Save Money, Conserve Energy, Protect the Environment — Buy a CFL Today

I’m so proud of myself. I finally did it: I installed my first two energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. Talk about a great Return on Investment! The CFLs I purchased at Wal-Mart (note to Ed Risse: This was a neighborhood Wal-Mart, I didn’t have to drive across town to get there!) cost about twice as much as a regular light bulb — about a buck or two more. But the bulb lasts 10 times longer, and it is touted to save $30 over the life-time of the bulb.

Installing CFLs comes as close to a no-brainer as it’s possible to get. When viewed as a consumer expenditure, anyone who doesn’t buy CFLs is a fool. When you also consider the social benefits — less electricity consumed, reduced need for power plants and intrusive transmission lines, less pollution from coal-fired power plants — then it becomes a moral imperative as well.
People: Get out there right now and stock up on CFLs!

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10 responses to “Save Money, Conserve Energy, Protect the Environment — Buy a CFL Today”

  1. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    An addendum: A friend told me that CFLs burn out quicker when used in conjunction with dimmer switches. However, the Energy Star website notes that special CFLs, labeled for use with dimmers or three-way switches, should be used.

    I guess that means that CFLs really aren’t a “no brainer.” You have to engage the brain in order to purchase the correct kind of bulb.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Just remember, CFLs are like hybrid cars. The more you save, the more you use.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Anonymous, I don’t get your logic. Why would cheaper light bulbs (cheaper from a life-cycle analysis perspective) induce me to use *more* light bulbs? The cost of owning and operating the light bulbs has no influence whatsover upon the decision-making process within our househeld (in other words, by my wife) as to the number and array of light fixtures we (she) intall in the house.

  4. Possibly Inconvenient Truth Avatar
    Possibly Inconvenient Truth

    It turns out it is more complicated than you think. Compact fluorescent light bulbs can be worse for the environment. It depends on the source of the power generation, proper consumer recycling, and lifecycle, which is dependent on how often the CFLs are turned on and off. All of this is true, even with the new voluntary standards to reduce mercury in CFLs.

    Oh, and did you learn the proper procedures for handling the in home clean up and disposal of this hazardous material in case you break a CFL bulb?

    From here:

    “…CFLs contain small amounts of mercury and it is a concern for landfills and waste incinerators where the mercury from lamps may be released and contribute to air and water pollution….

    …Safe disposal requires storing the bulbs unbroken until they can be processed. Consumers should seek advice from local authorities. Usually, one can either:

    Return used CFLs to where they were purchased, so the store can recycle them correctly; or

    Take used CFLs to a local recycling facility.

    The first step of processing involves crushing the bulbs in a machine that uses negative pressure ventilation and a mercury-absorbing filter or cold trap to contain and treat the contaminated gases. Many municipalities are purchasing such machines. The crushed glass and metal is stored in drums, ready for shipping to recycling factories….

    …If CFLs are recycled and the mercury reclaimed, the equation tilts towards CFLs, and if non-coal sources of electricity are used, the equation tilts toward incandescents….”

    From here:

    “The amount of mercury in a CFL’s
    glass tubing is small, about 4mg. However, every
    product containing mercury should be handled with
    care. Exposure to mercury, a toxic metal, can affect
    our brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver, causing
    symptoms such as trembling hands, memory loss,
    and difficulty moving.
    As energy -efficient lighting becomes more popular, it
    is important that we dispose of the products safely
    and responsibly. Mercury is released into our
    environment when products with mercury are broken,
    disposed of improperly, or incinerated. If you break a
    CFL, clean it up safely. And always dispose of it
    properly to keep CFLs working for the environment.”

    From here:

    “Under the voluntary commitment, effective April 15, 2007, NEMA members will cap the total mercury content in CFLs of less than 25 watts at 5 milligrams (mg) per unit. The total mercury content of CFLs that use 25 to 40 watts of electricity will be capped at 6 mg per unit. NEMA is launching a website,, where CFL manufacturers conforming to the voluntary commitment on mercury will be listed.”

    This footnote from NEMA was enlightening:

    “NOTE: Residential recycling programs are not yet available in most regions.
    1. (or call 1-800-CLEAN-UP for an automated hotline): Online, enter your zip code, press “GO,”
    click “Household Hazardous Waste”, then “fluorescent light bulb disposal.” The site will identify your nearest
    residential mercury recycling facility or mail disposal method. If you find no specific information on CFL disposal,
    go back and click on the link for “Mercury Containing Items.”
    2. Call your local government if the Web site and Hotline number above does not have your local information…”

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Possibly Inconvenient Truth, Thanks for the heads-up on the Mercury. I was oblivious. I’ll check to see if Wal-Mart offers CFL recycling.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I don’t drive my hybrid more, just because it is cheaper. However, I may choose to drive the hybrid over one of my other vehicles, providing the intended cargo will fit.

    I do use flourescent bulbs, and I preferentially put them in places where they are likely to be left on, like my workshop.

    PIT raised the kind of qustions we need to ask ourselves when making “environmental” decisions. I wonder though, in this case, if some of it isn’t a little over the top. It’s hard to believe, for example, that the environmental costs of the machinery and travel required to recycle 4 mg of mercury isn’t worse than the mercury.

    Modern landfills are designed to contain contaminants for decades. Certainly exposure to mercury can and does cause the problems noted, and it should be avoided, but how many of us played with mercury as kids, coating pennies to look like dimes and that sort of thing, and yet managed to survive without apparent ill effects. Still, we have since gotten rid of mercury thermometers and most mercury switches, and many other gross applications of mercury, which is a good thing. But at some point, worrying about exposure is probably worse for you than the exposure.

    It is easy to say things like “alway dispose of properly”. It isn’t always easy to understand what that means.

  7. As of a year ago, the CFLs sold by Wal-Mart were greatly inferior to those available elsewhere. They’d muscled manufacturers (notably GE) to make cheaper bulbs and, in doing so, significant quality was sacrificed, with the effect that the life of the bulbs was greatly abbreviated.

    Unfortunately, Wal-Mart’s announced commitment to CFLs has made it impossible to find this information via Google. It’s my hope that a part of this push is selling CFLs that don’t suck. But if they haven’t changed, you may do well to buy your bulbs elsewhere.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    I had a Ford Excursion. 10MPG. The price of gas kept it in the garage.

    Traded it for a Ford Escape Hybrid. 33MPG. I don’t think twice about jumping in and going somewhere.

    My mcmansion has the typical electrical layout. Flip one switch and six lights come on. Kept the lights off to save money. Installed CFLs and now the house is lit up like a Christmas tree.

    This is all rhetorical of course.

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Good points.

    I guess we just think of it differently. I don’t go anywhere until I pretty much have to, then I take the vehicle I need for the job at hand.

    My question is do you travel more for the same money, or actually burn more gas now?

    Same with the lights.

    If you get more goods for the same money/energy, is it still conservation?

  10. Groveton Avatar

    “…symptoms such as trembling hands, memory loss and difficulty moving.”.

    I thought I was just getting old. Maybe I was exposed to Mercury.

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