Alaska… Early on I had some that would not ‘start’ below freezing. Yes, in California I could not get them to start in an exterior fixture. I’ve now got cold rated exterior fixtures (high pressure sodium). Sure, if you look long enough you can find a cold rated bulb. So what’s your labor worth for that shed light used once in a month?
Disposable Circumstances: I once had a rental property where the back yard security light was ripped off about once a week. Putting in cheap discount 25 cent bulbs didn’t bother me. Putting in $5 curly bulbs? And if they got in the habit of breaking them instead of stealing them? How much mercury becomes a toxic waste site? How many kids get to play on that porch not knowing that 3 years ago a dozen bulbs of mercury got deposited there?
Cant’ throw them away: I’ve got a nice collection of about a dozen dead bulbs. Can’t put them in the trash due to the Garbage Police. Not allowed in the recycle. I’ve heard rumors that you can turn them in as “Toxic Waste” at special disposal sites, but I’ve not found one of those yet. I may spend a few hours driving around and looking for one some day… (Wonder if anyone has figured in the cost of 2 gallons of gas driving each dead bulb across town to the “approved” disposal site?…)
Don’t “dim” worth a damn. I’ve got dimmers in the bath and bedrooms for that “easy wake up” effect. CFLs, even the “dimmable” ones, don’t dim worth a damn. It’s more like a buzzy step function to 1/4 or 1/2 bright (often with flicker) then a ‘range’, then another step to full bright. And of 3 dimmable bulbs I’ve bought, 2 died in short order and the other one is in the spare bulbs box as it’s crap in the dimmer circuit. The “3 way” bulb I bought was better, at “only” $15 it managed to last a whole year before it died. Hope you don’t like 3 way lamps.
Don’t know what they will do about the “appliance lamps” as a CFL is not ‘heat rated’ for use in an oven.
Rarely used places just don’t need them. I’ve got a lamp in my attic. Gets used about once every 3 years for about 10 minutes. So I need (even if subsidized, the RESOURCES and LABOR to make it were still used…) a $10 cost to manufacture bulb up there because?… And that closet with the heater in it that gets opened about once every 2 nd year for 5 minutes of heater maintenance? And that “emergency drop cord lamp” that lives in my tool box and got used last 5 or 6 years ago? The list goes on…
Useless for heat: There are large number of combined heat and light uses that are, well, useless with CFLs. Lizard lamps. Chicken hatcheries. Toy stove / ovens. (And you can’t put a CFL in a real oven either as they are not temperature rated for 300 F…) So all those “heat from a light” appliances are now garbage OR need to buy a dedicated nichrome heater, unless they need BOTH heat and light like chick warmers… then you have to re-engineer it… Combined heat and light is more common than you might think. I’ve made a home brew yogurt maker by putting an Edison Bulb in a cardboard box with the milk pot.
In many places (like Alaska all the time or Great Britain for 1/2 the year or more) the “waste heat” is a feature as it warms the room. You can put in a “more efficient bulb” and move the energy usage all the way from your lighting bill to your heating bill. As I type, I’ve got a CFL going in the lamp next to me and 1 kW electric heater going on the other side of me. This makes sense how?
Even in California for 1/2 the year the “waste” heat is not wasted. The ‘energy savings’ are inflated by a minimum of 50%.
All those decorator fixtures… There are a variety of fixtures that take special decorator bulbs. Some shaped to look like flames, some with other special shapes. Do we just add them to the land fill too? Or are esthetics slave to the God Of Green?
There’s more, and as I remember them I’ll add them (or you can add your own ‘issue’ in comments below) but I think you get the point. Consumer choice is good. Government mandate is bad.
No, I’m not a hard core anti-Green (though they have slowly been driving me away…). I’ve got CFLs and efficient lighting of other sorts in about 80% of my fixtures. I love the IDEA of the technology. It’s the reality of it that sucks.
BTW, IFF the “ban” does happen, I’ll just find other ways to get a usable incandescent for those areas that need one. It’s not that hard to use 12 VDC fixtures and car lamps, for example. I also expect a thriving business to develop in “light bulb smuggling” so I’ll check with the local Mafioso / Mexican Drug Lords and see if they have a new line of business… Just what our society needs…
“Pssst… Hey! Buddy! Wanna buy a light bulb? 100 Watts!”
I’ve got about a 5 year “supply” in storage now. I’m hoping to make it about 10 before the “Ban” hits. So it won’t really impact me much (nor will it do any good). But if any of those issue above are ones that you care about, might want to put a few boxes of bulbs in the garage…