Watt The CFL Is Going On Here?

by Steve MacDonald

CFLWhile the total ban on incandescents was averted the old reliable ‘heat-ball’ is still nearing extinction in the US.  When we rang in this new year, January 1st 2013 began the ban on the 75 Watt incandescent bulb.  It may no longer be produced or sold once supplies run out.  It’s smaller cousins will not be far behind in successive years, leaving us to light our way with candles unless of course we’d rather use the state sponsored (see also mandated) bulb of choice–The Compact Fluorescent or CFL.

CFL’s suck. Let me count the ways

CFL’s are not a suitable replacement for an incandescent bulb.

Fluorescent bulbs can last longer than incandescents but only when used properly.  Proper use requires that you leave them on for long periods of time.  By long periods of time I mean hours.  Turning them on for a few minutes and then off again shortens their life considerably.  Doing this repeatedly shortens it further.  So if you put one in a bathroom, a closet, a basement, a storage area, your garage, or lets be honest–almost anywhere in your home–you will not be burning them for the amount of time needed to ensure that they can begin to approach the hours of life the manufacturers claim.

If you buy cheaper knock offs, they die as fast or faster.

Standard home use voids the potential for longer life.  The only way for you to realize any potential savings is to leave the lights on all day–which just sounds stupid considering that CFL’s are supposed to save energy–but then seeing as this is a government mandate who among you is all that surprised?


CFL’s do not produce as much light, produce inferior light, or no light at all.

When you fire up an incandescent you get light on demand.   And wasn’t that the point of buying light bulb in the first place?  Light.  When you fire up a CFL you get some light, and if you are patient you may get more light after it warms up but never quite as much as the carton claims.  If it is cool–anywhere near 60 degrees, the light the bulb produces is diminished and the bulb takes much longer to warm up and much longer to provide that for which it exists–enough light.  Odds are good you’ll be done with it before then, will turn it off after some grumbling about how crappy the bulbs are, which will simply shorten it’s life.   If it gets cold enough the bulb produces little or no light at all.  (Versions better equppied for cold weather cost more,require larger subsudies to make them more affordable, use more energy, and still suffer the all the other limitations.)

Government mandates lead to diminished expectations?  Again.


They are more expensive (even after being subsidized by taxpayers and power companies)

CFL’s are heavily subsidized by the government and through power companies.  If these kick backs were eliminated, no one would likely buy them.  And while the average estimated savings per home–ignoring all other factors–is $180.00 per year–how much do the kick backs cost us, and how does it save me money when for the cost of 20 CFL’s per year, I could buy 16 times as many incandescents?


Loss of Heat from Incandescents could increase Greenhouse gasses.

Some people use the heat they produce to keep pipes from freezing on cold January days.  I’ve heard stories of folks who have beds of them under dog houses to warm their canines outdoor abodes when needed.  And since one of the major complaints about incandescents is that they use most of their energy to create heat and not light, who can deny that the absence of this heat in a cold home, no matter how insignificant, might result in heating systems that run even a tiny bit longer or a tiny bit more often in their absence?

In a rhetorical world where turning off a light can help save the planet (even when it could kill the light bulb), wouldn’t it be counter-intuitive to create a scenario where every furnace on the planet that has to run another few seconds every time it comes on because of CFL’s might be worse?


Most if not all CFL’s are made…in China/Asia (some in India.)

Like reusable shopping bags, which are also worse for you and the environment, CFL’s are made almost exclusively in China and Asia.  So by banning incandescent bulbs the state is forcing everyone to off-shore their lighting needs.  Seeing as off-shoring by the private sector is (I am told) bad, wouldn’t the government mandating it also be bad?


CFL’s use more energy to manufacture, handle and transport–they do not, therefore, reduce your carbon footprint

The point of CFL’s was (is) to reduce everyone’s carbon footprint.  Even in a world where we pretend that this even matters, CFL’s do not accomplish that goal.  A study in Denmark determined that it takes 16 times more energy to make a CFL compared to an incandescent bulb.  That study did not account for energy to transport the heavier bulbs, additional cost to handle them, nor the energy needed to dispose of them, recover the mercury, or to identify and remove mercury from waste streams.


CFL’s are filed with a toxin, dangerous to family and pets, and difficult to dispose of.

You need mercury to make a fluorescing gas fluoresce.  If you break one you will probably violate your state or federal laws for allowable amounts of mercury.  One bulb will typically introduce 200 to 300% more toxin than is allowed by law.  Clean up is not a snap.  You will have to pay a company that handles hazardous materials to remove the toxin from your home.  That’s probably $2000.00 dollars.  And while the government does subsidize the bulbs to lower the price per unit, the government will not subsidize any hazardous waste clean up in your home that may result from your using the bulbs.  And why would we want to put ourselves in a position where that was even necessary?

Incandescents can go in the trash.  CFL’s must be handled seperately and managed by your municipal waste handler because of the toxins–this costs you more as well.


Worse Than Incandescents?

Their is speculation, even among pro-environmentalists, that CFL’s are more dangerous to people’s health and the environment, but after the shelves are cleared, you will no longer be able to buy a 75 Watt incandescent light bulb.  As I pointed out earlier, other bulbs are not long for America’s shelves, all because the government requires it, even though there is significant evidence that switching is counterproductive to the stated goal, will reduce jobs, extract more money from citizens, create greater health risks, while being potentially worse for the environment.

Maybe New Hampshire should nullify the law in the Granite State until someone takes a more serious look at the negatives of CFL’s, and then pass a heat ball exception that will allow people to buy the bulb that is safer, creates more light, and is easier to dispose of without long term detriment to people, animals and our state.


Additional reading.







Leave a Comment

  • Nullification is a good option for us here, and we can just import the bulbs from Canada if we make them legal in NH.

    • C. dog e. doG

      Excellent idea. Perhaps this will be yet another addition to a budding, beautiful black-market.
      – C. dog anticipating trips to CanadaMart

  • I submit that technology is bypassing the pesky CFL, and that, while we should fight to keep incandescents available for cases where we need them, the LED will supplant them for situations where we actually want a longer lasting bulb, or prefer to leave the light on longer without consuming too much energy.
    My path is lit with warm white LEDs: 25w of light for 4w of electricity, and no failures out of nine lamps over two years.
    My kitchen counter is lit with a larger version (40w equivalent uses 8w), and I am so happy that I don’t have to replace one bulb out of five every few weeks.

    I guess that the larger point here is that we don’t need no stinkin’ government regulations:technology will deliver efficiencies that we actually want, and, surprise, it often takes a different path than government anticipated.

    • C. dog e. doG

      A big, big plus is that one need not call the HazMat team should one break an LED, unlike its lowly cousin, CFL. Unfortunately, the bang for the buck (lumens/dollar) is still quite low for LED’s, though I noticed a significant uptick recently at Home Depot. Also, the promotional watt-equivalents for LED’s are disingenuous at best. I recall from about a year ago they were usually inflated at least 33%. That said, I can’t wait for them to drop below the price of a lobsta’ dinna’.
      – C. dog

      • nhsteve

        I can feed my whole family for the cost of one of those things.

    • Tim from Nashua

      Drawbacks to the LED bulbs I have purchased: They make my radio buzz with static, and for some reason, didn’t work in my fridge.

      • nhsteve

        My major drawback for LED bulbs is I can’t afford them. But working in the PC industry I know about LED’s. They have the potential to last a very long time on very little energy.

      • Interesting. CFLs are prone to produce hash, so I’ll have to check the RF spectrum of a few LEDs. Also fascinated that they didn’t work n your fridge. My garage and yard ae both definitely colder than my fridge, and LEDs in both places work great.

      • C. dog e. doG

        But on the upside, I bet the mercury infuse arugula salad was a smash hit New Year’s Eve.
        – C. dog

  • BTW, Steve, nice picture of UK CFL;)

    • nhsteve

      Yes. After I put it up I noticed it….then I figured…leave it–lets see who else notices.

  • KenEyring

    Nice piece Steve! And good comments added by Mike!

    • nhsteve

      Thanks Ken.

  • Don

    Nearly every incandescent in my home has been replaced by a CFL. There has been no noticeable change in my electric bill. Everything Steve has described in this article concurs with my experience. CFLs do nothing well.

    Mr. Rogers I agree the LED is far better technology but it is even more costly than CFLs. Have you seen a noticeable reduction in your electric bill?

    • C. dog e. doG

      Most e-consumption occurs for contraptions other than lights. If you’re looking to make a big dent, here’s some primary contenders … at a cost:
      1. Replace old frig if you are using one. Sears has some good options, but payback will take awhile.
      2. Replace e-water-heater with gas version if have or can access natural gas.
      3. ditto for e-stove/oven.
      4. ditto for e-dryer. Or go old-school and show your neighbors your wares.

      All four likely will require significant upfront expenditure (real investment), for which you will generate ROI’s in the form of lower e-bills. But, if you are a thrifty sort – know a skilled mechanic looking to install gas appliances by the light of the silvery moon, willing to scour internet for low-e appliances, and/or willing and able to DIY installations – you will vastly improve your ROI, and consequently reduce your paybacks. Another great outcome, PSNH gets substantially fewer dollars to run their coal-hearted furnaces in Bow and Portsmouth, assuming your under their thumb.
      – C. dog

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