CFL bulbs –not all they’re cracked up to be

We recently bought some compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs to install in our home. They’re supposed to save energy and last much longer than standard incandescent bulbs. There are plenty of problems however:

  • The bulbs are too large to fit most of our lamps and ceiling fixtures
  • They’re no good for recessed fixtures
  • You can’t use them with dimmers
  • They take a few minutes to reach full brightness, so are no good for places (like closets) where it’s important for the light to come on quickly

In addition, there are health risks because the bulbs contain mercury. Really they should be treated as toxic waste and handled accordingly, but in practice most people are just going to toss them out. An article in the Boston Globe (High-efficient lightbulbs come with mercury risk) outlined what to do when a mercury-containing light breaks:

The Maine study, which shattered 65 bulbs to test air quality and  clean-up methods made these recommendations: If a bulb breaks, get children and pets out of the room. Ventilate the room. Never use a vacuum — even on a rug — to clean up a compact fluorescent light. Instead, while wearing rubber  gloves, use stiff paper such as index cards and tape to pick up pieces, then wipe the area with a wet wipe or damp paper towel. If there are young children  or pregnant woman in the house, consider cutting out the piece of carpet where the bulb broke. Use a glass jar with a screw top to contain the shards and clean-up debris.

I don’t think the CFL bulb era will last very long. I can’t wait for LED bulbs to get cheaper and am hoping they won’t disappoint like the CFLs they’ll replace.

February 26, 2008

5 thoughts on “CFL bulbs –not all they’re cracked up to be”

  1. This topic has come up so much in my neighborhood and amongst friends. We have these in our house. And I noticed one just precariously sitting on a shelf in the garage.

  2. The trick is to the CFL bulbs in the right places. I only use them for lights that I know are on continuously and where the spin-up time really isn’t an issue. I was able to significantly reduce our usage of recessed lights, which are huge power sinks. We have a center hallway with light fixtures attached at very precarious locations, so not having to change the lightbulbs for about seven years is well worth the 1 – 2 minute spin-up time!

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  4. “Health risks”?? I feel people are reading too much into the CFLs “risks” and don’t realize that CFLs are responsible for LESS Mercury than incandescent bulbs. The highest source of mercury in our air comes from burning fossil fuels such as coal, the most common fuel used in the U.S. to produce electricity. A CFL uses 75% less energy than an incandescent light bulb and lasts at least 6 times longer. A power plant will emit 10mg of mercury to produce the electricity to run an incandescent bulb compared to only 2.4mg of mercury to run a CFL for the same time. To find out more information about mercury in CFLs you can visit or

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