Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

September 9, 2008

CFL Bulb Review: Best CFL Bulbs to Replace Incandescent

Category: Green Reviews,Household,Save Electricity,Take Actions,Tips – Tom Harrison – 4:22 pm

Have you been dissatisfied with CFL (compact fluorescent) light bulbs? You’re not alone!

I have found and tested a number of bulbs and found several specific bulbs that I believe solve most of the issues people have had with CFL bulbs. I have tried a lot of bad bulbs, but the winners are GE Energy Smart CFL bulbs. There are a few in this line that are not good, but I have tested each of the ones below.

There are a few things to keep in mind about what to expect from CFL bulbs. See below for more details, but first, my recommendations!

My Recommended Best CFL Bulbs (updated 10/2010)

BrandModelStyleAs Bright AsCommentsManufacturer Info/PictureWhere To Buy
GE15517Standard Bulb, Spiral100WBright, but a little bigger than a regular 100W incandescentGE Lighting 100W CFLAmazon
GE15516Standard Bulb, Spiral75WGood for replacing 60W if brightness is a concernGE Lighting 75W CFLAmazon
GE246853-Way Bulb, Spiral50/100/150WConsiderably larger than a regular bulb; didn’t fit in one of the table lamps I tried, with longer warm-up time, but it’s good for our applicationGE Lighting 50/100/150 Spiral CFLAmazon
GE47487Glass Covered60W – 75WShaped like a regular bulb, so good for spring-clip shades. Recommend 75W or more for readingGE Lighting 60W A ShapeAmazon
GE47486Standard Bulb, “A” type, pear shape40WAnother pear-shaped bulb, even less bright, but very nice for ambiance. Good for ceiling fans or ceiling fixtures with two bulbsGE Lighting 40W A-ShapedGoogle Search
GE47483Outdoor Floodlight90WNice and bright, and withstands moisture, etc.GE Lighting Outdoor FloodAmazon

Also Available in Stores

These bulbs are also available widely at local retailers like Walgreen, Walmart and many others. Bulb costs generally run about $7 — more for higher wattages or specialty bulbs, and are available in 3-packs and 6-packs in some cases.

I encourage you to buy from Amazon through the link below, as I get a little commission for bulbs (or anything else you purchase) when you click this link. It helps me pay the bills for my web server :-)
GE EnergySmart Bulbs from

What To Expect from CFLs Compared to Incandescent

Warm Up Period for CFLs to Get Bright

Nearly all CFLs have a warm-up period before they get to their full brightness. Some take a long time to warm up, and/or start quite dim — from 30 seconds to a minute or more for some that I tested. Most of the GE bulbs I recommend have relatively short warm-up times, but you should still expect to wait 10 or 20 seconds to get to 80% or 90% brightness, and there is still a several minute period where the bulb reaches it full brightness.

I am quite sure that the warm-up delay accounts for part of the perception that CFLs are “not as bright”.

Avoid “Daylight” CFLs

Some bulbs are labeled as “daylight”, or “cool, natural light” — this sounds a lot better than it is for most cases. People (and photographers) find the light in the early morning or afternoon more pleasant than the harsh noon sunlight; the daylight bulbs are bright, but harsh and unpleasant. Look for designations like “regular, everyday light”, or “warm”, or for “2700K color temperature”, except for specialty lighting.

The GE Energy Smart bulbs I tested are all sold in a package with a yellow top and green bottom. The daylight bulbs are in a blue package.

Some CFLs have gone too far to get the warm color. Also, the most commonly sold wattage of CFL replaces a 60W incandescent bulb; 60W is not terribly bright. These things probably account for the rest of the perception that CFLs are not as bright as incandescent bulbs.

CFLs Are As Bright as Regular Bulbs

As noted above, there are several reasons that it may have seemed that your new CFL is not as bright as the bulb it replaces. If you give the bulbs I recommend a few seconds, and make sure to replace with the same or higher “equivalent” wattage I am confident that you will see that CFLs are indeed as bright as claimed.

When CFLs first came out, the most popular wattage was a 60W equivalent bulb. If you replace a 75W or 100W incandescent with a 60W equivalent, you’ll certainly be disappointed.

Avoid Dimmable CFLs

Dimmable CFLs don’t work well, even the best that I have tested are still a far cry from dimmable incandescent bulbs. Many kitchens have recessed lighting designed for bright halogen bulbs on dimmer switches — no CFL I have found comes close to reproducing this light. My neighbor has replaced his kitchen floodlight bulbs with GE EnergySmart dimmable CFLs, and they work pretty well in his kitchen. But I can’t find them on GE’s (rather poorly organized) site. Maybe GE has decided to sell only products that don’t suck :-)

Generally, dimmable CFLs don’t dim evenly, and give off an ugly purplish-blue light, and often hum or buzz when they are dimmed.

CFL Sizes and Shapes

\"A\" Shape CFLCFLs can have different shapes and sizes than the bulbs they replace. For example, the 3-way bulb I recommend was too large to fit in an old table lamp with a “harp” that holds up the lampshade — this was just because the height of the bulb is bigger.

Some people have complained that the spring clips used to affix lampshades to the lamp do not work well with the spiral bulbs. I have actually found that the work just as well as the standard pear shaped bulbs (designated as “A” shape) … which is to say that neither shape bulb seems to work very well — spring clip lampshades always seem to be tilted one way or other. It may be worse with the spiral CFLs, but there are some recommended A-shape CFL bulbs that you can use.

In other cases, the “ballast” of the CFL bulb (usually a bulky white part near the screw-in base) can prevent the bulb from fitting in a tight spot. This is especially true for recessed flood, or spot lights, usually designated as R20 (smaller) or the larger R30 and PAR30. I have tried a number of these in our living room (R30) and kitchen (R20), but both are on dimmers, and in several cases the bulbs were too large for the fixture.

Avoid Low Quality CFLs: They Don’t Last, or Break

As I researched this piece, I learned that most (perhaps all) CFLs bulbs are manufactured in one of a relatively small number of plants, usually located in China, or other low-cost locations — all the GE bulbs I recommend are from China.

However, not all bulbs are the same: many (even most) CFLs are specified to be cheap, not good. The bulbs I recommend are easily distinguished by visual inspection from cheapo bulbs. Their parts are all solidly attached, with no gaps or irregularities. They also warm up faster and have relatively small ballasts.

(In fact, the bulbs we gave out for Halloween last year may have done more harm than good — they were cheapo 60w spirals, and I have found several whose bases and glass have become loose).

One of my objectives in reviewing bulbs and making a recommendation was that the specific bulb I recommended was one that could be bought and easily identified by brand and model number, for this is really the only way to have even just some confidence that you’re getting the right bulb. It is certainly the case that some “brands” are not much more than marketing vehicles for taking the cheapest bulb available on a given day and putting it into a box with a seemingly good name. I haven’t tested them myself, but some people report that the nVision brand sold by Home Depot (and only them) is good.

It is quite clear that companies like GE, Sylvania, Philips and even retailers like Home Depot, Wal*Mart, Target and Lowes have done themselves a great disservice by failing to sell high quality CFL bulbs from the start, even if they are getting their acts together now. It seems they have learned their lesson, at least in GE’s case. While some makers still sell lower quality, cheaper CFLs, the idea of real branding (where brand is supposed to represent quality) seems to finally have come to the CFL world.

Go for quality from a known brand; it’s not worth paying less.

CFLs and Mercury

Recently, there has been a lot written about the fact that CFLs contain mercury, and this is true. However, the actual risk to you is small, and this is especially true if you stick with high-quality, well-manufactured bulbs. Here’s a good article on the facts about mercury in CFLs. In short, more mercury is released in the air due to coal burnt from extra electricity of incandescent lights than is contained in a CFL.

While this article is pretty unequivocal about the matter (saying it’s a small risk), it’s clear that many people are still concerned about this issue — just read some of the comments in the linked article.

More and more places, like grocery stores and hardware store are making CFL recycling available.

My take on the mercury issue is that, like many things we face as we move away from our “energy is free” mode to the one where we recognize its various costs, we need to start getting used to making somewhat uncomfortable trade-offs.

The mercury debate is not “winnable” one way or the other, so if you want a clear-cut answer, I suppose you should go with common sense. For me, common sense tells me to be aware of the issue, buy well-made bulbs, and look for places that will properly dispose of burnt-out CFLs (and batteries, paint, oil, electronics, the standard tube bulbs, and the many other partially toxic materials we use in our daily lives.)

And by the way, it is reported that a broken CFL would expose you to about as much mercury as one or two cans of tuna. So, perhaps this puts the actual risk of mercury in perspective: it’s there, but perhaps we have other more risky things to concentrate on.

Finally, I believe one thing you can do to reduce the likelihood of bulb breakage is to buy the “A” shaped bulbs or other non-spiral shapes. These bulbs are typically made just by putting the decorative (or functional shape) plastic shell around a regular spiral or bent-tube bulb. I would think this gives you an extra layer of protection from accidental breakage, and perhaps even a more contained enclosure if there is breakage.

Give ‘Em Another Try

I hope you have good luck with these CFLs. If you have been disappointed in the past, now’s the time to give it another try. They are less expensive, more readily available and now you have the facts you need.

[Update: 10/2010, Changed links to Amazon pages having these lights, some really great deals on 6-packs and the like.]


  1. […] CFL Bulb Review: Recommended CFL Bulbs to Replace Incandescent […]

    Pingback by Compact Fluorescent (CFL) Reviews: One Solid Source | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — September 9, 2008 @ 4:47 pm

  2. Tom, are they any good options for replacing halogens used for reading? I gave up torchiers a long time ago, but I still have a couple of lamps with quite bright bulbs I use for reading — i.e., detail bulbs. I really need the focused brightness.

    It has occurred to me that they may be quite efficient for the task. Among other things, I would never leave them on for ambient lighting, so they tend to be on only during the task, whatever it is.

    Comment by John — September 9, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

  3. […] Posted in Technology […]

    Pingback by 7fff - think max value » Blog Archive » Know your compact fluorescent bulbs — September 9, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

  4. @John —

    It kind of depends on the lamp. We have swing-arm reading lamps over our bed — one of our first CFLs were the “daylight” variety that I pan in my review. They really do have a somewhat unpleasant bluish light, but it is very bright, so works well for reading, even if a little harsh at times. And far from romantic :-)

    I did manage to find a lamp big enough to accept the 50/100/150 three-way bulb in the recommended lights list above — even 100W is bright, and 150W is a lot of light — if you have only one reading light, this would be a good choice … as long as it fits the fixture.

    If the fixture doesn’t have a three-way light socket but takes a standard A-shaped bulb (most reading lights do), it’s typically a simple change that a reasonably handy person can do in a few minutes … or bring to a lamp shop. This 3-way CFL choice has the benefit of being versatile — we have one in our living room, where we sometimes want ambiance, and other times want reading or work light.

    For the “early adopter” crowd, a reading light might be a really good chance to try out an LED bulb. LED is pretty expensive now, and the quality of the light is still a little on the “cold” side, but they are bright and can be “aimed”, which for a spot light fixture could be a really good option. I haven’t tried any of the LEDs yet, but it’s clear that they are “getting there” and are the solution that will work in a few years when price and color are better — they have much lower wattage, even than CFLs, are dimmable, are very durable, are small, instant-on, and a simple technology.

    But if a CFL or LED is not a good fit, then there are certainly bigger fish to fry than a reading lamp that you may use for several hours and turn off. If your halogen light serves its purpose well, then keep it. I would estimate that half of the lights in our house are not CFLs, and probably won’t be. But the ones that work well are. For the fixtures where CFLs don’t work, we’re conscientious about turning them off or using the dimmer when we don’t need them.

    By far the biggest savings comes from the energy we don’t use :-)

    Let me know if you come up with anything interesting on the reading-light front.


    Comment by Tom Harrison — September 9, 2008 @ 9:33 pm

  5. […] and a few more in the album. Carter built it with some help from me, he and his friend Nicky gave out free CFLs (which is harder than it might seem), and we all learned just how much work there is to be done. (Update: 10/2008 — better options for CFLs now available) […]

    Pingback by Free CFL and Halloween Wind Turbine Costume Success! | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — October 20, 2008 @ 12:02 am

  6. Thank you Tom,
    I was indeed disapointed with the bulbs I purchased, I needed 60 watt’s for my fan lights and the brightness was an expensive disapointment. As I get older, I seem to need more light to sew, read, cook or fidle with my computer. But after reading this article, I will head to your advice and give the 75 CFL’s a shot.

    Thank you

    Comment by Beverly — October 21, 2008 @ 9:32 pm

  7. Beverly —

    Also, remember to give them a chance to warm up. Since I wrote the original article, I have still noticed a couple bulbs that take a good while to come up to full brightness. If I were not paying attention, I would certainly believe that they were less bright than they really are. It’s not long — 10, or 20 sometimes 30 seconds or so, to get to full brightness, but it can be a big difference.


    Comment by Tom Harrison — October 21, 2008 @ 9:55 pm

  8. Tom-

    Thank you for your evaluation. My church has some hanging fixtures with decorative, large, round globe incandescent bulbs. We’d like to change them to CFLs but really don’t want to give up the nice look of the round globes. Did you find any decorative CFLs that worked well? We’d like at least 75w equivalent; 100w if we could find it. I found 75w on line — TCP is the manufacturer.

    I apologise if I’ve missed something in your evaluation but do we have a different measuerment to use when speaking of incadescent/CFL besides “watts”? It seems to me that we need to start discussing the amount of light a bulb puts out, not the power usage.

    Comment by Wendy — October 25, 2008 @ 5:37 pm

  9. Wendy —

    Take a look at these lights from the same line I reviewed from GE.

    The measure you’re looking for is “lumens”. A “Standard” 75W incandescent bulb produces about 1100 lumens, so the brightest bulb in the line linked above is closer to a 60W bulb, producing 800 lumens, so not quite as bright.

    I did try one of these (my goal was to find good bulbs to replace incandescent), and it’s quite nice — no suggestion that it is a CFL — good color, shape, and no visible spiral through the globe cover.

    It’s worth a try — I think you’ll find that these bulbs provide a nice light, perhaps even a little less glaring than what you may have now.

    And don’t rule out a hybrid solution — perhaps where you really need the light you stick with incandescents, and where nicer, softer light will do, the 15W (800 lumen) CFL globe bulbs will do well.

    I can’t speak for other bulbs only because I have not used them. However I will say that several of the main complaints people have with CFLs for normal household use may not apply in the church — the lights will be on for long enough to warm up, and they will not be subject to getting jostled or bumped, being high up. For this reason, if you have found a 75W equivalent globe bulb from another manufacturer, it might be worth a try (make sure you get a 2700 kelvin (K) color temperature). The cost savings should be substantial because there are many bulbs, I assume, and they use 1/4 to 1/5 the power of a regular bulb.

    So all I can really say is that the 60W equivalent bulb might work well in some parts of the building, if not all.

    I hope this is helpful!


    Comment by Tom Harrison — October 25, 2008 @ 8:48 pm

  10. I want to use 5 CFL bulbs of 7 watts each to light a oil painting 48″” X 24″” at a Legion hall. these bulbs have GU 10 bases. The bulbs will be 6 ft from the painting and are spaced about 6 inches apart on the bar. I’ve been told the bulbs will harm the painting by changing the colour over time. Is this so?

    Comment by Preston — December 6, 2008 @ 1:02 am

  11. Preston —

    There’s no evidence I could find that suggests CFLs could harm paintings more than any other kinds of artificial lighting. The main culprit for fading is ultraviolet (UV) light, then perhaps heat. GE claims that their CFL lights produce a small amount of UV, comparable to an incandescent bulb.

    There are two other possible things to consider that might have been what you heard.

    First the “color temperature” of your lighting will have a significant influence on how the colors of your painting appear. One of the complaints some people had about CFLs is that they were “cold” looking, casting a blue/green cast over what is being lit (incandescent bulbs typically have a warm color temperature.) Today, CFLs can be had in several options for color temperature, which is measured in Kelvins, where lower numbers are warmer/redder and higher numbers are colder/bluer. For reference, incandescent bulbs are typically 2700K. Daylight is around 6000K.

    The bulbs you reference are probably a specialty type, however (the GU 10 base is unusual) so I would make sure the CFLs you have in mind are designed for the purpose you have in mind, or are somewhere around 2700K to 3000K color temperature (I found this rather technical article on how to correctly light art, but the bottom line seems to be to get enough light (neither too little nor too much) and around 3000K is about right.

    The second thing that might be up is that CFLs do change their light output as they near the end of their lives (after 3-4 years), changing both intensity and color temperature. Since this is about 5x the lifetime of standard bulbs, I assume it’s not an issue.

    Finally, one consideration may be LED lighting for artwork — I did see a TV show in which this change was made in an art gallery. LEDs may be quite good for this purpose, although they are probably a good deal more expensive; consider that they use even 1/2 the energy of a CFL and last 4x longer.

    My original review above was intended to suggest that there are good places for CFLs, and good CFLs for those places, but they are not right for all applications, and probably aren’t the first choice for artwork lighting, unless you have found bulbs specially designed for that purpose.

    Hope this is helpful!


    Comment by Tom Harrison — December 6, 2008 @ 4:22 pm

  12. […] Change about 20 of our light bulbs to Compact Fluorescent (CFL) — here’s my review of the best CFLs […]

    Pingback by Top 10 Things We Did To Cut Our Electricity Bill in Half | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — December 21, 2008 @ 6:28 pm

  13. dear sir
    whats happened to democracy and freedom of choice.
    if its free whats the catch,l have tried the cfl toxic light buld. it has a dim light,caused me eye strain and migraine never had one.
    in the b’ham mail david bells article about cfl bulbs was frightning.
    all that is on the back of the box is a bin with a cross.they can
    cause migraine,eyestrain,headaches,seizures in cases of people
    with epilepsy and contain mercury.l changed back to standard bulb,what a breath of fresh air no more eye strain ect.
    yours sincerely
    j cross

    Comment by john cross — January 19, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

  14. Mr Cross —

    Don’t believe everything you read. It was quite popular to bash CFLs for their mercury content for a while, but it’s a classic case of media hype, rather than evidence. These bulbs are simply fluorescent bulbs, similar in most regards to ones in use for many decades, except better for reading and casting a more pleasing light.

    If you read carefully, I think you’ll see that while the CFL got a bad rap at first, this was mainly due to poor manufacturing, and even worse consumer education (many people replaced 75W or 100W bulbs with 60W equivalents, for example). The bulbs do take a few moments to get to their full brightness, but once there, the light is just as bright and appropriate for reading or other tasks.

    Anyway, I am just repeating what I wrote in the post. Perhaps a more careful read will give you the facts you need to make an informed choice.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — January 19, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

  15. Is it true, You need to follow the rule of don’t change on/off sooner than 15 min. apart for long CFL life?

    Comment by Neil B ? — January 27, 2009 @ 9:03 pm

  16. @Neil B — I have read several discussions of whether turning CFL’s on and off matters. Usually the question is whether it uses more electricity, but other have commented on its affect on lifespan.

    On the first topic, the theory seems to be based on older tube fluorescent technology which uses a starter to build up enough electricity to turn the tube on. CFLs work differently (and this accounts for why they need to “warm up”). I have measured with my Kill-a-Watt meter and there is no appreciable difference in electricity used during startup compared to normal usage for CFL bulbs.

    On the second topic, the consensus as I interpret it is that there is no significant difference between incandescent and CFL bulbs with regard to the effect of an on/off cycle; in both cases, people say it can have a very small impact on the life of the bulb.

    The most important point however is this: if you keep things simple and just make a simple rule: “turn out the light when you leave a room” you (and others in the house) can more easily develop the habit that will truly save electricity.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — January 28, 2009 @ 8:31 am

  17. What criterias did you use in determining these to be the best CFL’s? Was it only color and intensity or did you consider such things as life and electronic interference that all CFL’s emit to some degree?

    Saying these are the best is one thing but explaining why they’re the best is another.

    Comment by Mark — January 29, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

  18. Mark —

    I don’t think I said these were “the best” — I’m not Consumer Reports and my testing methodology was largely subjective. My goal was mainly to find bulbs that I felt confident would be unlikely to disappoint buyers. As my wife can attest, we have a large number of different bulbs I tried, and I did talk to a representative from an online retailer as well as folks from Phillips and GE about things that I thought were important.

    I have no data with regards to electronic interference except to say I know what it is, and have never encountered any issues with it (except for some dimmable digitally-ballasted bulbs that were terrible — they hummed, flickered, and emitted a lot of nasty waves of different frequencies, I would guess).

    I do think I tried to explain the criteria I used to make my judgment, although I guess I didn’t spell it out.

    In short, based on all the things I enumerated as problems, these bulbs distinguished themselves as being better … and also, they are readily available. If you know of another line of bulbs meeting these criteria that I should look at, please let me know.

    Thanks for your question and comments!


    Comment by Tom Harrison — January 30, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

  19. My ceiling light fixture says “maximum watt” per bulb is 75–three bulbs in the fixture. Can I replace those bulbs with 100 watt equivalent Fluorescent bulbs? The actual wattage is less–heat output? I’d rather not have a smoking ceiling. I’ve been conservative at this point and put in a smaller wattage bulb. I haven’t been able to find any answers to this question.

    Comment by Sue Nash — February 1, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

  20. Sue,
    There should be no problem putting the 3, 100 watt equivalent fluorescent bulbs in that fixture. They will try a less current and produce less heat while producing more light.

    Comment by Mark — February 1, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

  21. Sue — the wattage limitations listed on the fixtures are intended to ensure safety. A “100 Watt equivalent” CFL bulb typically uses around 24 Watts, but is just as bright as the incandescent bulb it replaces. It’s the actual wattage they are concerned about (because watts produce current in the wires, and heat — too much of either can be dangerous). So CFL’s are fine.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — February 2, 2009 @ 9:22 am

  22. Tom,
    I use N-vision bulbs almost exclusively and have had excellent results. They were the highest rated bulb in a Popular Mechanics review and my results have followed. In addition there are one of the electronically quietest bulbs made which reduces interference with my Home Automation Systems. My oldest bulbs are over three years old and I’ve not had a failure to date. They are exclusively marketed by Home Depot which may or may not be a good thing depending on your opinion.

    Comment by Mark — February 2, 2009 @ 10:16 am

  23. Mark —

    N-Vision was a bulb I was going to look at, but I ruled it out because it was only sold at Home Depot — nothing against Home Depot, but one objective I had was to recommend a few bulbs that people could find easily. But I’ll take your word on the N-Vision bulbs.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — February 2, 2009 @ 5:06 pm

  24. Thanks for responses about the issue of frequent on-off switching for CFLs, but I forgot to reemphasize another distinction – how soon you switch back on or off, not just how many times total! It is this issue about interval that I heard about, specifically that one shouldn’t turn CFLs back on or off for fifteen minutes or more (as “arbitrary” judgment call) since they’d burn out quicker if you did. How about that?

    Comment by Neil B ? — February 2, 2009 @ 8:48 pm

  25. @Neil B — Maybe the question to ask is whether the scenario you present is a typical case. Here’s one that is: our office has CFLs in the bathrooms that go on using a motion detector, then turn off after about 15 minutes (unfortunately, the motion detector is in the hallway outside of the bathrooms, which means a … leisurely visit to the restroom can leave you in the dark. But I digress :-).

    The traffic is sporadic enough that this is a case of frequent turning on-and-off, and does fall into the area where it makes sense to do what the building manager does: leave them on for 15 minutes. And yes, according to GE frequent turning on and off will shorten the bulb life a little.

    But again, for me the issue is whether this is truly your scenario. Turning the bulb on and off quickly several times once a week or two is not going to matter over the course of a bulb’s five-year expected lifespan — in energy use or bulb life. Turning it on and off 15 times a day may result in some shortening of bulb lifespan, especially if this is the case in 20 places in your location. Which one applies for your case?

    The reason I ask is that the focus of my blog, and what has worked extremely well for me, is that getting into good habits is the single most important thing you can do in a household to save electricity.

    If you had one bulb that fit your use scenario, and 20 more that don’t, you need to decide if having to make a decision each time you leave a room is going to work for all of your lights. Sure it’s possible to be precise about this stuff, but it’s certainly not human nature! I have enough trouble with my kids getting across the simple message: “turn off the light when you leave the room”. I also forget some times.

    I have a friend who is proud of the fact that he gets his car inspected on the first day of the month after it’s due, thereby deferring the $25 cost by 8% (1/12th) each year. I explained that he might only save $25 over 12 years (OK, maybe more if you take into account the time value of money) but he was adamant. Several years ago he got pulled over on that first day of the new month, paying a $75 fine to the police, and increasing his insurance rates by $100/year for 3 years.

    Look, I’m an engineer in my regular life. I get the whole precision thing and trying to optimize. But having watched software projects I manage for 25 years now, I can see that usually what we think needs to be optimized a) takes time, and b) isn’t usually the real problem. I advocate thinking in the bigger picture.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — February 3, 2009 @ 10:42 am

  26. Thanks TH but I’m not interested only in “economic” type issues of how often things happen in real life etc. but also the technical point, is there something about CFLs that wears down more if I turn it back on/off only a few seconds later, or so. The same question about TV sets has been going around for awhile, with many people saying it’s bad for them too (capacitors, etc. – so more so, the older models.) I do know, it is bad to turn AC units on and off a few minutes apart, and they’ll tell you that (for very different reasons than other types of appliances, sure.)

    Comment by Neil B ? — February 3, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

  27. @Neil B — see link in previous reply.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — February 3, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

  28. Good morning
    I am writing to ask if your associations or any you may be aware of are working to REVERSE this INSANE CFL Bulb Law. I thought for sure Congressman Poe might have been, but I was mistaken. I have begun a group to gain support to this end. This law must be reversed. It is not an option.
    Simple math: 2008 over 4 million bulbs bought in America. Each Bulb contains 5mg of the deadly and extremely dangerous Mercury. With this small amount of purchases, compared to where that number will grow, I believe you will see the answer is simply outrageous. This massive amount of Mercury is posed for our landfills and then into our water. The government and the EPA stance that the energy saving is worth the danger is ludicrous. There are many ways to save energy as well as lower emissions rather than this bulb law. Indulge my little rant here. Last, I read this government was of the people, by the people and for the people. The government has grossly overshot their position on this matter. I know it is not the first time, but as for me, I am tired of letting them get away with what ever they want at the peoples expense. Most people have thrown their hands in the air and allow the government to do as they please, and to this end we find ourselves in the positions we are today.
    I aim to see this law Reversed. I am looking to connect with anyone who feels the same. Congress passed this ridiculous law in darkness without informing the people. People had no knowledge of it, so therefore could not make an informed decision and or approve it. People are in the dark to the dangers these bulbs pose for us, our children (both born and unborn), our homes, landfills and our plant. Look in any Chemical Handbook and you will be enlightened about the Dangers of Mercury, there is a reason it is handled with Iron Flasks. This law is sheer lunacy. I know this was long and I am sorry to take your time, but as you may sense, I am passionate about the reversal of this law. How do you feel about it?

    If you read this far, I thank you. It is more important than anyone might realize.

    Best to you

    Karen Nardella

    Comment by Karen Nardella — February 21, 2009 @ 6:45 pm

  29. So the sky is not falling… This is bad, looking back on it, but when I was a kid, I broke a mercury thermometer more thatn once and played with the drop of liquid in the palm of my hand. We use to take pennies and watch them turn silver in the stuff. I did not die (I’m 50 now), I am not sure, but I don’t think I suffered neurological problems (well I cannot spell, so maybe…) That thermometer had over a gram of mercury (yes, about a thousand times more than is in a CFL). Heavy exposure to mercury is bad, hatters used it to soften the materials in hats (heard of the “mad hatter”). I do not advocate touching the stuff, or exposure at all, and am glad that I made it this long. But that chlorine gas that comes out of that spray bottle is what the Germans used to kill people in WW1, and, my gosh you have it under your sink!!!

    Please get off your soap box, unless you are willing to turn off all your electricity (yup, generating electricity in America releases tons more mercury). You will do more to save your kids, the environment and our future with CFLs rather than incandescents, just use common sense in handling and disposal of any high tech object. Oh… those batteries in that remote, your computer, your watch… never mind, just use common sense.

    Comment by John — February 22, 2009 @ 11:13 pm

  30. @Karen —

    John’s comment echos my observations. Yes, mercury is a dangerous substance … yet even if all the mercury in all the CFL bulbs were released in the air, their use as an alternative to incandescent bulbs, would result in less mercury in the air … because the current alternative is burning of coal. And yes, the mercury that is in fish is also mainly from burning coal.

    Scores of substances and chemicals to which we and our families are routinely exposed are far more dangerous than the ever decreasing, and more well-contained amount of mercury in CFL bulbs. More and more options are available for appropriate disposal of CFLs … and the many, many, many other products we use that are far more toxic (yet without the redeeming value). Why is it that there is a discussion about this particular issue yet very little about other far, far, far more insidious dangers. As far as I can ascertain, arguing about mercury in CFLs may be as misplaced as an argument about the dangerous lead that is seeping into our ground from all those bullets we produce. There are broader issues to consider.

    And please, if we’re going to talk about the lifecycle of a product, let’s talk about the entire lifecycle — from the moment its resources are “harvested” through beyond when they are returned to the air, water or soil (and by what means).

    So, if you wish to make a meaningful contribution to the conversation here, please feel free to refute my assertions with links to documented science or fact-based observations.

    Oh, and just a quick question or two. In your lifetime, how many light bulbs have you broken? Have you ever disposed of a regular fluorescent bulb, you know, the ones we have had in our houses for decades? Any batteries in your house? What happened to your last TV? Fridge? Car?

    Comment by Tom Harrison — February 23, 2009 @ 12:28 am

  31. I understand your thoughts and thank you for sharing. If you want more information about the dangers of mercury, open a chemical handbook. They are available on-line. I do agree there are way to many substances used that should not be, but this has become a law. If I have insenced you, as it appears I have, it was not the intended intension. I was hoping to make people think. Think that some in government passed a law giving China the sole rights to produce a light bulb that contains a very dangerous substance. When you played with a broken thermometer as a child, you did so in ignorance and I am sure now that you are smarter, you wouldn’t do that again. Heck, for all the kids we grew up anywhere near a river had a rope swing and had fun all summer long in such polluted waters that as adults are paying in a big way. Because we did things in our youth does not mean we would do them now as adults, or would we? This law is simply, wrong. These bulbs and the very law itself is wrong. I am not, as you say, on a high horse, but rather I am utilising common sense. I agree there are many poisions in the products we use and a lot of the products we use are imported into our country, and yes, many from China. Other countries do not have standards such as we had. I would welcome a discussion, but I fear it will fall on deaf ears.
    I am all for conserving energy and am aware of the emmisions, what I am simply saying is we are a smart country, I still prefer to believe. We are smart enough to develope and use a better bulb than the one we have settled on. We could have done better. And should have. Lifecycles? Yes there is a story to our stuff, I agree.

    Maybe I will find a better way to get this insane law relooked at and reversed, maybe I will fail in my attempt. But I will try. Because it is the right thing to do, even when few think so.

    Thank you for sharing your point of view on this subject.


    Comment by Karen Nardella — February 23, 2009 @ 3:02 am

  32. Karen,

    Actually, I am with you on the law… I would hope that most folks would change to CFLs due to common sense, we really don’t need the government telling we have to do it. Me personally, I ride a bike to work every day, and my wife has a Hybrid Camry. I am pretty far right politically. That being said, I don’t understand why folks will not conserve for our grandchildren.

    I am a scientist, and know for a fact that water vapor is by far and away the number one green house gas (not CO2). I also know that earth is warming at the same time as mars and venus, and Greenland use to be green (and they grew grapes in England). So I don’t subscribe to the fautly science presented as global warming. But the fact is, there are no great substitutes for petrolium once it is gone (think jet fuel).

    So where you can, go with the science and common sense. Change the bulbs where it make sense, insulate, and fight city hall for injustice. If there had been blogs around the early 20th centry, there would be some people complaining about going to more efficienct electrical bulbs over the long burning candle.

    Some terms: 6000K refers to the temperature of an ideal “balckbody” object. When it is at 6000 kelvin it gives of very white light (the sun is near 6000K). Hotter gives off more blue. 2700K is the temperature of a long life lightbulb filliment, it casts a reddish light (more like coals in the BBQ, they are at 1000K, and they have no blue or green at all). So we want to mimic our old bulbs with 2700K – 3000K, soft white or warm white CFLs.

    Comment by John — February 23, 2009 @ 10:39 am

  33. Hi John
    That was a good response and I appreciate you sharing the “K” with me. I did not want you to leave thinking I was in approval of CFL bulb, because I am against there use. That said, a company Vu-1 is making a better buld. You know now that we are going to build a new eletric grid system that will deliver wind to us a whole new ballgame will arrive.. I believe those that pushed for the cfls and where we find ourselves with them was done with good intentions albeit, not the best solution but it was a step in into the future. I think Edison himself, as smart as he was, would agree we needed to update the bulb, but the cfls are not the way or the ones. So if you have time or a desire, go take a peek at a better solution to our bulb challenge. Also, it is made in AMERICA, not CHINA.
    Well over and out. Thank you for the stimulating exchange and together, in our ways we will make America great once again.

    Comment by Karen Nardella — February 23, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

  34. […] depth info on how to go about choosing your energy efficient lighting. Some further digging threw up this link which is a rather nicely written review. From my research I took home a few simple […]

    Pingback by Project “Small Feet” » Path to enlightenment. Step 1_Research — March 1, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

  35. Tom-

    My frustration with the deficiencies and diminished expectations of CFL’s led me to invent an inexpensive diffusion cover that transforms CFL light into the softer incandescent type light to which we are so accustomed.

    In addition to diffusing and softening CFL light, our decorative covers offer low-cost decorating opportunities, making the pursuit of energy efficient lighting a quality of life improvement instead of a compromise.

    “Fluorescent Fixers'” diffusion is superior to that of encapsulated CFLs, and CFLs that are covered by Fluorescent Fixers last longer than completely encapsulated CFLs because they operate at a lower temperature.

    Please take a look at Fluorescent Fixers at, and let me know what you think.

    Gary Bernhardt

    Adaptive Lighting Solutions LLC
    [ed: see site for contact info]

    Comment by gary bernhardt — April 7, 2009 @ 11:07 am

  36. […] have written several times about how CFL manufacturers and retailers seem to be their own worst enemies. The first […]

    Pingback by LED Bulb Makers Following CFL’s (Horrible) Lead? | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — May 8, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

  37. Tom,
    I’m just starting to dig into the details of CFL bulbs, but here’s one thing I ran into with my first scenario. I replaced all the incandescent bulbs in my dad’s house with CFLs (in India; the electrician bought the bulbs and I didn’t look at the brand etc) — the lighting was fine, but I when I took pictures with my digital camera, all the pictures would have several blurring/streaking (similar to shooting traffic at night with a long exposure). This was indoors with or without natural lighting, but the bulbs were on. If I shut the flash off or shut the bulbs off, the pictures were fine. It seems the CFLs are confusing the automatic aperture/light-meter settings of my digital camera. Have you run into this kind of problem?
    Sandeep Kochhar

    Comment by Sandeep Kochhar — June 25, 2009 @ 10:41 am

  38. When dollar stores were still selling everything, including electrical supplies, for a dollar, I knew enough to stay away from those electrical products. Now that these stores have breached the dollar price point and some of this junk merchandise is also appearing in local variety stores, people should beware of the fact that some of the CFL’s now selling for $1.99 or so may be outright junk.

    After a 100 watt equivalent CFL failed, I bought a Trisonic 26 watt spiral compact fluorescent lamp for $1.99 that alleged to be equivalent to 125 watts incandescent. The color was stated as soft white. The actual color could best be described as Daylight. The actual brightness was about equivalent to a 445 lumen 40 watt soft watt incandesent bulb. This bulb was packaged in a blister pack that had the base exposed, allowing one to test it without opening the package. So, I took it back to the Indian-run dollar store that breached the 99 cent price point a year ago on many items. I brought along a power cord and socket to show the lady. The lady said nothing was wrong, because the bulb lit up! I asked to speak to the manager, who agreed to let me test a few other samples. They all were about the same. They were willing to give me store credit, but no cash refund. I kept the bulb.

    The only reason I bought this unknown brand was because the store is convenient to me and my local supermarket was out of 100 watt equivalent bulbs. But over the weekend I had some time, so I decided to try to find a second Trisonic sample from a different batch. Many miles from the original store I found the same Trisonic bulb type in slightly different blister packaging, so I felt it was probably from a different batch. That bulb had about the same characteristics as the first Trisonic bulb. I then put both bulbs in a fixture in the bathroom that normally has 40 watt incandescent soft white bulbs in it. The brightness in the room appears about the same with two 40 watt incandescent bulbs as with these two alleged 125 watt equivalent Trisonic bulbs.

    Clearly, anyone buying this Trisonic lamp cannot use it to replace a 100 or 125 watt bulb, even if one just buys it in an emergency and doesn’t care how long it lasts or if it falls apart after 1,000 hours of use. There is no UL or ETL label on this bulb, and no FCC electronic ballast ID#. Lower income people, after getting stung with this junk, will probably avoid CFL’s in the future.

    Comment by David_NYC — June 29, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

  39. David_NYC —

    If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. CFL manufacturers, and especially retailers, blew it by going cheap.

    GE, at least is a good option, and their bulbs are available in a number of hardware stores, corner stores, and drug stores.

    Thanks for your comment —


    Comment by Tom Harrison — June 29, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

  40. New CFL bulbs do not last anywhere near as long as advertised. Also, after 90 days even Wal-mart will make you send them back to the manufacturer for your warranty. My experience has been as follows:
    I replaced most of the bulbs in my home over a 2 month period starting about 8 months ago (34 cfl bulbs total). 12 of these bulbs (34%) were defective out of the box. Either they did not work at all or only 1/2 the bulb lit up or they made a very loud buzzing sound. As of today (8 months later) I have had to replace 10 more for the same problems as noted before. I almost never got a defective ‘old style’ bulb out of the box and most of them lasted between 12 months to 36 months depending on usage. They also cost 1/5th as much. Since the advertised longevity of these bulbs seems to be exaggerated I’m not sure if we can be sure the energy savings estimates are true either. For example, where the energy savings based on real life usage patterns or on side by side continuous use? I’ve also heard recently that if you break one you need a hazmat team to clean it up.

    Comment by Steve — August 5, 2009 @ 1:55 am

  41. Steve,
    Your experience is certainly different with CFL’s than mine. I’ve probably installed 30+ bulbs myself and have never had one that was bad out of the box. The majority of my bulbs have been N-vision from Home Depot so I don’t have experience with a lot of different manufacturers.

    As for how long they last, I don’t attract it specifically but I do know I’ve ever had any fail in the first six months and probably none in the first year. I also know a couple that I have had for over three years without a problem.

    Like everything else I’m sure that the difference between manufacturers. Maybe have just gotten lucky but was that many installed I don’t think so.

    Comment by Mark — August 5, 2009 @ 6:55 am

  42. Steve and Mark —

    Your experiences are both typical. In short, you will have poor results with “cheap” CFLs. Unfortunately cheap seems to mean almost any brand other than the two brands people have consistently had good experiences, namely GE and nVision.

    Regardless of expense, I did some thorough testing for this review, including tests of wattage. The one thing that was consistent was that the listed wattage was accurate, according to my Kill-A-Watt meter.

    Bottom line: what I said in the review is important for all buyers. You can get good CFLs, but you’ll have nothing but disappointment with brands that cost a little less.


    Comment by Tom Harrison — August 5, 2009 @ 8:09 am

  43. […] lamps, hanging lamps and so on, all use CFL. Some use the GE EnergySmart brand I settled on in my CFL test and review last year. Others use ones I installed as long ago as 4 or 5 years — still going […]

    Pingback by Philips Halogena Review: Dimmable, Warm, Less Energy | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — August 8, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

  44. […] CFLs and other efficient light bulbs also burn cooler than standard bulbs. Use any light sparingly. […]

    Pingback by Cool and Comfortable with No AC | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — August 25, 2009 @ 4:24 pm

  45. […] CFL Bulb Review: Best CFL Bulbs to Replace Incandescent | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy […]

    Pingback by for m — February 8, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

  46. I have bought the GE and several other brands and have been very disappointed. I bought these when every one was pushing them about two years ago. I have a super high failure rate and have switched back to the old style of incandescent . To crawl around on a small ladder and change these bulbs again and again is not in the cards for me. Most of these bulbs have failed well before two years of age much sooner than they say, and way sooner than the old one I replaced. Back to old technology for me. I am not sold on these. But I have on trial a few of the LED lamps now they rock very expensive but they are still working very well.

    Comment by John Mariner — October 12, 2010 @ 9:34 pm

  47. John —

    Your experience is sadly like a lot of peoples’ — and that is exactly why I wrote this post. I went through a lot of CFL bulbs that were just no good. When I found these bulbs, I felt comfortable recommending them. Note that earlier GE bulbs were just as bad as all the rest. I would expect that CFL bulbs have gotten better in the last couple of years, but I haven’t tested any lately. I am still waiting for a CFL that will dim reasonably.

    This review was for a few specific models of GE EnergySmart bulbs that I tested back in 2008. The objective of the article was to warn people against other brands because of the problems you encountered.

    Between my house, and another house we did, we have replaced probably 20 – 25 incandescents with the GE Energy Smart bulbs and over the last two years none has failed in any way. In one of the houses, many are on lamps having clip-on shades, and they take a lot of abuse.

    All said, I agree that CFL technology is, overall, pretty poorly implemented. I’ll be interested to hear your experience with LEDs — I have not yet found one that is bright enough and for which there’s a payback period of under 20 years. Don’t get me wrong — there are some really great bulbs out there, but they are really, really expensive, even here in late 2010.

    Thanks for the comment!


    Comment by Tom Harrison — October 13, 2010 @ 8:29 am

  48. I have just tested a couple 13 watt CFL bulbs (advertised as equiv. to a 60watt light output) against an incandescent 60 watt. To my surprise, the first 13 watt CFL (Feit) was drawing between 57 and 49 watts. The 60 watt incandescent bulb read 59 watts. I used a Reliance Controls – AmWatt load tester that I purchased at Lowe’s to get the watt readings. The second CFL was a new GE 13 watt bulb. It seemed to consume 46 watts on average. I left it on for over an hour and there was no real change. Why am I not seeing the 13 watts as advertized with the CFLs? What am I missing?

    Comment by Marko — November 29, 2010 @ 2:44 pm

  49. Marko —

    If it were one bulb, I would say it was the bulb. Two bulbs suggests something about the tester. I use a Kill-A-Watt (not to mention the numerous energy monitors that I test and use as part of my role at Energy Circle) and they all confirm the rated wattages of devices. My Kill-a-Watt has several different measurable, perhaps you’re seeing something other than watts?


    Comment by Tom Harrison — November 29, 2010 @ 3:44 pm

  50. While it’s true that round (A-shaped) CFL’s are designed to work better with clip-on style lampshades, the problem is that round CFL’s typically cost about FOUR TIMES MORE than their spiral counterparts of the same wattage! A much more cost effective solution for consumers is a product called the Magic Toob Lampshade Leveler. At a cost to consumers of about $1.00 per shade, this product allows ANY clip-on shade to work perfectly with virtually ANY type of bulb. To find out more and see a demonstration please visit

    Comment by Jack — December 3, 2010 @ 9:00 am

  51. Jack, while I don’t usually allow blatant self-promotion in comments, I checked out your site, and the product seems simple and sensible, and you’re right about pricing differential — this is a great solution!

    Thanks for your comment, blatantly self-promoting or not :-)


    Comment by Tom Harrison — December 3, 2010 @ 10:34 am

  52. I have been using CFL’s (compact fluorescent lights) since they first came out but am about to change my ways. It takes energy to produce the CFL’s, energy to get them to the shelf and more to move them to my home where they quickly burn out. They cost more than the standard incandescent but don’t last half as long and many provide less than adequate lighting. I’m ready to try the LED’s which should drop in price as volume increases.

    Comment by Luciana — December 13, 2010 @ 7:27 am

  53. Luciana —

    I have removed the links to your LED business website from your comment. I did want to reply that in my view, having the LED lighting industry attack the CFL industry is plain stupid. And your claims are wrong.

    First claim: embedded energy of CFLs (cost to produce, transport, etc.) is far, far lower than LEDs.

    Second claim: CFL lifetime is far, far longer than incandescent. I have yet to have one burn out — the ones that failed were part of the testing I did, and universally were manufactured cheaply.

    So, to LEDs: the technology of the future, as I have been writing now for year after year. The issue has been that getting them to sufficient brightness while having a pleasing color temperature and CRI has proven to be hard and expensive. Home Depot is now selling a 60W equivalent A19 bulb for $40 (CFL costs about $1.25, incandescent costs about $0.50). Worse, this Philips bulb uses 14W — more than the CFL.

    The lighting technology of the future is looking somewhat distant.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — December 13, 2010 @ 8:44 am

  54. […] Manufacturer ClaimsIt has become painfully obvious from one of the most popular posts on the blog, my CFL review, that people don’t like CFLs.People don’t believe that CFLs last. This is because […]

    Pingback by LED Light Bulbs to Replace CFL or Standard? Not There Yet. | Five Percent: Conserve Energy — December 24, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

  55. My parents have had four CFLs burn out in the last four years and I’ve had two burn out after only two years’ use. When you consider the initial purchase price I’m going to have to get exceptionally long life from their replacements or I won’t even break even.

    Before CFLs were affordable I reduced energy use by replacing all my 100W bulbs with 60s, all my 60s with 50s or 40s and a pair of 40s with 25s. I really liked the softer light and would never go back to overly bright rooms. In many places where someone else would have a 60-75W incandescent bulb I have only a 9W CFL.

    Unfortunately fluorescent light pulses at 60Hz and in places with other 60Hz light sources (TV or computer screens) the result can be a very visible and annoying flicker. I definitely get more headaches since we switched to CFLs and I will be looking for another technology when our current bulbs finally quit working.

    Comment by David — January 28, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

  56. I am not sure where you get your information about 60Hz. CFL”s turn on and off at 120Hz (faster than most monitors and TVs).. Unlike displays, they have a long persistence phosphorus… this means that after they “turn off”, they continue to emit light. Don’t believe me? Go into a room on a dark night and look at the bulb (close your eyes for a few minutes, then open them the instant after you turn off a CFL), the CFL is still emitting light. If you get headaches, it could very well be that you the inverter in the base of the CFL (I can hear it). I also have one of those expensive Phillips 60 watt equivalent LEDs (800 lumen). It also has long persisting phosphorus. now about your incandescents… they too turn on and off at 120Hz, their temperature changes a lot when they turn off, and thus get dimmer. However, since there is heat storage in the filament, they do not appear to us to change much at all. They to continue after the power is pulled.

    So again… about flicker.. Turn off all the lights, stand away from a monitor with a bright picture and sweep your hand across in front of you. You will notice that your hand seems to jump across your field of view. That is because the monitor has low persistence so that you can get natural motion. This may not work on some LCDs as a transistor turned on, stays on the whole time. So if you don’t see your hand jumping (LCD) then it is not flickering (try this with a CFL on in the room to see if your hand jumps due to flicker… it won’t, since the flicker is very low). Flickering was associated with the older tube type displays from just a few years back.

    I am not sure what your annoyance is coming from, but is probably is not from what you stated above.

    Comment by John — January 28, 2011 @ 9:18 pm

  57. Tom

    Since you were so gracious about my blatant self promotion regarding the Magic Toob product, I thought I should reciprocate and offer you some samples to try for yourself. If indeed you like them and they work as advertised, I would be happy to supply a free sample to any of your readers who request one. Any thoughts?


    Comment by Jack — February 2, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

  58. […] light, look for bulbs marked “daylight, with a high colour temperature around 5,000. Here is another useful guide to buying a CFL bulb, which also has lots of good advice from on-line […]

    Pingback by Ten Myths About The New Efficient Light Bulbs | My Footprint is Too Big — February 27, 2011 @ 12:09 am

  59. Regarding CFL’s and Mercury

    Anyone concerned about the mercury in their CFL’s should really read the informative article posted here:

    It appears Karen is mistaken when she claims that “Each Bulb contains 5mg of the deadly and extremely dangerous Mercury”. In fact the amount is considerably less than that. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

    “For example, did you know that electricity use is the main source of mercury emissions in the United States since mercury is emitted when coal is burned to generate power? According to the EPA’s Energy Star division, the U.S. is “responsible for the release of 104 metric tons of mercury emissions per year. Most of these emissions come from coal-fired electrical power.”

    “The mercury in the air settles into waterways and accumulates in fish which then gets into our own food stream.”

    “CFLs generally use about 70 percent less electricity and last 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs. Therefore, over the life of the bulb, the CFL will generate only 20 percent the mercury emissions of its incandescent light bulb equivalent (assuming the CFL is properly recycled when it is finished). Even if the CFL isn’t properly disposed of and ends up in a landfill, the mercury emissions would still only be 27 percent of the incandescent equivalent so it’s still much better for the environment.”

    “To get some perspective on the amount of mercury we are talking about, a typical CFL contains about 4mg of mercury which is about the size of the tip of a ball point pen. According to Energy Star, over the past year many manufacturers have reduced the amount of mercury in CFLs by at least 20 percent and some even further, so they contain only 1.4 to 2.5mg of mercury per bulb. A standard 4-foot fluorescent tube contains 40mg of mercury or 10 times as much, a neon sign contains 100mg, and a standard residential wall-mounted thermostat contains 3000mg or 750 times as much as one CFL light bulb.”

    “You may already be exposed to mercury from the metal dental fillings in your mouth. This isn’t often in the media but many of us are already exposed to mercury and have been since childhood. Also, in the 90s, sneakers which had heals that lit up when children walked on them contained mercury as well. Mercury is still used in various cosmetics, so check for the cosmetic database to make sure your products are safe.”


    Comment by Jack — March 24, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

  60. Jack,

    All good information. And actually one reason manufacturers are using less mercury is that it results in faster cold-start time, a complaint of some about first and second generation CFLs.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — March 27, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

  61. Wow, what a thread … Yes CFLs have many advantages and I don’t get any big put-down, however they aren’t good for all purposes: frequent on/off use, some harsh conditions etc. I hear that the “ban” really isn’t on all incandescents anyway: there’s an exception for utility (as per above, I don’t know how defined or if taxed), for high-efficiency incandescents (they deserve more attention, you can Google that up), and maybe for little bulbs like few-watt night lights. In that sense the “politics” are relevant to what we’ll be able to find later.

    BTW I reiterate that I would rather see a tax imposed than a ban even on regular incandescents. That would make them available for those who want for specific purpose but the discouragement would cut sales enough to produce the major long-term energy savings.

    Comment by Neil Bates — March 28, 2011 @ 8:40 pm

  62. I have deleted several recent comments on this thread, one from Karen, and one from Jack. I’ll take a look back and see if there are others that are not productive (including my own) and delete them.

    Thanks for all short, insightful, fact-based, on-topic and helpful comments. By on-topic, I mean relating to the specific CFLs I reviewed in this post over two years ago.


    Tom Harrison

    Comment by Tom Harrison — March 29, 2011 @ 7:50 pm

  63. Subsequent to two more responses from the Karen and Jack, I have reviewed the comment thread and removed those, as well as several other comments that were not, in my view, contributing to the tone and content of my blog, including a comment I wrote.

    There is a worthy debate to be had of the issues around all forms of lighting we use, and for that matter all forms of energy we use. While I am very happy, and generally thrilled to hear others comment, or engage in conversation whether or not I agree with the views stated, back-and-forth comments or arguments are not really that useful.

    And even if they are, they do not serve the purpose of my blog. As it happens, in addition to the time I spend writing, I pay a modest monthly fee to handle the 10,000 or so visitors I get monthly. So I get to be king :-). My goal is unabashedly to provide information and opinions to those who are hoping to find ways to live their lives using less energy.

    So I apologize if I have hurt your feelings by deleting your words. Let’s keep the comments open, and on point, please.


    Tom Harrison

    Comment by Tom Harrison — March 30, 2011 @ 7:39 pm

  64. Tom, good overall point and propriety. It is topical though, to get straight just which types of incandescents will *have to be* replaced and if any won’t. After all, we’d need to wonder “which CFL will work OK in my refrigerator” (has to brighten right away at 36 F and handle on and off after maybe 15 seconds, a harsh demand!) – but won’t need to if incans are available for that. And also if some incans (is that an acceptable slang abbr?) will pass the law (some company, not just GE, is making them), then that affects your purchase strategy over pros and cons. Also, if their claimed high power factor really influences effective consumption by CFLs (as some critics claim) that it a relevant angle in respect to rated wattage -?

    Comment by Neil Bates — March 30, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

  65. Neil —

    In 2008 I wrote the post about CFLs that worked for me at the time, and have updated it with the latest models since then.

    The topic is recommended CFLs to replace incandescent bulbs. I think I found five or six positive use-cases, and I still stand behind them. I still haven’t found use-cases for dimmable bulbs, for example, and don’t feel any need to discuss refrigerator bulbs (40W, on for perhaps 5 minutes a day: simply not relevant).

    If you or others wish to discuss the merits and limitations of legislation, please feel free to do so but not on this comment thread.

    I hate to be such a jerk about this, but for the first time in the 6 year history of this blog, I am going to see if it’s possible for me to close comments.


    Comment by Tom Harrison — March 31, 2011 @ 12:11 am

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