Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Light In the Dark

Making sense of the Compact Fluorescent Mandate

December 5, 2009

Congress’ mandate that all household bulbs must be 25% more efficient by year 2012 is receiving a lot of mixed reactions. Switching to Compact Fluorescent Lamps, or CFLs, is one step towards a more energy efficient America. In one year of using CFLs as a country we will prevent greenhouse gasses equal to that of 800,000 cars! Currently, lighting makes up an average of 20% of a household’s electric bill. After the switch it is estimated together we will save $600 million in annual energy costs!

Despite these positive efforts, fluorescent bulbs still have their fair share of concerns. As a designer, these changes directly affect my work from color selections in a space to choosing light fixtures that work well with the new bulbs. I’m going to address some of the drawbacks of using CFLs and answer questions and concerns with some practical solutions.

Fluorescent bulbs emit poor lighting.
Perhaps the largest concern about using CFLs is the idea that they offer a poor quality of light. The Color Rendering Index (CRI) measures a light source by how accurate it reproduces color in comparison with a natural light source. Sunlight and incandescent bulbs have a rating of 100 whereas CFLs rank somewhere in the 80’s. The good news is that both GE and Phillips offer “natural” or “full spectrum” bulbs which have a slightly higher rating. They are closer to incandescent bulbs but unfortunately not quite as bright.

Fluorescent bulbs don’t live up to their advertised life span.
There are many factors that can affect the life of a compact fluorescent bulb. Bulbs in a hot environment, such as inside a closed fixture, tend to burn out more quickly lasting on average only 3,000-5,000 of the 10,000 advertised hours. To maximize your bulb’s life span, use light fixtures that allow the heat to escape. Pole lamps and other lamps with shades are ideal. Keeping bulbs clean and dust free will also lengthen their life.

Fluorescent bulbs can cause fires.
It is true that CFLs have been the cause of various household fires across the US. There are other reports of the bulbs smoking and smoldering. In most cases the cause was from a defective or incorrectly installed product. Read all directions on the packaging before installing and replace bulbs once they begin to brown around the bottom. If you should have a bulb begin to smoke, immediately turn the light off and remove the bulb once it has cooled.

Fluorescent bulbs require special disposal.
Compact fluorescents should NEVER be thrown away in your regular garbage. In many states it is actually against the law to do so. This is due to the mercury content inside - up to 5mg per bulb. Bulbs can be recycled for free at any IKEA or Home Depot simply by taking then to the returns counter. It is expected that other large retailers such as Wal-mart, Target and Lowe’s will soon follow suit. Veoliaes Environmental Services offers a free recycling program through the mail. More recycling information can be found by contacting your county’s recycling services or online at Recycle A Bulb.

Fluorescent bulbs are dangerous when broken.
Should you have a bulb break inside your house don’t panic. Put on gloves and a dust mask and then sweep up the broken pieces with a broom. Throw everything in a sealed plastic container which may then be placed in the garbage. Wipe down the area with a damp cloth to wipe up any remaining residue and then open the windows to allow fresh air to circulate. DO NOT vacuum the broken pieces since this will cause the contents to become airborne. There is no need to call a team for special cleanup. This is unnecessary and can cost up to $2000!

One size does not fit all.
Problems have been reported when compact fluorescents are placed in older fixtures, 3-way lamps, or fixtures with a dimmer switch. Fortunately, for older lamps requiring a slightly smaller-size bulb, there are adapters that can be screwed into the socket. For 3-way lamps or fixtures with a dimmer a special bulb will be needed. GE offers a bulb called the GE Longlife Plus Soft White Energy Saving Bulb. Make sure that you read the packaging before purchasing to ensure it is compatible with your fixture.

Despite the government’s positive efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses, many issues concerning CFLs remain unresolved. CFL’s can NOT be used in recessed fixtures or vibrating fixtures such as ceiling fans and garage door openers. More answers to your questions can be found on GE's website. Remain positive and remember, we’re all in this together!