Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: CFLs

CFL. Not the Canadian Football League, but compact fluorescent lamp.

They’ve become the image of the environmental movement for the masses. Governments are putting them front and center, citing many encouraging statistics.

Per the US Energy Star site, CFLs:

  • Use at least 2/3 less energy than standard incandescent bulbs to provide the same amount of light, and last up to 10 times longer.
  • Save $30 or more in energy costs over each bulb’s lifetime
  • Generate 70 percent less heat, so they’re safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling.
  • In addition to other quality requirements, must turn on instantly, produce no sound, and fall within a warm color range or be otherwise labeled as providing cooler color tones.
  • Are available in different sizes and shapes to fit in almost any fixture, for indoors and outdoors.
Canada’s Energy Star site also gets into the act, answering a long list of frequently asked questions.

Now I was already on-board, replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent as they burned out. We bought an 8-pack on one of our visits to Costco and have supplemented with additional light bulbs on Ikea visits.

I had a moment of panic, however, when I read about the mercury contained in fluorescent lighting. Crisis—return to incandescents and use more energy or stick with fluorescents and contribute to greater mercury poisoning? But before allowing myself to get too worked up, I decided to do a little poking around.

I quickly found the “Environmental Issues” section of a Wikipedia article. And a good dose of relief. Consider this graphic:

Even with the mercury in the fluorescent light, the amount of mercury introduced into the environment is considerably less than the amount produced by a coal power plant to create the same amount of light with an incandescent bulb.

On top of that, I found out that there already exists the means to recycle spent CFLs. Lamp Recycle provides information on companies that process the bulbs. Such companies are able to recover the mercury from spent bulbs safely, insuring that the toxin does not enter the environment. In addition to the companies listed on this site, many municipalities are including fluorescent bulbs among the items accepted at recycling centers or special pick-ups. Again, props to Ikea—they will take your used CFLs for recycling. And check with local hardware stores; many of them have decided to help out with this too.

The cost of a CFL already includes the recycling. And since they last for so many years, you shouldn’t have to deal with the hassle of finding the time to get them to a recycler all that often. I hadn’t even thought to look into the issue until I read about the mercury—we haven’t had to replace a CFL yet.

So my action this month has been to accelerate our switch to CFLs. Many of our fixtures had already been updated, but I was feeling motivated to complete the process. So I dragged the stool around to all of our ceiling fixtures to see how many were left and made a careful tally. I checked lamps and peeked behind our bathroom vanities to see what sorts of bulbs we have. I was disappointed to realize that both bathrooms and our kitchen use halogen lights; while halogen lighting is about twice as efficient as incandescent, they’re still only about half as efficient as fluorescent. Realizing this has caused me to rethink which lights we leave on: now I’m more likely to leave the light on in the study instead of Scooter’s bathroom when we need light in the hallway.

Trillian and I took a morning when Scooter was at school and we had light schedules to go out to Ikea. There were, as always, other items on our list (particularly toy storage!), but I made sure to pick up the proper number of CFLs—no need to get extras since we probably won’t live here long enough to have any burn out on us.

Of course, we also bought an additional lamp while we were there, and so my count was one bulb shy of what I actually needed. So I’ll need one more. But I still have a week to meet my goal for the month.

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Mad Hatter said...

Another great post with highly informative links. So simple and so easy especially now that CFLs are increasingly available in hardware stores and grocery stores.

We use the CFL bulbs in all our lamps that will take them but good luck with recycling these along with many other non-conventional things (like computers) when you live in rural or semi-rural Canada.

Lisa b said...

Yay ikea! Dammit on the mercury. I thought they didn't have mercury or very little (I wonder if I got that info from the gr 9 science text I teach from)
Still, as you point out, the reduction in electricty use really makes them worthwhile.
The new compact ones that came out over the last few years are really more practical than those old ones that were like what a foot long?
My school installed some in the chandaliers that look like the candle flame shape. The old principal was trying to shove the twirly ones in the chandaliers and the decorating committee was having none of that!