I Wonder: Are CFLs worth the cost?

I Wonder: Are CFLs worth the cost?


Tesia Whittier, 6, of Amherst, N.H., models a behive hairdo, last week filming a television commercial, resembling the Energy Star compact flourescent lightbulb she is holding. Whittier will appear in a commercial airing next month that promotes the benefits of using energy efficient lightbulbs. (AP Photo/George Riley)




Posted on July 18, 2011 at 12:53 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 15 at 4:07 PM

What is a CFL and are they worth their cost?

Last week Republicans in Washington tried to stop the passage of new energy-saving standards for light bulbs. The vote was 233-193, just short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

While many Republicans claim this is just another attempt by President Obama to overreach the arms of government, the energy bill was actually signed into law by President Bush in 2007. Nevertheless, in an act of defiance toward Washington, Texas Governor Rick Perry and the Texas legislature have passed a bill that exempts all incandescent bulbs created within the state of Texas because that way, they do not involve interstate commerce.

Regardless of whom to point the finger at, the Associated Press reports these new energy-efficient standards “don't specifically ban the old incandescent bulbs but require a higher level of efficiency than most traditional designs can produce, essentially nudging them (incandescent bulbs) off store shelves over the next few years.”

Americans will be compelled to buy energy-efficient light bulbs commonly referred to as “CFL” bulbs. So what exactly is a CFL? CFL stands for “compact fluorescent light.” These bulbs are being noted for their long-lasting power. However, some consumers are not convinced and are resistant to switching from incandescent bulbs to CFLs, because CFLs are significantly more expensive.

According to Carlos Cordova from Austin Energy, a 15-watt bulb costs $3.40; its equivalent in illumination, a 60-watt incandescent bulb, costs a mere 60 cents. However, because you’ll be replacing CFLs far less often than incandescent bulbs, Cordova says a CFL that lasts seven years could have itself paid for in a little over three months. 

In addition to price, another aspect of CFLs some consumer consider negative is the fact that they contain the toxic chemical mercury within their glass tubing.  Even the mention of mercury might make some parents of young children shudder, but Cordova says that by comparison, older thermometers contain more mercury in them than CFLs – an amount equal to the mercury in 125 CFLs to be exact.  He also says no mercury is released when the bulbs are intact or in use.

However, if a bulb were to break, Cordova suggests taking the following actions:

1. Have people and pets leave the room.

2. Turn off the air conditioning system.

3. Air out the room for five to 10 minutes.

4. Use a stiff paper or cardboard, damp paper towel or disposable wipes and place the collected glass and powder, as well as the clean up materials, into a sealable jar with a metal lid or in a sealable plastic bag.

5. Promptly place the sealed debris into an outdoor trash can or protected area until it can be disposed of properly.

6. Don’t be alarmed as CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury, about 1/100th of the amount in a thermometer.

To ensure the safest use of CFL bulbs, Cordova says when they do stop working, they should be recycled.  Simply place the bulb into its original box, or another container that will prevent it from breaking. Then, take the bulb to a location that recycles them. Home Depot, Lowe’s, and IKEA all not only sell CFLs, but recycle them as well. Austin and Travis County residents can also take their CFL bulbs to the City of Austin’s Household Hazardous Waste Facility at 2514 Business Center Drive.

For more information on CFLs click here.

Do you have a question for I Wonder? Send them to iwonder@kvue.com.

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