We've been looking in to compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) to reduce energy consumption for lighting. Here's what we've learned so far.

Manufacturers say that a 13-18 watt CFL produces light equivalent to a 60w incandescent bulb, an 18-22w CFL is the equivalent of a 75w bulb, and a 23-28w CFL is the equivalent of a 100w bulb. This is based on the "lumens" rating on the side of the box.

In real life, CFL equivalent replacements do not seem quite as bright as incandescents, so you might end up replacing a 60w equivalent with a 75w equivalent and so forth. (The "swirled" designs seem to give off brighter light than the CFLs with a traditional "bulb" design.) But overall, CFLs reduce energy use for lighting by 60%-70%.

Color temperature makes a big difference. The lower the color temperature, the more the light resembles the "warmth" of incandescent bulbs we are all used to (that may sound backwards, but that's how it works). Not all CFLs list the color temperature. The GE "Soft White" has a pleasing, almost incandescent look, while the similarly named Sylvania "Soft White" has a cooler, harsher "fluorescent" look (although some might prefer it for truer color rendering or easier reading).

We found some Sylvania "Warm White" 13w (60w replacement) CFLs at Lowes that have very pleasing light, and their small size allows them to fit most fixtures. The color temperature is listed as 2700K (as compared to their "Daylight" CFL which is listed at 6500K and seems much "harsher".) The 13w "Warm White" CFLs came in a contractor's box of 12 for $27, which is a pretty good deal. They are rated at 800 lumens with a lifetime of 10,000 hours, as compared to a standard GE "Soft White" 60w incandescent, which is rated at 840 lumens with a life of 1000 hours.

Because of their long life and lower energy consumption, CFLs can result in significant savings over the lifetime of the bulb relative to its cost. Manufacturers are quick to point this out, with claims on the packaging of $36+ in energy savings over the life of a 14w (60w equivalent) up to $61 for a 23w (100w equivalent). Your mileage will probably vary.

All of the CFL bulbs we tried came on quickly (some instantly), none exhibited any flicker, and none caused any audible humming or other noise. Some take a little longer than others (only a few seconds in most cases) to warm up to full output. It appears that the latest CFL designs have eliminated most of the previous complaints, although site wiring problems can be an issue according to manufacturers.

Most CFLs do not work with dimmers. Manufacturers say it will shorten the bulb life and it voids the warranty. There are special bulbs that work with dimmers, but they are not widely available. If the package does not say the bulb is compatible with dimmers, it probably isn't. (Look at the fine print on the base of the bulb.) We are still looking for a local source for "dimmable" CFLs, as most of our fixtures have dimmers. CFLs are also not intended for use with most photocells and timers.

One thing that is not talked about much is that CFLs emit more ultraviolet (UV) light than an incandescent bulb, which produces virtually none. Light in a CFL starts out as UV from excited gases, and is made visible by phosphors coating the inside of the tube/bulb. Incandescent light is mostly infrared emitted by heating the filament to super high temperatures (leading some to call them "heat bulbs" instead of "light bulbs"). Most of the UV from a CFL is filtered out in the conversion, but there is still some.

Manufacturers say, however, that there is no health risk and that eight hours of exposure to CFL UV is about the same as one minute in full sunlight. But, photographs, artwork, some fabrics, and some photoreactive chemicals used in furniture finishes are susceptible to degradation from any increased levels of UV over time. So this is something to consider.

The Mercury Problem

Finally, CFL critics like to remind you that CFL bulbs contain mercury, a highly toxic pollutant. This is true. The typical CFL bulb contains approx. 5mg of mercury. (Manufacturers are working to reduce this. Phillips is said to have developed a bulb that only has 1.5mg of mercury.)

If a CFL bulb is broken, special care must be taken to properly clean up and dispose of the remnants to prevent health risks. Further, CFLs must be recycled or properly disposed of to prevent the mercury from escaping into the environment. Here are the federal government guidelines for CFL disposal and cleanup.

What the critics forget to mention, however, is that coal-fired power plants are a major source of mercury pollution. Further, most of this mercury is emitted into the air, and is thus not contained or containable. Mercury in a CFL is already contained unless it is broken, and if properly recycled is fully containable.

We did some rough calculations to determine the mercury pollution impact of CFL v. incandescent bulbs. We used TVA's Kingston plant as an example. It generated 10,161,530 MWh in 2005, and released 643 pounds of mercury into the environment. This works out to 28.7 mg of mercury per MWh.

Based on this, a 100w incandescent bulb operated for 8000 hours (the rated life of a typical CFL) causes 23mg of mercury pollution. An equivalent 23w CFL bulb will cause 5.3mg of mercury pollution. Assuming the bulb is crushed and dumped in a landfill releasing its 5mg of mercury into the environment, the CFL will cause 10.3mg of mercury pollution over its lifetime as compared to 23mg of mercury pollution for an equivalent number of incandescent bulbs, a reduction of 12.7mg or 55%.

55% sounds like a lot. But according to DOE estimates, residential power usage is about 35% of the total, and lighting in the average home accounts for about 9.4% of the energy used. Considering that about 64% of TVA power is generated from coal v. hydro and nuclear, the net reduction of mercury emissions if every TVA residential customer switched to CFL bulbs would be about 6 pounds at the Kingston plant, about a 1% reduction. System-wide, this would be a reduction of about 52 pounds annually.

52 pounds doesn't sound like much mercury (even though it's thousands of lethal doses) but it's something. Multiply that for every power system in the U.S. and it adds up.

So CFLs won't save the planet, but they might put off its demise for a month or two.

Plus, we should take pollution controls wherever we can get them. If residential use of CFLs reduced overall coal-fired power consumption by 1.5%, the system-wide reduction in TVA emissions would be 2865 tons of NOx (nitrogen oxides that cause ozone and smog), 6900 tons of SO2 (sulfur dioxide that causes acid rain and harms plants and stream ecology), and 1,575,000 tons of CO2 (a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming) annually (2005 figures). Increased commercial usage of CFL would result in even more reductions.

Back to the CFL mercury problem, a couple of things need to happen right away:

• Consumers need to be educated on proper disposal and cleanup. The packages we purchased do not mention this prominently or at all. One directs you to a website. There should be prominent warnings about health risks and instructions for proper disposal and cleanup on all CFL packaging.

• Local public works officials need to incorporate CFL collection, recycling and/or disposal into their waste management programs.

• Big-box retailers who sell more than 100 CFLs per year (or some other arbitrary figure) should be required to provide on-site recycling centers.

UPDATE: I mentioned that dimmable CFLs are hard to find. I couldn't find any locally, but a good source on the internet for dimmable CFL bulbs is TopBulb.com.

The bulbs are a little expensive ($24 ea. for the ones we bought), but they work and they will pay for themselves in energy savings over the 10,000 hour rated life of the bulb (if they last that long).

We got 15w (2700K color temp.) replacements (made by Technical Consumer Products, also known as "Springlamp" brand) for two 60w kitchen lights. Actually, we were using 54w long-life bulbs, so the 15w CFLs are a little brighter. They work fine with the dimmer but won't dim as low as incandescent (the CFL dimmable range is 100% to 20%).

It's odd that the package says "DIMMABLE" all over it, but the fine print caution says "not for use with dimmers". I called TCP to ask about this, and the customer service person agreed this was odd but said no one had ever asked about it and as far as they know it's just a misprint on the packaging. What I do know is they work fine with our dimmers.

Another good online source for less expensive (with lower lifetime rating) CFL bulbs is EnergyFederation.org.

redmondkr's picture

I found eight-packs of GE 60

I found eight-packs of GE 60 watt equivalent CFL's at Sam's for twelve dollars and change the other day.

These have a characteristic that is not present on all such lamps, there is a slight delay between the time they are energized and the production of light. I also got one unit in the batch that emits a low hum. Fortunately it is in a fixture that is not often used.

Another common problem with most fluorescent lamps is their tendency for reduced light output as they age. When you put in fresh lamps you will think, "Wow, I wasn't really going blind after all".

My neighbor who has had more experience with CFL's than I also tells me that their lives are shortened if they are installed in enclosed fixtures as many of mine are. He allows that heat buildup eventually claims the electronics.

All things considered, though, this is a practically painless way to help the planet a bit and trim your electric bill just a little (or keep it from rising quite so much) in the deal.

Since California, and Australia, are talking about banning incandescents all together, that sort of mass migration to CFL's could make a significant difference.

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smalc's picture

They do make cfls that are

They do make cfls that are designed for enclosed fixtures. But like the dimmables, they are more expensive and I have never seen them in a store.

It's interesting that someone below has actually used the warranty. I always thought it would be hard to comply with all the language.

We use cfls in most fixtures. We do however have two fixtures that use those little round bulbs with the small base. They don't make cfls that size. I thought about either replacing the fixtures with ones that could accept cfls or ones made specially for flourescents (pin type, really expensive).

Steve's picture

CFL reduced performance overtime

That is one of the biggest complaints i have about CFL's, that although they say there life is so many hours, they fail to produce good amount of light over that period of time. From my experience, the reduction in light produced is noticeable within the 1st 1/4th of the life of the bulb.

The other problem is that although many of the CFL's I have experienced are instantly on, it does not take long before they stop being instant on and takes as long as 30 seconds to reach full brightness.

bizgrrl's picture

it does not take long before

it does not take long before they stop being instant on and takes as long as 30 seconds to reach full brightness

I recently put in a brand new CFL and it is definitely not instant on. The other CFL in the same fixture comes on instantly, the new one takes some time although I've never actually timed it. The two are probably different brands/models. I'm wondering if as they get more popular, the quality gets worse.

River Dog's picture


What do we know about LED's other than they are expensive but an alternative to CFL's? I checked and they are approximately $20 for an average 60 watt comparable bulb.

R. Neal's picture

I checked and they are

I checked and they are approximately $20 for an average 60 watt comparable bulb.

Last time I checked that would be a bargain. I thought they were $50 or more for a comparable bulb.

LED seems like the way of the future, and a better long term solution. There are a few problems, though.

They are more directional, so it's harder to design a "bulb" replacement that has wide dispersement of light. Lighting would really need to be totally rethought, as in light panels and strips instead of lamps and bulbs.

Also, making single-color LEDs is apparently easier than making a general purpose white LED. You only need one frequency to emit one color. White requires more frequencies/diodes, thus more expense, or a phosphor system similar to fluorescent, which reduces efficiency and durability, sort of defeating the purpose.

I'd say it will be a while before LEDs are figured out.

Justin's picture

The WSJ had an interesting

The WSJ had an interesting article on CFL's this morning. If all incandescent light bulbs were replaced it would "eliminate" up to 23 one thousand megawatt power plants. Then again our power usage is expected to increase 25% over the next 25+ years so it isn't exactly win-win per se. As far as breaking a bulb in your home...treehugger has some good info re: "I just broke a CFL bulb in my house" scenario.

A CFL containing 5 mg of mercury breaks in your child’s bedroom that has a volume of about 25 m3 (which corresponds to a medium sized bedroom). The entire 5 mg of mercury vaporizes immediately (an unlikely occurrence), resulting in an airborne mercury concentration in this room of 0.2 mg/m3. This concentration will decrease with time, as air in the room leaves and is replaced by air from outside or from a different room. As a result, concentrations of mercury in the room will likely approach zero after about an hour or so.

Another good link to calculate how much money you could save/eliminate CO2 by replacing bulbs.


If anyone else is interested we could start up a Knoxviews group (link...)

redmondkr's picture

I read an article somewhere

I read an article somewhere that suggested that LED arrays should show radical price reductions within the next five years or so. Getting that pleasing light output is something else.

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redmondkr's picture

Just as a lark, imagine a

Just as a lark, imagine a ceiling panel LED array, or an entire ceiling, with a control that not only varies the intensity of the room lighting but the color as well. Now provide a couple of audio inputs and, voila! Back to the sixties.

When's the last time you listened to the full-length In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida?

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Stick Thrower's picture

Worst packaging ever.

My biggest complaint with the CF bulbs is the idiotic hermetically sealed plastic packages they're are sold in. Some brands of incandescents have gone that environmentally unfriendly route too lately.

GE perfected the simple, space-saving, biodegradable, cardboard lightbulb package about 80 years ago--where two bulbs fit yin and yang style in a collapsable square box. Uncoated stock. Two inks. Easy to stack, easy to pack/ship in quantities, and easy to open without slicing off a finger.

redmondkr's picture

. . . . without slicing off

. . . . without slicing off a finger.

I've wondered why we don't read about lawsuits over that very thing.

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R. Neal's picture

My biggest complaint with

My biggest complaint with the CF bulbs is the idiotic hermetically sealed plastic packages they're are sold in.

Yes, those are a PITA. I thought maybe it was to contain the mercury if they get broken.

Although the contractor's box I purchased was not sealed, nor were the bulbs. Just individual (stiff) cardboard boxes with mounting to keep the bulb centered.

P.S. This reminded me of the following, which you might find amusing:


ATSF616's picture

I'm not an "early adopter"

....of new technology in general. I waited about 10 years on VCRs, PCs, CDs, DVDs, and digital cameras before ever making my first purchase, but I did jump on CFLs very early. I tried the first ones at least 15 years ago, and I actually still have a working example of one of the very first ones I ever bought. We now have them in absolutely every fixture in, and on, the house where they make economic and operational sense. A quick mental count produces something like 19-21 locations.

Most are 13-watt "curly" style, but some are more specialized, such as a couple of 9-watt "bullet" style in some curio cabinets, and a 7-watt burning as a night-light 24 hours a day in the garage. The living room table lamps and a chairside reading lamp all have 23-25 watt curlies.

Incidentally, Randy, they work just fine with mechanical timers (any type with an internal reed switch), although purely electronic timers are not recommended.

I have them outdoors in four shielded (but not fully enclosed) carriage lamps on both porches and the driveway. I can pretty much light up the front and back of the house all night for less than the power consumption of a single 60-watt incandescent. We live in north-central Indiana, where winter temps have reached -20 F a few times since I began using them outside. Light output does diminish as ambient temperature falls, but not unacceptably. The outdoor fixtures are routinely exposed to fog, snow, ambient humidity and rain, and I've not noticed any adverse effect, except for possibly shorter-than-claimed bulb life (note, however, they they are at least shielded from direct contact with water).

About the only places we don't use them: fixtures that are on just briefly for specialized purposes (closets and hallways), dimmer circuits, and motion detectors.

WhitesCreek's picture

The CFL packaging is to

The CFL packaging is to prevent the bulbs from being broken during shipment... yeah it's a pain.

I have replaced every incandescent bulb in the house except for the one in the stove and the one in the fridge.

I've also gone to CFL's with a built in reflector which protects and contains in case of breakage. Actually. I've been using them since the first time I found them in stores and have never had one break.

I figure the CFL's will wear out about the same time that LED's come in to their own.

Stick Thrower's picture

Protection +

The single bulb package goes far beyond protecting the bulbs, and if the bulb does break, it wouldn't contain the mercury because the sides aren't sealed.

Here's a picture. The three packs aren't nearly as bad.

I can almost understand the 2" x 4" sarcophagus part around the bulb (disagree that it needs to be plastic), but the rest of it is purely for point-of-purchase shelf presence. Heck, even the printed paper insert is on two separate sheets of gloss coated stock; not even printed front and back.

I love these bulbs, but Sylvania couldn't make the package worse without using depleted uranium.

Pickens's picture


We've put in 9 CFLs now, and purchased two more this morning.

The Sylvania twisties that we've seen at Lowe's say not to install them where they're to be used parallel to the ground or upside down, which eliminates some fixtures around our place.

We did have one Sylvania go out (using like it was meant to be used), and it was replaced under warranty. I had to pay to mail it back, but they sent me two in return!

The n:vision from Home Depot don't mention limitations on how it can be installed (ie sideways, upside down, right side up), so we have more of those than the Lowe's.

On another note, it sucks that KUB is planning a rate increase because consumption is going down. Folks are saving energy, and now they have to pay more for it.

ATSF616's picture

Upside-down mounting

"The Sylvania twisties that we've seen at Lowe's say not to install them where they're to be used parallel to the ground or upside down, which eliminates some fixtures around our place."

Must confess I've never read that on the instructions, and Sylvania is probably the brand we've used most. All four of our outdoor fixtures are upside-down installations. It may be possible that such mounting will reduce the life expectancy. I've only recently started marking the install date with a Sharpie, so I have no hard data on that.

I do know that the 7-watt in the garage is upside-down in a ceiling fixture, and has been burning continuously for at least two years (about 17,000 hrs).

d1grubb's picture

CFL Salesman

RE: Mercury pollution being reduced in the environment by CFL use, Mr. Neal goes to some lengths to argue the case, by assuming everyone gets their electricity from a coal fired power plant. Um ... Wrong. I do not know how many other equally gross and obvious errors are in this review, since it appears to be written by a CFL saleman and not worth rereading.

WhitesCreek's picture



you're going to have to actually make a case for what you claim or suffer ridicule and abuse. Offer us something positive and we'll forgive your assinine attack. I figure you only said what you said because you couldn't follow the arithmetic.

R. Neal's picture

Oops, I deleted a comment of

Oops, I deleted a comment of mine and it also removed all reply comments including someone else's re. my calculations and gross Mwh. Sorry about that. Some of my calculations were confusing and sort of wrong as pointed out by the commenter so they have been corrected, hopefully. But it's still about the same end result.

rikki's picture

tomato tomahto

My recollection is that it's pretty common for even the pros to start talking about megawatts instead of megawatt-hours when the subject turns to production rather than consumption. It's not really grounds to declare your calculations "nonsense," but I'm glad you corrected the error. That mercury calculation is really important and interesting, and it deserves to be shared far and wide.

So, does anyone know why mercury is used in CFLs? Is it ballast?

Also, I wish you had accidentally deleted d1grubb's comment instead. Is it even legal to be that stupid?

ATSF616's picture

Also, I wish you had

Also, I wish you had accidentally deleted d1grubb's comment instead. Is it even legal to be that stupid?

In some circles of the wingnut universe, I believe it's considered a virtue.

R. Neal's picture

So, does anyone know why

So, does anyone know why mercury is used in CFLs?

I believe it is the gas that is charged to emit the UV light that gets changed to visible light by the phosphers on the tube.

All fluorsecent lights (even the traditional long straight ones) have mercury.

lovable liberal's picture

Contractor packs

RN, I hope your CFL contractor bulbs serve you better than the incandescent contractor floodlight bulbs I bought a while back at Lowe's. They turn out to have a short operating life - some of the new bulbs have already burned out while the older retail bulbs burn merrily on.

A friend in the energy business warns that lots of the lighting systems are "optimized for low cost of installation". Sorry to have to say that only government regulation is going to fix that, at least in buildings built on spec.

Liberty and justice for all.

smalc's picture

Local public works

Local public works officials need to incorporate CFL collection, recycling and/or disposal into their waste management programs.

Knoxville does have a household haz waste center that supposedly accepts flourescents. (what they do with them after they accept is another question) Most other counties have a once a year drop off event.

I have several flourescent tubes from the basement and a couple cfls I need to dispose of, wonder if the Knoxville center checks to see if you are a county resident? I missed the once a year thing here.

R. Neal's picture

I checked with the

I checked with the Alcoa/Maryville/Blount Co. landfill.

They accept fluorescent bulbs of all kinds. They are sent to a "Class I" containment of some kind, which according to the guy I talked to means "lined".

No light bulbs of any kind are accepted at the recycling centers in Alcoa, or at the landfill. You need to tell them you have flourescent bulbs when you check in at the landfill.

They are also accepted at the TDEC traveling hazardous waste collection units that come each year to counties without their own faclities. Info here:


Accepted and prohibited items here:


Knox, Hamilton, and Davidson all have permanent facilities.

John Harlow's picture

What about the concentration of mercury in landfills

Granted, the power plants put out more mercury. That mercury is scattered over very large areas resulting in relatively concentrations in any one place.

How does that compare to the concentrations around a landfill that contains discarded bulbs? Legal or not, its going to happen in massive quantities, just like batteries are discarded.

Its interesting to me that LED lighting, which is far safer, more efficient and has a longer life is not only not being pushed, its pretty much being ignored. LEDs are expensive now, but the price could be brought down with large scale manufacturing.

I wonder what the lawsuits over mercury based lighting exposure are going to look like in 10-20 years?

reform4's picture

I have some LED floodlights...

..that were given to me by the supplier for the Extreme Makeover (EMHE) house I worked on. Good thing, too, I think the LED flood went for something like $20 each. I have it in locations that are hard to replace, taking advantage of the long life (25 years). The big problem is that the effective light equals only a 30-40W incandescent.

(Funny story- when the house was "unveiled" and the ABC crews came in to film the family, they had to swap out all the LED bulb for regular incandescents for filming. Once the filming was over, they put the LED bulbs back).

And yes, Ty is a jerk in person. Johnny Littlefield is really nice and was great to work with, though, even though he kept stealing my pencils.

Fighting for Reform and Representation, Fourth District
Steve Drevik, Commission Seat 4-B

BoB W.'s picture


Steve: the reason that the LED lamps had to be replaced is that most LED lamps that are currently used with AC power do not include circuitry to change the AC to DC, therefore they will flicker at 120 Hz (pos & neg halves of the 60 Hz AC line frequency that is a standard in the US). The flickering interferes with the scan rate of the video cameras. When homes eventually all have DC battery systems for storing (FREE) solar energy, this will no longer be an issue. It is NOW possible to include some circuitry (diodes) in ANY LED lamp at a reasonable price. They are simply left out because of their (small) price. Viva La LEDs!
And BTW, yes... we worked together at ESC.

djuggler's picture

Target on Ray Mears has

Target on Ray Mears has dimmable CFLs.

Has anyone looked into LED bulbs as incandescent replacements rather than CFLs?

Btw, my CFLs has a noticeable and immediate influence on my electric bill.

Doug McCaughan

R. Neal's picture

Thanks for the tip on

Thanks for the tip on dimmable CFLs. They were hard to find there for a while. I was about ready to take out all the dimmers in my house, which is almost every switch.

I looked into LED. To get equivalent light output, they were REAL expensive, or not available at all. I'm hoping this changes, because they would be way better than anything else currently available.

One article talked about rethinking interior lighting altogether, with for example large panels of LEDs on walls and celings instead of traditional fixtures. That sounds smart to me.

CFL Believer's picture

Hot bulbs . . .

If you live in the south as I do, and your home has many of those incandescent spot lights then you may as well have your fireplace on in the summer while your AC whirls trying to cool your house.

The real value of CFL's is the lack of heat in the summer in the south.

Ann Putty's picture

CFL Bulbs

I have a lamp that has a limit of 60 watts. I have always used incandescent bulbs. I recently purchase a CFL bulb (13-15 Watts) to be used instead of the 60watt incandescent. It doesn't give out enough light for my old eyes. Is it ok to go to a 20 to 29 watt CFL bulb to be used in the same fixture?

R. Neal's picture

Yes. The 20 watt CFL bulb

Yes you can use a 20 watt CFL, which would be well within the lamp's rating.

Hoseman19's picture

Another benefit is turning

Another benefit is turning on a CFL at night. They take a little while to come up to full brightness, which is easier on the eyes than the insta-sun of incandescants.

Jose Gomis's picture

Fluorescent Lamps - What the manufactures don't tell you!

One. The Manufactures by court order in some states required the safety instruction for the
clean-up of broken lamps be on the packaging of the lamps.

Two. The manufactures by court order of some states are going to require companies to have the
statememt, In big red letters;
"Not made in the U.S.A.and the products don't follow U.S.A EPA or OHAS requirements."
May contain more mercury and argon then the U.S.A.lammps.

Three. They tell you that small amount of merucry is not dangerous but that is not true.
It's not that one lamp break(s), box of lamps break(s)or a group of boxes break but that
you remain out of the way of the mercury (or mercury compounds that are more dangerous
then mercury by itself some sicentist are saying).

Four(For works) Manufacture all want to work the premiss of safety by vulume of the space your, but don't tell you to gate out of the way or space untill it is safe which in most cases is about 15 minute or so.

It’s not that a small number of lamps breaking is safe in a large area but that the personal are out of the dangerous route of travel of the unsafe amount, that is dangerous to our health, before it disseminated to a safe level!

Not that it will kill you at the time, but it could or will slowly make you sick, with many symptoms, some years down the line (6 to 8 years). And if you do this over and over, with out know it, it could or will be hazardous to your health!

Also if the material, fluorescent power, droplets, or vapor accumulated in one area, this can and does give off the poisonous mercury vapor from that location. Be it in a rug, floor drain, just carks in the floor, air handler filters and duct work of the HVAC system in your office. or home.

Would you want to be in the route of this poisonous mercury vapor no matter how small it is?

Factchecker's picture


Would you want to be in the route of this poisonous mercury vapor no matter how small it is?

We are all breathing it right now from the "clean coal" TVA is burning.

EricLykins's picture

University of Cambridge LED breakhrough

Last week, the collective wires at Energy Industry Today began buzzing about an LED breakthrough at University of Cambridge.

In a nutshell, from Treehugger:
Colin Humphries' team at Cambridge University has figured out how to grow gallium nitride on silicon instead of sapphires, making a much cheaper light emitting diode. LEDs can reduce lighting bills by 75% compared to incandescent, but they still cost a lot of money. Humphries claims within five years, the new bulbs will be available, cheap, mercury free, dimmable and designed to last over 50 years.

This new process could bring us the $2 bulb holy grail of LED lighting.

University of Cambridge newsletter

R. Neal, thanks for the info, I have posted a link to it in Tennessee for Sustainable Infrastructure and an Energy Independence Plan at Pickens Plan (where I am now one of 28 featured members in an organization of 1.4 million - shameless self-promotion, yee-hoo!)

Factchecker's picture

...[xxx] has figured out

...[xxx] has figured out how...

The LED breakthroughs will come and actually trickle down, maybe sooner than later, but it seems like not a week goes by when there's not some lab "breakthrough" like this announced. I'll believe it when I see it in stores.

And for that Pickens Plan... Peeeuuuuuwwww!!! Why embark on a major paradigm shift of our energy resources only to trade one fossil fuel for another? Makes no sense. But that's a crafty Republican entrepreneur for you, I guess.

BoB W.'s picture

LED Lighting

If you would like to see some interesting LED lighting, go to The Guitar Center @ Peters Rd. in Knoxville. Granted, these are not for household use, but they are extremely bright (as one would expect for stage lighting). Production of LED lighting is ramping up quickly, which should mean that prices will hopefully go down in proportion. Googling LED lamps should be of some assistance as well. LEDs are the technology that I'm placing my bets on.

BoB W.'s picture


Correction: "LED replacement lamp" would be the term to Google as it is more specific.
My mistake.

simon's picture

nice post

i broke a mercury thermometer when i was a child,but i cant feel any about the mercury.thx for your post all the same

FrankVerdin86's picture

RN, I hope your CFL

RN, I hope your CFL contractor bulbs serve you better than the incandescent contractor floodlight bulbs I bought a while back at Lowe's. They turn out to have a short operating life - some of the new bulbs have already burned out while the older retail bulbs burn merrily on.
A friend in the energy business warns that lots of the lighting systems are "optimized for low cost of installation". Sorry to have to say that only government regulation is going to fix that, at least in buildings built on spec.
Liberty and justice for all.
Frank Verdin

Barbara see's picture

CFL problem

I have a Kovaks bathroom fixture which uses two 13watt 4 prong CFL bulbs. The fixture came with two Fulham brand bulbs. When a bulb burned out I tried to replace both of them with two Phillips 13 w 4 prong bulbs. It will not work with both Phillips bulbs, but will work with one Phillips and one or the original Fulham bulbs. Also, it will not work unless the Fulham bulb is on a particular side.

Can you explain why this is happening? I'm concerned that the fixture will become useless when all the Fulham bulbs go bad.


Factchecker's picture

That's a very specific

That's a very specific question. Not even familiar with those other two brands. I've experienced similar odd behavior with fluorescents, though. You could try other brand bulbs, but you might also be right about not getting the lamp to fully work again. Sorry I don't really know.

Maybe if you google the right question...

redmondkr's picture

I'm not familiar with that

I'm not familiar with that brand either but it sounds to me like you are using the ring type lamps, what GE calls 'Circleline' lamps. I've never had much success in keeping them running for any reasonable period of time either and replacement costs are pretty dear. Their light output seems to reduce at a more rapid rate than other tubes I've used too. You could also have a ballast problem or, if the fixture is old, even a starter problem.

I have a four-foot four-tube fluorescent fixture with two ballasts in my kitchen and it eats tubes. It doesn't seem to matter what brand I buy or what price I pay, they start getting slow to start after about eight months to a year and soon only two of them will start. Flipping the switch two or three times sometimes goads them to life.

As soon as I get a round tuit, I plan to replace this 160 watt fixture with either a cluster of two to four globe fixtures with old fashioned screw bases or a single fixture that accepts two to four screw base CFLs. That way I can get from 200 to 400 watt equivalent lighting using less than 25% of the power and I've had very good experience with the lifetimes of my CFLs even in enclosed fixtures.

Another reason to replace that type fluorescent fixture is the hazard of a ballast fire. We used hundreds of fluorescent fixtures in the plants where I used to work and I've been through several ballast fires. Assuming they trip a breaker before they set fire to the house, they will still stink up the place for several days.

redmondkr's picture

Philips 800 Lumen LED Lamp

60 watt equivalent - uses 10.5 watts - life expectancy, 22.8 years - Price, $8.97

I found this 800 lumen LED lamp at Home Depot this morning. The oddball lollypop shape with 26 LEDs caught my eye and the $8.97 price was not bad either. It's a 60 watt equivalent but uses 10.5 watts. Life expectancy is listed as 22.8 years.

I also bought a 300 watt equivalent CFL for the kitchen. It consumes 68 watts and replaced a 160 watt, 4-tube, 4-foot fluorescent fixture that had to be relamped about every eight to ten months. Their 150 watt equivalent lamp would have been more practical but I love toys and this huge corkscrew was a draw. Now I'll need dark glasses when I cook.

Factchecker's picture

Saw those too. I wonder if

Saw those too. I wonder if this is their low cost entry. I think Philips can do better. And these are 2700K, just like the soft white Cree conventional shape bulb at HD. What's needed IMO is something closer to 3000 or 3100K. It's hard to find a LED bulb in that region.

smalc's picture

That 300w equiv cfl must be

That 300w equiv cfl must be huge. What kind of fixture would it fit into other than a bare socket?

redmondkr's picture

A Bare Socket

When I replaced the 4-tube, 4-ft fluorescent fixture in the kitchen, I temporarily installed this simple porcelain rosette with the idea of shopping around for something more decorative that would house three to four 100 watt equivalent CFLs or something similar. This thing is huge but I have a milky white plastic ball I bought a few years ago when I was fabricating my own floor lamps and it will barely accommodate the spiral glass of the thing. I'm thinking of covering just that portion of the lamp since the manufacturer says it's not designed to have the electronics enclosed.

That spiral is five inches in diameter and I'm thinking too that it's going to the laundry in the basement to be replaced by a 150 watt CFL. My kitchen feels like a tanning bed with this thing blazing overhead.

I'm slowly replacing four-foot shop lights in the basement with rosettes and CFLs. In all my years of maintenance at the bomb factories, I've seen more ballast fires in those things than I want to risk here at home.

smalc's picture

I hate those basement shop

I hate those basement shop lights too, they always seem to flicker and you have constant ballast problems. The home depot reviews indicate others have the same idea and are putting these in barns and outbuildings.

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