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Compact Fluorescent to Become Mainstream

This article was written by in Economy. 23 comments.

Congress will likely pass a bill this week that will have a positive effect on global warming. The bill requires requires light bulb manufacturers to create products that consume 25% to 30% less energy than the typical incandescent bulbs on the market today by 2012 to 2014. The goal doesn’t end there; by 2020, light bulbs must be 70% more efficient. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) already meet this objective, but they cost four times comparable incandescent bulbs on average.

light bulbThe good news is they last much, much longer. The difference in price is easily recovered due to the bulb’s long life. Additionally, replacing one incandescent bulb with a fluorescent will save an average consumer $5 on their electricity bill each year. With bulbs costing $4, there is no argument that a switch to compact fluorescent isn’t worth it.

I have compact fluorescent bulbs in most of the sockets in my apartment. I can’t say that I’m a fan of the color of light they produce. Also, many CFLs cannot be placed on dimmers. With improvements to the technology, I’m positive that better bulbs will continue to be made and prices will decline over time.

As my incandescents continue to die, I replace them with compact fluorescents. The small expense now will go a long way to saving money later. I’m helping the environment as well.

photo: Bludgeoner86
It’s lights out for traditional light bulbs [USA Today]

Updated January 16, 2010 and originally published December 17, 2007. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jeremy

I’m not a fan of fluorescent light either, at least not in some of the living spaces where I spend a lot of time reading. I spend most of my day under fluorescent office lights as it is, so I don’t want to come home and be subject to more harsh light.

We’ve converted a number of our lights to CFL in areas like hallways, kitchen and bath, but in the living room and my office, I need more natural light. If that means spending $20 more per year, it is a small price to pay to keep my sanity, especially in the winter when we aren’t even home during any daylight hours.

I really hope they make some improvements on what type of light is emitted before they get too mainstream. You can find some full spectrum CFLs, but you pay dearly for them, which minimizes the money-saving aspect since it takes even longer to recover the initial cost. In many cases, the bulbs cost between $12-$20 each.

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avatar Jon Barclay

Compact Fluorescent Lights don’t have to be that expensive. The prices already seem to be coming down. IKEA has these for much less than $4 per bulb. They offer a pack of three for $4. That’s $1.25 a bulb.

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avatar That One Caveman

I do not remember what CFL brand I bought, but the light from mine is very warm — nothing like the CFLs my in-laws bought that gives everything an almost blueish hue. I spent less than $4 per bulb… probably somewhere around $2.50 since I bought them at Sam’s Club. I guess it all depends on where you buy them and what brand they are as to what kind of light and savings to expect.

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avatar Llama Money

There is now a very wide range of light “colors” for CFL’s. They don’t all give off that cold ugly harsh light anymore – many look identical to incandescent bulbs. You’ll just need to try a few different color ratings ( on the box ) and figure out what you like best.

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avatar Jonathan

We just moved into our apartment August, and every time a bulb goes I replace it with a CFL – I bought them in bulk at Sam’s Club for about $1 each. In our last apartment, I tried using regular incandescent bulbs and replaced them at least once a year (for some reason, we blew bulbs alot in that apartment – I think it had something to do with the power). Once I switched to the CFLs, I never had to change any of the bulbs again for over three years. I am not sure if it is the brand I’ve been using, but I can’t tell the difference between the CFLs and the former incandescents – maybe it’s the lampshades.

I am waiting for the CFLs that will work on a dimmer – the only incandescents I still have are on a dimmer.

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avatar NCN

I can’t wait until the government regulates how long I can leave my lights on, how many times I can flush my toilet, and how many miles I can drive in my car. Regulation always leads to higher costs – paid for and by the end consumer. The market should decide which types of bulbs I buy and what types of bulbs manufacturers produce. What business is it, for CONGRESS, to care what type of LIGHT BULB is manufactured? Silly…

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avatar Luke Landes

Put simply, if it takes a small amount of government intervention to encourage better maintenance of the environment, that’s fine by me. Higher costs for the end consumer? It seems like just the opposite is happening in this particular case. Businesses are worrying about the bottom line (as they should, for the most part)… more important long-term issues take a back seat in many corporations.

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avatar Frugal pursuit

It is nice that the government is trying to be forward thinking about the environment. However, have they considered how ignorant many people are about how to dispose of CFLs? I know where I purchase mine (the hardware store) is also where I can return my used bulbs. Many people still just throw them in the trash when CFLs are considered hazardous waste because of the mercury content. Education should also have to be an investment in this new bill.

My experience with CFLs–no issue with the color of the light. As an impatient sort, sometimes the several seconds CFLs take to get up to full strength is annoying but I do like the light output and the energy savings.

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avatar NCN

It’s just such a slippery slope -
Of COURSE businesses are looking out for their bottom lines – and that’s exactly what they should do. Consumers should make choices based on what they do or do not want – and the Congress should stay out of micro-managing the economy. Do we REALLY want Congress to dictate the types of LIGHT BULBS we can purchase?!? With ALL of the REAL, VERIFIABLE problems in the world, I don’t want my congressional representatives worrying about LIGHT BULBS.

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avatar Luke Landes

It is a slippery slope, I agree. However, energy consumption is a real (existent), verifiable (measurable and observable) problem, and the light bulb issue is just one small piece of the puzzle. Between this and other congressional bills being tossed around (such as fuel efficiency for vehicles), we’re taking steps in the right direction. Corporations that control the industry need a nudge sometimes.

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avatar Foobarista

Fluorescents still have one nasty property: they often can’t be disposed of in normal garbage because the mercury in them classifies them as hazardous waste. We do use fluorescents, but are looking forward to LED bulbs: better light, even less power, and no flicker.

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avatar Jason Kratz

Yes clearly Congress is spending time on more important items…like legislation telling us all that Christians and Christmas are good, proper, and American.

Legislating what types of light bulbs can be sold makes perfect sense because the energy savings is huge and a win for everyone and its a no-brainer.

As to the light quality: Home Depot sells n-vision which has three different color temperatures. One matches incandescent (orangish glow), daylight, and cool white (ie: bluish). I just paid about $5 for a 4 pack of 60-watt equiv.

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avatar NCN

While I love saving money, the GOVERNMENT has no business supporting one business over another business..
Consumers should determine how / when / where they want to spend THEIR money…
And, corporations should respond to the will of the market…
We may not like energy companies, but the federal government shouldn’t be in the “business” of taking money out of the pockets of energy companies…
The market should decide, independent of government influence…

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avatar James

I’ve been reading this blog daily for a long time now. You’ve got this issue flat out wrong. A meddlesome government will always create higher costs. You should have come at this at a different angle. You should have shown how switching to CFLs can help your bottom line. You could have compared it to an investment in capital that will save you money in the future. But, alas, you condone government intervention in what should be a free market and justify it for its “environmental friendliness”. FYI, CFLs have trace amounts of mercury in them, which, compounded through government mandates may create an environmental issue.

Sorry for the rant…just answer me this:

Why would a business attempt to improve the quality and cut the cost of its product when the government is mandating the use of the product and nixing the competition? Was it not competition with incandescent bulbs that improved quality and lowered prices of CFL bulbs to where they are now?

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avatar Luke Landes

James: Thanks for the comment. I believe I did show above that CFLs are good for your personal bottom line. The government’s creation of energy efficiency regulations to be phased in over a long period of time doesn’t nix competition. They are not mandating the use of CFLs or any specific product, they are saying that energy efficiency must increase, and we don’t care how you get it done, just get it done. That creates competition.

The government is *not* mandating CFLs. They are mandating energy efficiency, and slowly at that. Manufacturers are free to innovate and compete to create the best products that meet that objective, even if one such product is a better incandescent.

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avatar Jason Kratz


I think it’s pretty clear that legislating CFLs over incandescent when it comes to regular light bulbs has nothing to do with government supporting one business over another considering most CFLs are produced by companies who also produce incandescent bulbs. Those businesses make money either way.

And I think you’re extremely short-sighted to expect that the market is going to solve all problems without the influence of government. While government regulation is not always a good thing sometimes it is a very necessary thing. It has absolutely nothing to do with liking or disliking energy companies.

Consolidation in the many markets (telecom for instance) is not good for the consumer and the consumer in many cases doesn’t have any choice. When it comes down to it AT&T owns the phone lines. I have two options for satellite TV. I have one option for cable TV if I wanted it. I have 2 whole options for high-speed internet service…in many cases people have only one. So how is the consumer going to drive anything in those cases?

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avatar F. D. Bryant III

@Jason Kratz

“And I think you’re extremely short-sighted to expect that the market is going to solve all problems without the influence of government.”

The thing is the market was already solving this without the government. For the past year or so Wal-mart has been actively pushing CFL’s in its stores. Before that CFLs had been seeing increases in sales year over year while the prices on them drop.

In other words there was no reason for this mandate except for the government to claim credit after the fact. It is possible by forcing this it may actually cause a rise in prices (I doubt it but it could by forcing businesses to produce more than is profitable as shaped by market forces). The better thing they could have mandated is that the government will transition to CFL’s exclusively.

To be honest I wonder of this was put in by CFL industrylobbyists as a hedge against the development of superior LED (or is LCD, I forget) technologies.

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avatar Flaime

The argument in this comments section doesn’t really make sense to me…The government is not mandating CFLs. (And I wouldn’t buy them even if they were as the light is horrible. If forced to, I would switch to candles and oil lamps).
All the government is doing is setting energy efficiency standards, which is perfectly reasonable. In fact, the standards should be much stricter than they are.

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avatar Rory

Mercury – bad
the CFLs I purchased died within a week – so much for ‘long lasting’ bulbs…

and Government meddling here – It should simply be a market issue….

no thanks

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avatar Llama Money

Rory – Sorry to hear you had a bad experience. However, it’s hard to write off an entire line of products because one person had a bad experience. I’m sure someone somewhere has had a bad experience with a hybrid car, does that mean we should write them off completely?

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avatar Tastes Good

I do think CFLs are great for table lamps and closets, but who wants to feel like their in an office building when they get home? So how can we save energy with regular bulbs?

Dimmers are a great way of saving energy! There is alot of dimming info on the web (check lutron.com/energy) and not only do you get engery and CO2 savings, but you get the option of setting the light level as you desire. CFLs can not be dimmed, even though some claim they can. The problem is the way dimmers work. In simple terms, dimmers shut your lights on and off around 120 times a second. What we preceive as dimming is actually the dimmer keeping your lights off longer in that on-off cycle. The dimmer the lights, the longer your lights are off, the more electricity you save, and the longer your bulb lasts ( potentially greater than 20x its normal switched life) The problem with CFLs is that the balast inside the bulb is also controling when the lamp is fired (using electricity) and that will always conflict with dimmers. One CFL manufacturer actually said they can be dimmed using a reastat dimmer. These things have been unavailable since the 70s when solid state dimming was coming of age (again check lutron who invented solid state dimming).

Ok, so no dimming them. Another problem is installing these bulbs in down fixtures. The heat generated by the bulb with rise through the base where the ballast is located and shorten the life of that bulb significantly. Having to replace a CFL every 6 months is not a great way to cut your lighting costs. So now we have to replace all our downward facing fixture with flourescent fixtures with externaly mounted balasts. Should i keep going?

Ok so you know that painting or picture we have lit with the sweet looking track fixture? well now we have use flourescent lamps… how do we aim the beam of light on the picture? You can’t (yet)! flourescent lights distribute light throughout the whole survace of the lamp. They can’t focus light like incandescent lamps and some LED lamps can. I could go on and on but i will stop it here.

There simply is not enough research being done by these law-makers to justify the termination of incandescent lamps. I am 100% for cutting green house gases and lighting is a huge component of that, but i am also expecting these law-makers to do their homework before jumping to a quick solution!

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avatar Luke Landes

Again, the lawmakers are *not terminating* use of incandescent bulbs. *They are not requiring the use of CFL only.* All this bill/law does is set targets for reduced energy consumption. *The product doesn’t matter.* CFLs aren’t perfect, but most CFLs for the home do not produce the kind of harsh lighting you’d see in an office building. The CFL bulbs I use now are better than the ones I tried a few years ago.

LEDs sound more promising. If incandescent bulbs can meet the engery consuption guidelines — and I’m sure they can, if not now then with a little bit of research and development — then they will be allowed under the regulation.

No one is forcing anyone to use CFLs. *The bill does not mandate the exclusive use of fluorescent bulbs.* I don’t understand why people have such a harsh reaction to this. It will drive companies to produce better and more efficient products, whether incandescent, fluorescent, or other. In fact, the energy requirements are probably not even strict or timely enough.

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avatar Jesse

What saves more than a CFL??? A light bulb off. Next time you are in your home look around and ask yourself does that light really need to be on.

The problem with CFL is they do not do well in areas you turn lights off and on. Since I have always been energy aware I only have a light on in a room that I am in. Well to make a long story short. I did buy some CFL over the last few years. All the CFL lights I bought for Closets, storage area, garage, and bathroom burned out. This is because I turn them on when I enter and off when I leave. This would could cycle them off and on several times in a day. So I switch back to incandescent bulbs for those areas. What I found out is that CFL need to be in an areas that you use the lights for a longer period of time. So the lamp that I turn on every evening I put a CFL in there and it has worked out so far. I would increase my energy usage switching to CFL lights. It would require me to leave the lights on so they would not burn out sooner.

Incandescent lights can last longer than CFL’s. Don’t leave incandescent bulbs on for a long periods of time and put them on dimmers. Most of my incandescent bulbs are over ten years old and still work.

The government is not mandating so to say, but the long term effect will turn out this way. Why is it that everyone is so divided about the two bulbs? Why can’t we strike a balance? Use the CFL in area that we normally use for long period of time and incandescent in area we don’t. We could install dimmers with incandescent bulbs to set the mood.

Either way this is a free county and forcing out the incandescent bulb, because it will not be able to meet the regulation is in a sense not allow us to buy it. You decide :)



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