CFLs, really? No thanks.

Posted: January 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

I did no scientific experiments.

I have not done fancy math to figure out the best and worst paths to take.

I trusted what I’ve been told, read and heard about these things.

I just used them.

I really hate Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs, now more than ever.  But only because my experience has kind of stunk with them (and sure, there are tons of you that will tell me I got a bad batch, a few times, or I did something wrong, but because I only have my experience to go on…..I don’t really care.)

So these goofy looking things are supposed to save me loads of money.  They are supposed to essentially last forever!  Or at least some massive amount of time.  According to, the goofy looking CFL bulb they:

  • can save me > $40 in electricity costs over its lifetime
  • uses ~75% less energy than their incandescent counterparts AND they last up to 10 times longer
  • produces ~75% less heat, so its safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling.

I’m not at all comfortable with these things here and their mercury content.  I think we’re going to find a large majority of people tossing these lovely things right into the trash and filling the landfills.  Why?  People are lazy.  People like convenience.  People don’t want to have to research and guess what the heck to do with these things.  And last year when I toured the recycling center I don’t remember once, not one time, any mention of these things.  Old electronics, yes.  CFL bulbs, no.  Nothing.  When I look at recycling bins placed in various locations, there are ones for paper, plastic, newspaper, office paper (funny, how there aren’t any for glossy except at the Ronald McDonald House…I used to do drives and then haul the glossy mags there to help lessen their costs any way I could).  Heck now you can even see compost bins throughout Penn State’s campus.  But what I don’t see are bins for these things.  I go to Best Buy and can recycle my printer ink cartridges or old phones right there at the door.  But last I looked, nothing for these bulbs.  As much as you can say “it’s against the law to throw them away” that’s where a large portion of these things will end up, law or not.  And I suspect the police are trying to fight larger crimes like murder and reckless driving to be diving in everyone’s trash.  Did you know AA batteries aren’t allowed to be thrown out in regular trash?  I didn’t.  That was news to me this year when I was told by someone.  But do you think people even know what to do with the 800 million we go through, more if you have kids and their toys that chew through them faster than I could chew through a Hershey bar?  Doubt it.  Like I said, the recycle bins at the community center or scattered in public places I’ve seen don’t ask for them.  Paper, plastic, cans, glass. That’s about it.

But all of that aside, I needed money. (still do)  I need to save money, lots of it.  Especially now.  So in an effort to make some changes to ensure that my goal of less money leaving my account was realized, I invested in some rather pricey CFL bulbs.  I opted to take the route of replacing the incandescent bulbs as they died and I had just experienced that moment where a bunch burn out right around the same time.  They seem to be in sync like that, probably because they were all put in at the same time.  My first high-priced purchase of a multi-pack proved to underperform, big time.  I grabbed a large package from Sam’s Club and they are the kind you need to turn on and wait a good hour or two until they warm up so that you can finally see in the room.  Right then and there I decided this CFL thing was a dim idea.  But as luck would have it, many died and the ones that didn’t got distributed to the more obscure locations in the house, like the crawl space, which is actually the WORST place for a CFL b/c if it should break, which is a very real possibility given the number of incandescents we broke in there, there is absolutely NO way to clean it up. No way to get the mercury out of the gravel.  But given that the choice is being taken away from us we shall just have to deal with mercury running down our head or back as we navigate the storage area and mercury living in the gravel.  The upside?  Hopefully it will kill any ants or spiders that happen in there.

After talking (read whining, bitching, complaining) about these with a friend I gave the things another chance.  I then went to Wal-mart and picked up another economy box (why get one when you can commit to at least a big box, right? I am supposedly going to save money).  I began replacing as bulbs died, again.  They look stupid in my chandelier, but I’m over it.  My house is messy anyway, what’s ugly bulbs in my chandelier.  The downstairs didn’t seem to matter too much.  The right lampshade seemed to counteract the cool hue.  We usually just have a lamp and the TV on anyway and during the day the house is pretty bright so lights aren’t needed.  The real test, was the bedrooms.  I have one of those 3 bulb ceiling fixtures in each bedroom.  In my room, the bulbs tend to last longer in general due to me not spending much time in there with the lights on. If I’m awake I’m usually not in there.  If I’m in there an awake it’s not for a long time, or at least a long time with the overhead light on.  So a bulb burned out.  So in went a CFL and I think I felt weird when it was on.  There was a definite adjustment to the blue hue my room now had.  I feared when I’d have 3 CFLs in, but as of now there was one.  Then 2.  And then I forgot how many are in there as there is a cover on it.  Awhile ago I noticed one of the bulbs burned out, but I had no idea if it was CFL or incandescent.  I ignored it as, like I noted, I’m not in there much.  It didn’t bug me enough to climb up there.  But then, yesterday, another bulb burned out.  Being 2/3 down, it was dark in my room so I took off the cover to at least let the one remaining bulb’s light not be filtered.  I would need to go to the store to get more bulbs, or pilfer from an obscure lamp later.

BUT WAIT!!!!  I started this quest to save money almost 2 years ago.  I’ve changed these CFL bulbs in the house countless times.  I found some that actually lit when given power.  But of the 3 bulbs that are in that light fixture, guess which 2 are dead?

CFLs that didn't last

So this about sums up my biggest issue with the bulbs.  The one that isn’t meant to last does.  The ones that are supposed to last up to 11 times longer, don’t.  The oldest bulb of the 3?  Incandescent.  The only one lit?  Incandescent.  I dropped a bunch of money and the ones that last are the ones that I like better anyway (not that it matters soon).

So I haven’t noticed a significant reduction in my electric bill (actually its been increasing but that seems to be pesky rate increases.

They probably do use less energy, I can’t prove it but I believe it.  But they do not last, in my experience, 11 times longer (or even 1 time longer as the bedroom light case is for me.)

They do, in fact, produce less heat.  BUT, I kinda liked the dual duty that my lamps put out heat.  I don’t live in the south.  The seasons in PA are often joked about that they are winter, holy hell its cold winter, less winter and super hot I think the majority of my use of the heat pump is for heat and not cooling so any help with that is, well, helpful.

Also… can’t make cakes and cookies in an Easy Bake Oven with these things which is why, I’m guessing, Easy Bake Ovens are being phased out by the easy bake put in your microwave kit.  Sad.

Lots of good information here, like, when changing your lightbulb, always use a drop cloth, and, if you do break one, open the window EVERY TIME you vacuum before you do it, during and at least 15 minutes after.  Wonder how good that is on the heating bill given its winter so much of the time.  Fun times.

Yes, we need alternative energy sources that are clean.  I am not anti-green.  In fact, I’m very pro-green.  But I’m also not made of money and am tired of tossing money in the trash and tired of storing dead poisonous bulbs.  Guess I could bust them open, grab the mercury and make thermometers. (kidding)  And now that I’m sure they are inadequate I will save packaging and receipts so I can ship them back to their manufacturer every single time they die.  Why?  Because I like my money and I don’t like advertising promises that don’t come true.  I’m tired of being taken advantage of and want what the box promises.  And next time, I’m calling out brand names.

  1. Patti says:

    My husband works for Sylvania. He makes these bulbs (well, not him personally because they’re made in China) and sells them. They suck. They really do. But one thing you need to do is make sure you’re getting a name brand. There are a few factories in China that are making them and selling them here and they don’t have the same quality standards as companies like Sylvania, Philips and GE have (they’re the big 3).

    As far as the recycling — Walmart is supposed to start a program. They claim they’re going to start putting recycle boxes for CFL’s in all of their stores. I’ve yet to see one, but they’re telling people like my husband that this is their intent. We check quite regularly. Right now they claim that they’re in “test market areas”. I guess we don’t live in one of those areas (you know – just outside of Boston) because none of the stores around here have them. But anyway, my point is that eventually there WILL be a way to recycle them. And you really don’t have to worry if you break A bulb. Seriously – the amount of mercury in each bulb is so minimal that the scare tactics people are using about them is actually kind of funny. No, you do NOT need to quarantine a room, get it professionally cleaned, and remove all the rugs. Just pick the stuff up and deal with it. It will NOT kill you. Well, unless you break about 1000 bulbs at the same time and go in and inhale a bunch of the mercury. But at $7 a pop, I don’t think you’d be inclined to do that. 🙂

    Stock up on incandescent bulbs now if you prefer them. Because as of 2012, it will be illegal in this country to manufacture them. By 2014, it will be illegal to sell them. Truly crappy legislation, but it’s done and the chances of it being reversed are pretty slim.

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