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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

Oooookay.  In my previous post I listed several facts about Compact Flourescent Lightbulbs (CFLs).  I did not include links to support my claims because I was going to include them as part of my follow-up post explaining how to evaluate information.  Unfortunately THAT post got ridiculously long and it was 3am local time so I went to bed.  Now that I’m somewhat rested and the boys’ lessons are done for the day, I bring you my follow-up to the follow-up.

Before I begin, remember that the point of the original post was to evaluate information critically and not to slam CFLs (which I use) or efforts to improve the environment.  🙂  If we have tools to evaluate information, then we’re all better consumers and ultimately better parents.  Especially if we teach the kiddos how to navigate the flood of information that is our world.

Point 1: flipping a CFL on and off shortens its life span; consequently they should be left on for at least 15 minutes.  By Googling the words CFL life span, I was able to find the Wikipedia entry on CFLs which had this to say

The life of a CFL is significantly shorter if it is only turned on for a few minutes at a time: In the case of a 5-minute on/off cycle the lifespan of a CFL can be up to 85% shorter, reducing its lifespan to the level of an incandescent lamp.The US Energy Star program says to leave them on at least 15 minutes at a time to mitigate this problem.

That article has footnoted references to the Minnesota Energy Challenge, a US News and World Report story, and the US Energy Star program, along with many others.

Point 2: CFLs can still take a few minutes to reach full brightness and even lose their capacity for brightness slightly over their lifespan.  This one I conducted my very own scientific research on…I installed them in my home.  Apparently the light fixture can affect the time as well.  All of the bulbs from the same package take a while to warm up to full brightness.  One fixture in particular has a one-second delay before the bulb even begins to shine.  I experienced none of that with the incandescent bulbs.  I recognize that we can expect improvement over time on this point, just because people are more likely to buy a product that doesn’t annoy.  The delay is currently annoying.

Point 3: CFLs contain mercury and need to be properly recycled. Throwing them into landfills will pollute the environment.  This fact is covered in the very comprehensive Wikipedia article, as well as a story from NPR.  I usually hesitate to quote news organizations because by nature they tend to be alarmist, but this one raises some fair concerns about the safety of people in the sanitation and landfill industries in particular.  This blog entry on Groovy Green has a very balanced analysis of the mercury situation.

Point 4: If a CFL is dropped and broken in the home, it’s hazardous. EPA guidelines say to open your windows for 15 minutes to air out the room. And don’t use a vacuum or broom to clean it up because you’ll spread the mercury into the air. As I said recently, the toxicity of mercury is a hotly contested topic in some arenas.  Since I’m erring on the side of caution I’m going to believe that mercury is dangerous to myself and my children.  There are plenty of sites discussing this issue.  For now I’ll just include the Energy Star link as well as the EPA guidelines for cleanup.

Point 5: the town of Traer, Iowa did an experiment in 1987. Half the residents switched to CFLs, while the other half stayed on incandescent. Energy consumption went up, presumably because people knew it wasn’t costing as much.  The Traer story is referenced here and here.   The abstract of the study is published here, but the actual document isn’t available.  I have confidence in the truthfulness of the person who brought the story to me and it’s referenced by quite a few sites online.  It’s too bad the actual study results aren’t available online.

Everyone I read agrees that energy consumption went up in the town about 8% during the experiment.  While there’s not a clear consensus on why this happened, the implications are less than positive for CFL cheerleaders who don’t take basic human nature into account.  If I want to avoid shortening the life of my bulb by leaving it on for at least 15 minutes then I have to be able to remember to go back and turn the thing off.  Yeah.  Right.  Some have suggested putting an automatic timer on the lights.  Great idea, but what if it’s in a bathroom and I’m, ahem, reading for longer than that?  I’ll let you connect the dots from there.

Point 6: the energy bill just signed into law here in the US raises standards over the next several years, effectively outlawing the manufacture of incandescent bulbs by 2014. Other countries around the world also have this goal.  You can read about the 2007 Energy Bill here, here, and here.

Point 7: on average, CFLs are sized longer than incandescent making them not a good fit for many light fixture.  Again, this one I’m learning from personal experience, with lightbulbs sticking out of fixtures here and there.  CFLs can’t just be put into fixtures that have dimmers the way incandescents can; instead it’s recommended that you buy special dimmable bulbs.  Which is annoying.  A regular bulb here in the US costs about 50 cents, while a CFL is about 6 times more, starting at $3.  Getting into the special sizes and dimmability only ads to the cost.

Okay, phew.  That was a lot of work.  🙂  It’s all for you, dear readers.

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