Compact fluorescents not catching on fast…

Energy & Sustainability Science
Compact fluorescents not catching on fast…

Washington Post on some of the reasons we’re not rapidly adopting CLFs in the USA – I’m not sure I agree it “being a is a lack of communication between the sexes.”

The current market share of CFL bulbs in the United States is about 6 percent, up from less than 1 percent before 2001. But that compares dismally with CFL adoption rates in other wealthy countries such as Japan (80 percent), Germany (50 percent) and the United Kingdom (20 percent). Australia has announced a phaseout of incandescent bulbs by 2009, and the Canadian province of Ontario decided last week to ban them by 2012….

A key to the abiding grass-roots resistance to CFLs, Reed and other experts said, is indelible consumer memories of the hideous looks and poor quality of earlier generations of fluorescent lights. They were bulky. They were expensive, as much as $25 each. They had an annoying flicker and hum. They cast an icky, cold-white light that made people look pale, wrinkly and old.

“People remember them from 20 years ago and they are not going to forgive,” said Dave Shiller, vice president of new business development for MaxLite, a Fairfield, N.J., company that manufactures CFL bulbs.

A new breed of bulbs solves most, if not all, of the old gripes. The bulbs are smaller and much cheaper — often selling for as little as $1.50 each at big-box stores. Most bulbs pay for themselves in reduced power consumption within six months. They last seven to 10 years longer than incandescent bulbs. The hum and flicker are long gone, and many bulbs are designed to mimic the soothing, yellowish warmth of incandescent bulbs. (Most, though, still do not work on dimmers.)

Fluorescent Bulbs Are Known to Zap Domestic Tranquillity – Link.

Discuss in the comments – don’t forget to mention they contain some mercury!


  • Can a 12 watt CFL bulb work in a 50 watt lamp? – Link.
  • Ultraviolet Acquiescence – Link.
  • Banning incandescent light bulbs – replacing with … – Link.

52 thoughts on “Compact fluorescents not catching on fast…

  1. BrK says:

    CFL Bulbs: Bringing mercury contamination to YOUR home.

  2. Evil666Overlord says:

    I wish people would stop nagging at everyone to drop incandescent bulbs just because there’s a newer technology. Sure, CFLs are cheap now but they still have many drawbacks compared to good old tungsten filament bulbs.

    For me, the single most important drawback is that they’re not usable in dimmers. Even the ones that are ‘dimmable’ require you to turn down/up the dimmer (or turn on/off the switch) to activate various dimming levels. Hence even those don’t have a true analogue brightness control.

    Aside from that, they take longer to turn on than traditional bulbs as they have a warm-up time and the light is still harsh on the eyes compared to tungsten.

    The way forward is NOT CFLs, it’s LED bulbs as they could be made dimmable, even more efficient and if they used RGB LED arrays instead of just white LEDS they could have just about any colour spectrum you desire.

    Sadly the technology isn’t here to make them well (and cheaply) enough yet to take over traditional bulbs but it’s not far off – LED bulbs are out there but are just to basic right now for me to switch.

    I most certainly am not going to remove all my dimmer switches and suffer the inferior light spectrum of CFLs with the full knowledge than in a couple of years I’ll be doing it all again just to switch to superior LED technology.

  3. richms says:

    Maybe its just the NZ$2 to 3 ones I have got, but I find the lifetime less then incandesents. Yes, its got a much nicer colour closer to daylight then the old incandesents (I don’t get why you Americans prefer crusty orange lights which make everything look brown and dirty)

    But they die, in months, not years. They start by taking longer to get warmed up, and eventually they just stop turning on at all. Others only put a small glow out from the ends, and a few wont start till touched.

    Warm up times are another killer as well. Since lighting only takes about $15-20 of my powerbill, and I dont like the CFL bulbs I will pass on them. I will stick to my long T8 and T5 fittings, but forget the CFLs till they come out with ones that dont suck.

  4. keyma5ter says:

    Depends on where you like your mercury. Coal-fired power plants spew it into the air, and more efficient energy use = less coal use. Just dispose of them properly.

    LED technology will come around, but cheap “Wal-Mart available” LED technology is a ways off. Probably about the life of the CFLs I’ve put in the house.

  5. Jack-of-Most-Trades says:

    I have been using CFL’s in my home for about 4 years now. The only complaint I have with them is that sometimes I get one that creates an intolerable level of RF “Hash”, but that’s easily fixed by relegating it to a room that’s usually not lit when I’m playing with my shortwave stuff.

    The only incandescents left in the whole crib are the porch light, which gets too cold for CFL’s to stike in the winter, and an old Halogen floor lamp with a noisy dimmer, and the Lava Lamps.

    I saw my electric bill get cut in half after changing over to them, and as far as the Mercury issue goes, well, don’t break them and you won’t let the Mercury out, right?

  6. clydicus says:

    Pardon my pun, but I am not sure what to MAKE of this CFL post…CFL Throwies anyone?

  7. JEgan says:

    I used to sell lighting for a living .. The problem with the screw in flourescents is that they do not have a 10 year life expectancy. In many cases they have a shorter life than regular bulbs. And they lose their lumen output within a short period of time. I’m on my 3rd set in my hall in less than a year. The last set lasted less than 1 month. In fact my circline ( round tubes ) in the kitchen have all been replaced in less than a year and the flourescent globe lights in the bathrooms barely made it through the year and are now so dim as to be useless. I also have used them outside in the porch light ( which is on all the time ) and had to replace burned outs every couple of months.
    If you consider the cost of the bulbs, the hassle of changing them constantly, the poor quality of light and the yet unmentioned issue of hazard waste disposal.. I’d say say I’m underwhelmed … Sounds to me like and industry pushing its products …. I’d like to see more emphasis on LED lighbulbs.

  8. joe_process says:

    Whoa, whoa whoa… Canada did not ban CFL’s. they banned incandescents.

    washington post… sheesh..

  9. vonSlatt says:

    Philosophically, I like CF bulbs because they, with their high frequency A/C and inductive ballast, represent the ultimate victory of Tesla over that cad Edison.

    I use them in my house with the following exceptions:

    o Not in the kitchen. Food looks best under halogen light so thats what I have in the kitchen and dinning room.

    o not in completely enclosed fixtures, heat kills them quickly.

    o not in fixtures that require “PAR” reflector bulbs. The PAR style CFs I’ve bought have all failed quickly, I suspect, again, due to heat.

    o not in cold places. Not only do they take a long time to come up to full brightness, they fail quickly due to the thermal cycling when used in the garage.

    o Not in the RV anymore. The 12 volt CF bulbs I’ve bought fail even more quickly then the 110 volt ones.


  10. HectorZimbabwe says:

    on my 3rd set in my hall in less than a year

    That should definitely not be happening. You probably have a heat issue. CFLs are sensitive to extreme amounts of heat. If the fixture you insert the bulb into doesn’t have a provision for venting the heat, you can cook the CFL electronics and severely shorten the lifetime.

  11. HectorZimbabwe says:

    Pardon my pun, but I am not sure what to MAKE of this CFL post…CFL Throwies anyone?

    I have broken some of the cheaper CFL bulbs simply by touching them through the plastic blister pack at the store. Recommend a delicate touch when handling them. Never screw them in/out by grasping the bulb itself, only touch the base.

  12. Saintless says:

    There are pros and cons to these. I hate to see the incandescents banned. Here in Utah, I have been unable to find out how to recycle them, though I did hear rumor that such a place existed. At this point, the recycling centers capable of handling CFLs need to be promoted much more.

    We use them in many places at my house. But, they just aren’t useful in the bathroom when I’m putting on makeup. I use the clear bulbs in there, so that I can actually see what I’m doing.

    Honestly, I think the CFLs have their place, but the best solution might be elsewhere – like LEDs.

  13. EXPLOSION says:

    Bad memories from 20 years ago? How about five years ago? Or how about TODAY? If I go into a store today, I will see 6 to 20 different brand of CFL. I have NO idea if I will like how the light looks until I plunk down money and get it into my house. For the most part this has not been a problem with incandescents. I look at a bulb, and if it is frosted or not, or is labelled natural light or blue light, I know what I am getting. I’ve tried CFL a few times, and they are all over the map in light quality.

  14. JohnnyGTO says:

    Maybe they’ll catch on if the cost of clean-p wasn’t so high. Check this story out

    Over $2000, man those shyster clean up firms most be in heaven.

  15. keyma5ter says:

    Consider the source, that National Post article is written by Steve Milloy, right-wing gun for hire:

    This seems like a hot-button topic.

  16. hammerthumb says:

    I use CF’s in most of my fixtures.

    They’re hit and miss as far as color goes. I’ve found that buying 12 of the same brand at the same time is a good way to go. I figure that at least at some point all the lights will be a similar color.

    Warm-up time isn’t a concern for me since it’s cheap enough to leave the lights on when I exit a room temporarily.

    I took a CF light apart once and found a couple large electrolytic capacitors. I have to believe that the capacitor’s lifetime is significantly reduced by the heat.

    Mercury: Meh. As others have said, airborne Hg spewed out by coal fired plants is more of a concern.

    I have an LED “bulb” for my reading lamp in bed. It doesn’t have that great of a light output – especially for 24 bucks.

    LED’s aren’t dimmable per-se. You switch them on and off and persistence of vision gives the illusion that they are dimmer. I’ve found that this only works up to a point before flicker becomes noticeable and irritating.

  17. clydicus says:

    No seriously…is this Al Gore’s blog? I thought this was the MAKE blog. What are we supposed to be making out of CF lightbulbs?

  18. philliptorrone says:

    @clydicus – we didn’t endorse them and tell people to use them. we’re reporting on the adoption (MAKE is more than making things).

    look at all the great comments, people are interested!

  19. screaminscott says:

    For me the big thing is the warm-up time. It’s very annoying to turn on the lights, and only get half brightness for a few minutes. When I go into my windowless bathroom and turn on the light, I wanna see where I’m “going” RIGHT NOW, not 2 minutes from now.

    Let’s face it. In today’s society, having to plan your day around anything isn’t going to cut it. I don’t want to turn on all the CF lights in my house ahead of time so I will have full brightness.

    The second problem is lack of selection in sizes and lumens. I would love to replace my heat-generating recessed lighting with CF bulbs. But none of the local stores carry the right size, or if they do, they don’t match the lumens. I could get one too small for my fixture (looks funny) with the right lumens (60w equivalent). Or I can get one that has the right size, and blinds me with the equivalent lumens of a 125w incandescent.

    People won’t change until they don’t have to accept less. So far CF lights are less convenient, and less available. I’ll pass.

  20. patty_pat says:

    A few notes:
    – The mercury in CFLs is a tiny amount compared to other flourescent fixtures, or the amount of mercury pumped into the atmosphere by coal-burning power plants. I’m unaware of any studies done on the matter, but I would hazard to guess that the net amount of mercury entering the environment is less with CFLs than with incandescent bulbs. However, more work needs to be done to promote CFL recycling/proper disposal channels.
    -If you break one at home, don’t call the EPA. Get some powdered sulfur (available at most garden/hardware stores) and pour it onto the broken bulb. The sulfur will bind to the mercury and make it safe to clean up. (watch the glass!)
    -As for this supposed warm-up time, I have never experienced such a thing. All my CFLs turn on RIGHT NOW. At most there is about a 1/2 second delay between me flicking the switch and the CFL reaching full (or near-full) brightness. And I buy mine at Meijer.
    -Being a life-long resident of Kentucky, the whole energy use issue is close to my heart. If you haven’t read about the practice of Mountaintop Removal coal mining, I’d suggest looking into it to understand the full social, economic, and environmental costs of “cheap” energy. Considering such issues, the color quality of a particular lightbulb seems kind of trivial.

  21. trebuchet03 says:

    As for mercury….
    Mercury Chart
    The mercury in a CFL is less than half of what a coal plant is going to put out running an incandescent over a CFL’s lifetime. And a CFL can be recycled :)

    As for brightness…
    I’ve never had a problem with brightness… At most, it’s taken my bulbs 10 seconds to fully warm up (and I had the testing equipment to check just that :D). Additionally, in 1 second, I was at 93% and that last “1%” (it was nit picky to graph it) took 3 seconds to level off. But mind you – I’m in Central Florida, and the temps aren’t too low (about 71 degrees in here). Darn, I should have tried it in my refrigerator :p Oh, and the light goes from off to on in less than a second – faster than moving my hand from light switch to an itchy nose :)

    If your bulbs aren’t lasting very long…

    1. Check that they’re not overheating. The bulb itself is probably fine, but heat + SS ballast is not a great thing. Would you live yourmp3 player in a hot hot car?
    2. Do your homework – these bulbs are not created equally – part quality and QC counts ;) Similarly, doing this will make selecting one of the 20 available bulbs much easier — know what color you’re looking for + CRI number (if available).

    Now for LED bulbs….
    I’m one that thinks LEDs are the future for home lighting… But since when did we all (society at large) just take one fricken huge leap like that? Transition technologies are necessary… From a business stand point — why further a product when the customers say they’re interested, but don’t buy similar technology for the same reason? (I understand that there’s some availability issues — that’s just a general statement).

    I converted over a couple years ago… My bulbs play nice with incandescents, breathe easily but, really don’t make a HUGE impact on my electric bill – I use lots of natural light. But that’s not to say they haven’t paid for themselves already compared to incans :p

    Speaking of those bad memories…. I really wish my magnetic-coil ballast would finally die so I can replace it with a solid state one…

    Thanks for posting this stuff Make:

  22. Moofie says:

    If the wife in the story didn’t like the lightbulb, why didn’t she just, you know, change it herself?

    I’m so glad I married someone who doesn’t buy into this “battle of the sexes” nonsense that seems to be so popular.

  23. sandyclaws says:

    I cannot believe the reasons people use for not WANTING to use the new flourescent bulbs. Not wanting to bring mercry into your home….Oh No! Let’s keep it in the air,in the ground, in the oceans and in our fish. In Florida we have websites that tell the fishermen what fish can be eaten from what areas. Let’s not change just because it’s a new technology? Read the power requirements on the package. It’s usually only 25% of that of an incandescent bulb. You’re saving 75% of the energy you would’ve used with an incandescent. Also,I would like to know why a person requires such an exacting amount of lumens instantaneously in the bathroom!What are you doing in there? Wait, maybe I don’t want to know! Now picture a person standing on his soapbox proclaiming to all the world that the reason why “I don’t want to do my part to help cleanup the air, the water, the enviroment, and help reverse Global warming is because the bulbs LOOK FUNNY! Well if that isn’t the best reason of all, then I don’t know what is!
    Folks, Americans were the most adaptable, flexible and inventive people going. What happened? We need to realize that things are going to be a little different for a while until technolgy catches up and makes things real nice again. But, if we don’t make some changes now, we may have to endure a lot more than funny looking light bulbs or bathroom bulbs that are not 100.00% of their advertized lumen value. One last thought:
    It has been said that if each household replaced 1 incandecent light bulb with the new CFL bulbs, the savings would be the equivalent of removing 1 million cars off the road for a year!

  24. Blah Blahson says:

    I replaced the incandescent bulbs in my house a year ago and there was a huge difference. There is more natural and brighter light than before. So far I haven’t had a single bulb burn out and my energy bills have dropped by a huge amount. There is no hum, flicker, buzz, or warm up time at all. None of the bulbs have broken.

  25. Anonymous says:

    We should be very carefull because the CFL’s are mostly manufactured in China. They do not regulate the amount of mercury they put into each bulb. Think of all the items recalled for harming our animals, our kids and now how they have the opportunity to endanger all of us at once. Let’s all give thanks to Pres. Bush for his backing of the demise of the Aerican people.
    Check the O.S.H.A. report on mercury vapor.

  26. Jesse says:


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