Sunday, April 13, 2008


What do you think about getting rid of all those incandescent lightbulbs and replacing them with CFLs? It's a good idea to save all that energy, but I shudder to think of the overall cost. Maybe the cost will be good for the economy. I'm worried about all the mercury those bulbs will put into our environment. And let's face it, a lot of CFLs produce awful light. You can't even trust the ratings on these bulbs. I have a few that are supposed to be the equivalent of 135W incandescent, that look more like 60. But what really fascinates me is the cost of converting houses to use them:
  • Some people like to use dimmer switches. CFL dimmers are still problematic, and, I think, not very compatible with incandescent sockets.
  • CFLs are relatively large, and many sockets won't fit them. I will have to replace some lamps when I can no longer get incandescents, either because they cannot fit the slightly wider base of the CFL, or because CFLs are too long for the lamp.
  • We have a recessed bathroom lamp/fan that CFLs don't fit in. A replacement will cost about $100. I'm not much of a do-it-myselfer. Paying a handyman to enlarge the recess in the ceiling and install the replacement will cost more than the replacement lamp.
  • Now let's talk chandeliers. We bought a house that has an 8-light chandelier, and also a decorative 3-bulb light. Both use small decorator flame tip 40W bulbs. I suspect that the CFL replacements for these delicate little flame tips (I think they do not exist yet) will look ridiculous. There's a pro and a con here: some people whose chandeliers ALWAYS looked ridiculous will throw them out rather than populate them with “dainty” CFLs. Some people will do the same to truly beautiful chandeliers.
  • UPDATE: Thanks to Patrick (see comment #1 below) for describing another situation that's not suitable for CFLs: lights that must cycle on and off a lot, shortening their life span. Eventually there will be low-energy lights to meet our every need, that will push incandescents into extinction. But when?
Maybe there will be a black market for flame tips. I think that the CFL story is a cautionary warning for the future. It's time to stop usig incandescents, but the decent replacement is not manufactured in quantity yet. It will be the same for oil, and for many other things we must stop using to preserve the earth. How will we make do until the effective replacements arrive?
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