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Trying To Change A Lightbulb

2011 December 13

By Amy Miller

Painstakingly I am switching from incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving CFLs.  One by one as bulbs burn out I twist in newly purchased energy saving bulbs.

I started in the bathroom, under glass sconces where you couldn’t really see the weird shape of the bulbs. Who needs aesthetics for the five minutes you brush your teeth.

Then I made the jump to one, just one, tubular bulb in the bedroom. No one told me these lights take a few minutes to get fully bright. I’d think to myself, “It wasn’t so dark in here last night when I was reading, I’m sure it wasn’t.”

Proud of my diminishing footprint, I spread CFLs to the dining room chandelier, porch lights, kids room, pretty near everywhere but the living room with its vintage chandelier. But then I started pondering the Mercury Question and quickly removed CLFs from places where they might get broken, like tippy end-tables and my 9-year-old’s night-table.

EPA’s website says if every American home replaced just one ENERGY STAR light bulb, each year we’d save enough energy to light 3 million homes and reduce energy bills by $600 million.

A lot of us don’t like CFLs because we are not used to the way they look, or we think the light is harsh and don’t know alternative hues are available. We also think they cost more. We forget that the CFL will last about eight times longer, and use a fourth as much electricity.

Funny thing. I was in Haiti recently, one of the poorest countries on earth. And guess what? They use CLF bulbs far and wide, where they have electricity. You know why? They can’t afford to pay extra. When most of the families can’t even afford shoes for their children, the economics play out differently. It’s not about conservation or climate change. It’s about stretching every penny.

At the school I visited, electricity comes from three sources: 1) solar panels; 2) public power that sometimes comes on from 2 to 5 a.m. or not at all and 3) a diesel generator, used for backup..

So the fact that a CFL will uses about a quarter of the electricity of a similarly bright incandescent means not only money savings over the life of the light bulb, but also an extra few hours of reading – or cooking – each night, before the solar-fed batteries are empty.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. wade harter permalink
    December 13, 2011

    Ms Amy appears to , and certainly should be, concerned with the potential mercury exposure to her daughter from the CFL bulbs, but is she not concerned with potential soil and or groundwater contamination due to such mercury. It is also interesting that the Haitians can not afford ellectricity but can pay an additional upfront cost of 5 or 6 times the cost of an incandescent bulb. Well the decision has been made for us and we will use the CFLs and make the Chinese happy. I dare say jobs are ramping up in China. But, lest we forget, the Chinese need to work. Afterall we have un-employment benefits, food stamps, free housing, Obama Care and social security.

  2. Tamza permalink
    December 13, 2011

    They really are not ‘that bad’, but one needs to be careful not to twist in while holding the ‘tube-glass’. That will cause micro-cracks and the bulb will not last long. Also, do not use in places where you might have motion sensitive switch, seems that they will not last long … I have had them go out in a few weeks. You will also notice that, specially in the cold, you will use more heating since the bulbs are no longer providing some heat to keep the room warm.

  3. Santana permalink
    December 13, 2011

    2 years ago I replaced my bulbs in my home to CFLs and my electric bill went down by @ 50%. They are great, and even better for your vision. I highly recomend everyone use the CFLs. They may not look pritty, but you can buy pritty things with your savings.

  4. HealthArt permalink
    December 14, 2011

    The bulbs are great! You can make huge savings. Some of my doctor colegues use them in their cabinets.
    We use them too. is PRO CFLs !

  5. Melanie permalink
    December 15, 2011

    In my small, rural area my greatest concern is the disposal of these bulb and their mercury content. If we just throw them in the trash because we have no other option, then the contamination of soil, air, and ground water become a major concern.

  6. ENERGY STAR permalink
    December 15, 2011

    New technology has greatly improved CFL bulbs, making them an easy choice for anyone looking to save energy – and money – in their home. CFLs represent the best value for consumers today. ENERGY STAR CFLs use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer, saving you more than $40 in electricity costs over the bulb’s lifetime.
    As for the mercury question, CFLs are safe to use. EPA estimates that CFLs in the U.S. contain an average of 4 milligrams or less of mercury. For perspective, it would take 125 or more CFLs to equal the amount of mercury in a single old-fashioned fever thermometer.
    For people who opt to not use CFLs, significant advances have been made in LED technology. EPA’s ENERGY STAR has good information about efficient lighting choices.
    Check out to learn more!

  7. David Sament permalink
    December 18, 2011

    Here are some facts that will hopefully clear up some of the confusion concerning the safety of CFLs:

    A CFL has 1-5 milligrams of mercury. And this is inert mercury, which means that you won’t be exposed to it unless it breaks. A can of tuna has about 25 milligrams of mercury. And that’s mercury that you eat. Manual thermostats and many thermometers also contain mercury (in the hundreds or thousands of milligrams).

    So, Wade, if you’re so concerned about mercury then you should be lobbying against tuna, not lobbying against common sense.

  8. rajiv permalink
    December 23, 2011

    I have been looking the World Wide Web for this information and I want to thank you for this post. It’s not easy to find such perfectly written information on this topic. Great Work

  9. Justin permalink
    January 13, 2012

    If Ms. Amy is to be, and certainly should be, concerned with groundwater contamination due to mercury, she is doing the right thing by switching to CFLs. Since over half of our electricity comes from mercury-producing coal fired power plants, energy conservation is very important in reducing mercury in our soil and groundwater. The amount of energy saved by a CFL compared to an incandescent bulb results in about 75% less mercury in our groundwater, including what is inside the bulb. We have heard many stories about the mercury inside a CFL and the dangers of that mercury. We must hear equally about the mercury from the coal fired plants, which seems to be out of date to talk about. All of those half-sided stories about “which” mercury is bad for you makes you wonder about the motivation behind the stories, does it not? Oh, and also, if you want to get political, Bush’s Clean Air Act allowed for a 177% increase in mercury emissions from the coal fired power plants (can’t find a site for this stat, but i remember it clearly from several years ago. i was a young adult and this along with other reasons was initially why i switched parties) . Obama Care might be necessary for the 1 in 6 Colorado women (Colorado uses a lot of coal) with enough mercury in their system to potentially cause a birth defect. It was 1 in 7 about 8 years ago. If the right is worried about mercury, they ought to push for alternative energy instead of fighting progress on energy conservartion.

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