I replaced the two old-fashioned incandescent bulbs in our porch with the energy-saving compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs supplied by Project Porchlight last weekend. Project Porchlight is a campaign by a non-profit organization that aims to deliver one free CFL to every household in Canada. The new lamps are 13 Watts and replace bulbs that were burning 60 Watts and will save us a little bit on our Hydro bills every month. According the Project Porchlight, each CFL bulb saves an estimated $50 over its lifetime in electricity costs.

The bulbs have the added advantage of lasting much longer but the main reason I haven’t replaced the lights in our home is an old one I purchased years ago. It flickers, takes a bit of time to turn on and the light it gives out is dull, but the technology has improved tremendously over the past few years. The bulb turns on quickly and the light is bright, steady and indistinguishable from the old lamp.

If you haven’t tried a CFL lately, you might want to buy one and see if you like it. Like me, you might be pleasantly surprised. You’ll save money and help the environment at the same time.

This article has 23 comments

  1. CC,

    I found the new ones are great too when I changed out all the bulbs in my new house last summer. Actually, I like the new ones so much that I’m only using the old ones now in the less frequently used parts of the house.

    My only problem with the CFL’s is that they are still just a bit longer than a regular bulb which causes some problems with one light fixture I have.


  2. I use them all over the place. The only drawback I can see, is that they don’t work with dimmers.

    CD: There are some smaller ones available too …

  3. Canadian Capitalist

    I’ll have to check out the lighting bulb aisle at Rona. I read online that they have different shapes now and also bulbs that work with dimmers. The one I purchased years ago looks like a U, but the new swirl shaped ones are really much better that I am very surprised.

  4. I think you have to change the actual dimmer switch to get the CF bulbs to work on a dimmer (and maybe the bulb as well).

    I have had a bunch of CF bulbs all over my house for a few years and any bulb that I replace now is a CF. One of the things I notice with the CF bulbs is that they take a little while to ‘warm up’. I think the newer ones are better at this but when you first turn them on they seem really dim but a few minutes later they get up to their full brightness.

  5. Fluorescent lights work on the principle of energizing (ionization of) an inert gas with DC power, kind of like a neon light. This ionization process must be properly controlled with an electrical ballast to give it a huge jolt of energy at the beginning to get the ionization started and then throttling back the power in order to avoid blowing everything up. It is because of this tightly controlled ballast that the fluorescents cannot be used with a dimmer switch. That said, I saw at the local Rona the other day a compact fluorescent with 3 available levels of brightness.
    I changed all of my bulbs to compact fluorescents many years ago, but the one in my main room is too dim. I recently bought a newly released bulb that is supposed to give off the equivalent light to a 120 Watt incandescent (but it only draws 36 Watts), but it doesn’t fit into my existing light fixture. I will have to replace my light fixture to accommodate this new bulb, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. It’s still on my “to do” list… (sigh)
    Sorry, as an engineering geek, I thought I had to add my two cents worth!

  6. What brand are you using? I hear that some brands are better then others.


  7. We use the inexpensive IKEA ones everywhere. 11W, I believe, and they work really well. The colour of the light is very different from incandescent bulbs, and they aren’t the super-short variety that you can get at Crappy Tire or Home Despot (so they may not fit into every fixture), but they cost a lot less than name-brand ones and seem to last as long.


  8. Canadian Capitalist

    FT: Like I mentioned the bulbs I got were free from Project Porchlight. I think they are the Globe brand. I don’t know enough about them to recommend. I do intend to go to the bulb aisle at Rona and check out the displays first.

  9. Apparently if we switched all our bulbs in North America in our homes and businesses, we could stop importing oil altogether. Without giving up one Hummer.

    10 things you probably did not know about CFL’s

    1. CFLs use only a quarter of power to create light comparable to an equivalent incandescent bulb.

    2. CFLs are typically guaranteed to work for 8,000 hours as against the typical incandescent bulb which lasts between 500 and 2000 hours depending on electric voltage and mechanical shock.

    3. Early CFLs used magnetic ballast, which used to cause flickering and slow starting. Recent advances in technology now replace the magnetic ballast with electronic ballast, eradicating these problems in current CFLs.

    4. CFLs usually do not fail suddenly like incandescent light-bulbs do. Symptoms of impending CFL failure may come months ahead of the moment they actually fail.

    5. CFL light output is roughly proportional to phosphor surface area, and high output CFL bulbs are often larger than their incandescent equivalents.

    6. The retail price of a CFL includes an amount to pay for recycling, and manufacturers and importers have an obligation to collect and recycle CFL lamps.

    7. In September 2006, Wal-Mart started a campaign to endorse CFLs. The store aims to sell one CFL to every one of their 100 million customers within the next year and thus change the energy consumption of the United States.

    8. A typical incandescent bulb heats up to the filament to about 2,300 degrees Celsius while CFLs operate at 300 degrees. That’s significant because heat represents wasted energy.

    9. Early CFLs cost $25 per bulb and still paid for themselves in electricity savings! Now, they typically cost only 1/10th of that price.

    10. In terms of oil not burned, or greenhouse gases not exhausted into the atmosphere, every household in America swapping one 60 watt incandescent bulb with a CFL is equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads.

  10. regarding “6. The retail price of a CFL includes an amount to pay for recycling, and manufacturers and importers have an obligation to collect and recycle CFL lamps.”

    we are indeed not allowed to throw those bulbs in the garbage … hazardous waste

  11. Although everyone is trying to do the right thing according to the popular media, we need to consider the consequences of what we are doing. All CFL lamps contain mercury, the toxic material that everyone fears. Its great that we are saving energy, but we need to address these material changes from an entire life cycle as opposed to simply “doing the right thing” and end our responsibility. More education is need for the general consumer.

  12. Project Porchlight had a great idea to spread the word on energy saving. CFLs are a great way to reduce energy use, but they still don’t offer any substantial guidance on how to dispose of dead CFLs. The best they can do is send you information from American sources and tell us they are working on the issue. Some of those sources recommend hazmat suits and complete wipedown of the room if you break a CFL because of the mercury vapor. This is something government needs to look at – perhaps the cost of CFL recycling/safe disposal needs to be built in the cost of the bulbs too. I wonder what the liability concerns are going to be in the future in terms of health. Stores are banning water bottles because of bisphenol-A already, so you can imagine mercury vapor disposal has to be a similar future concern.

  13. Also remember that the ‘wasted’ energy from incandescent bulbs give off is heat. This means that inside your home in places that need to heat in the winter (mostly all of North America) the ‘wasted’ energy isn’t wasted at all.

    They are sensitive to heat and cold, making them of little added value in enclosed fixtures or fixtures that would be outside in below freezing. Using them in these types of fixtures and conditions could drastically reduce the claimed life span. They will give off very dim light for a while until they ‘warm up’ when outside and cold. Some people say they notice this inside too, and if I sit and watch a spot for a few minutes I say they are right, but it’s much less apparent. Also, though this one I’m not sure of, I’ve read that they are sensitive to on-off cycles which can also reduce their life span making them less useful for areas that the lights go on and off a lot (bathrooms for instance).

    Add that to the fact that you can’t just throw them out you have to take them to a place that handles hazardous waste.

    Don’t get me wrong, they have their place, but that place is not in every single fixture. I have them in most places in my home, but there are some others that they just won’t do. They aren’t a fix for every lighting problem.

  14. Mercury is needed for the lamps to produce light, and there are currently no known substitutes. Small amounts of the toxic substance is vaporized when they break, which can happen if people screw them in holding the glass instead of the base or just drop them.

    Mercury is a naturally occurring metal that accumulates in the body and can harm the nervous system of a fetus or young child if ingested in sufficient quantity.

    For the Maine study, researchers shattered 65 compact fluorescents to test air quality and cleanup methods. They found that, in many cases, immediately after the bulb was broken – and sometimes even after a cleanup was attempted – levels of mercury vapor exceeded federal guidelines for chronic exposure by as much as 100 times.
    In a new Maine study, mercury vapor released by the bulbs exceeded even those higher levels.

    The study recommended that when a compact fluorescent breaks, consumers should get children and pets out of the room and ventilate it. It warned vacuums should never be used to clean up a broken compact fluorescent lamps. Instead, it recommends using stiff paper and tape to pick up pieces.

    Some states require broken compact fluorescent light bulbs to be disposed of as household hazardous waste. Others ban disposal of bulbs in trash

  15. he problem is that the replacement bulbs are not good.

    We all heard a few years ago about exploding halogen bulbs that can start fires. So we removed all halogens from our house.

    Now they want us all to buy Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs). But these bulbs all contain mercury. Safety regulations forbid us to throw them away with our regular garbage because they’re toxic.

    If you drop one of these bulbs and break it, you’re supposed to evacuate your house immediately and stay out for fifteen minutes, until the mercury vapors dissipate!

    Also, like all fluorescents, CFLs flicker. (All light bulbs using AC power flicker at a very rapid rate, but CFLs make it far more noticeable.) It has been shown that fluorescents, including CFLs, can significantly increase migraine headaches in people who are prone to having them, and can negatively affect epileptics.

    Oh, yes, please give me more migraines and a house full of mercury gas!

    Before I knew about these dangers, I tried CFLs. The first round failed miserably because the first CFLs were too big. Their stems fit in the sockets of lamps, all right, but the bulb itself wouldn’t fit inside the light fixture! Not ceiling fixtures, not lamps with standard-size harps to hold up the shade.

    Worse yet, CFLs don’t play well with dimmer switches or three-step switches. Forget that bedside lamp that can switch between gentle light and bright reading light!

    This is the problem when our laws are made to pacify fanatics whose tenets are shaped by religion instead of science: they won’t compromise. They decide what must be done, and then savagely attack anyone who doesn’t comply completely.

  16. This would not be such a problem if they were wise in their choices. But they’re not. They rush their decisions — as with global warming, they make it part of their religion without waiting for actual evidence or exploring alternative views.

    If Bush had come up with this regulation himself, then the environmentalists would be screaming at him for trying to put poison-gas bulbs into American homes! But because they came up with it, poisonous mercury vapors are “worth the risk.”

    What’s especially galling is that since global warming is almost certainly not caused by greenhouse gases emitted by human activities (global temperature fluctuations have no relation to CO2 emissions, as a demonstrable, historical fact), the supposed benefit of this mandated light bulb change is trivial or nonexistent, while the increase in hazards is not insignificant.

    Someone is going to die or suffer serious, permanent health damage because of this change — nobody’s going to die because of human-induced global warming.

    But we already went through the same nonsense with Chloro-fluorocarbons (CFCs), most notably Freon gas. This refrigerant was banned, not because of any evidence that it caused harm, but because there was an obviously-absurd hypothesis that these heavier-than-air compounds were somehow rising to the outer atmosphere where they were eating up the ozone layer.

    No explanation about how they would get up there. Nor any explanation about why the thinning of the ozone layer only happened in the southern hemisphere, where CFC use was lowest. And since their hypothesis was that since CFCs don’t degrade, they just stay up there eating ozone, no explanation about how it could ever get better.

    The actual evidence was that the ozone thinning began before CFCs came into common use; since then, these supposedly indestructible CFCs must have gone somewhere, since the ozone “hole” has been healing itself without any human intervention.

    (Oh, hadn’t you heard that news? Yes, we’re not all going to get skin cancer after all. But they don’t give so much publicity to their “never mind.” Perhaps because we might stop listening to their absurd, anti-scientific religious claims.)

    Meanwhile, though, Freon-using appliances all had to be changed over at great expense. And in third-world countries, the spread of refrigeration — with its enormous health and safety benefits — was significantly slowed, at a real but unmeasurable cost in human survival and safety.

    But who cares? Human beings are the one part of the environment that the enviropuritans don’t give a rat’s petoot about. In fact, the True Believers think that a steep decline in human population would be good for “the planet” (but hard on our species).

    So for all we know, deaths from lack of refrigerants for food preservation, as well as from mercury emissions from broken CFLs, are actually part of the plan.

  17. I just notice that Traciatim quoted from the same source I did ..LOL

  18. As someone who sells light bulbs for a living, I am less enthusiastic than most about compact fluorescent bulbs. This is due to the fact that the ones currently available contain significant amounts of mercury. If one of these bulbs should break inside of a person’s home, it could cause a challenging disposal situation. It is my belief that the technology should progress to a point at which the mercury levels are low or nonexistent before people changeover their entire homes. Another consideration is that as these bulbs burn out, they will most likely be thrown away as though they are normal rubbish and landfills will have incredibly high levels of mercury in their soil as a result.

  19. Kristina Richardson

    Most CFLs today on the market contain less than 5mgs of mercury and there are CFL options out there that contain as little as 1.5mgs of mercury- which can hardly be called a “significant amounts of mercury” considering that many item in your home contain 100s of times more of mercury including your computer. Mercury levels in CFLs can never be “nonexistent” since mercury is a necessary component of a CFL and there is no other known element that is capable of replacing it. But CFLs actually prevent more mercury from entering the environment. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, “a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a CFL of the same light output”.

  20. Yes Kristina, that’s why the EPA says you should do this when you break a CFL:

    1) Open a window
    2) Evacuate the room
    3) Turn off your central air
    4) Wait at least 15 minutes
    5) Scoop up the class with stiff paper
    6) Use tape to clean the area of any small particles
    7) Wipe area clean with disposable cloth or a wet wipe
    8) Place glass fragments, tape, and cloth in a sealed container for disposal with your other hazardous waste
    9) If any clothing or bedding came in to contact with the broken glass, do not wash it, throw it out
    10) For the next several times you sweep or vacuum you should turn off your central air and open a window

    If you break a incandescent:
    1) Pick up glass
    2) Sweep or vacuum

    . . .

    Wow… maybe they should come with free hazmat suits. Like I’ve said a few times on a few forums. CFLs have their place, they are not the be all and end all of lighting. LED, Halogen, Incandescent, and CFLs all have their strong points and weak points and should be used accordingly.

  21. Kristina Richardson

    I agree that care should be taken when a CFL is broken. And its very important to vent the home for at least 15 mins the mercury levels dissipate to a minimum.

  22. Kristina Richardson

    I think a free hazmat suit would be overkill.

  23. Yes Kristina, I was being funny there . . . The trouble is most people tout them as the lighting technology to end all other lighting technologies when they really don’t help all that much.

    Inside a home the energy savings will only happen in times where you don’t heat your home. If you are not heating your home in Canada it’s probably summer and summer has longer days so you use less lighting anyway.

    So now we’ve replaced a really cheap solution with a potentially dangerous expensive solution. Other efficient lighting solutions exist like LED, that have their place too. I guess they will start advertising those heavily as soon as the majority of sales are CFLs and suddenly you’ll see the ads showing the problems with CFLs that LEDs fix so that people can but more stuff.

    CFLs are only good in a few places. For instance when I purchased my home at the bottom of the basement stairs is a light that we leave on all the time, since it’s dark down there. For some reason the people before us had 2 100watt regular bulbs. Since we just need it to light the stairs it is now 1 15 watt CFL. This is a near perfect application for them. They are also in the hall lights that we leave on at from dusk until we go to bed, since they just go on and off once a day and are in an open enclosure. Everywhere else mostly uses regular bulbs until something else gets cheap, efficient, and reliable.