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CFL Bulbs: 10 Reasons Why These Are The Best Lights

Posted on Thu, Mar 01, 2012

Many of the homes we visit are less than 50% converted away from incandescent light bulbs. Many have only a handful of CFL bulbs, or none. We always ask what the reasons are for delay: so here are the Top 10 Reasons NOT to Replace ALL your Incandescents with CFL Light Bulbs!


  1. The light is so cold and harsh: I don’t want my kitchen to feel like a morgue

  2. Tried them and they burned out faster than the regular bulbs!

  3. They take too long to light up: when I switch on the light, I want it to be light, not dark

  4. They flicker and give me migraine headaches

  5. The mercury is a nightmare: if you break one, you have to evacuate the home and call the emergency services

  6. I only replace the bulbs one at a time as the old incandescents burn out

  7. The smart thing is to wait for LEDs

  8. The global warming thing is a crock

  9. CFL s are for “penny-pinching, politically correct morons aka Europeans”

  10. If only they made dimmable CFL floods, I would be ready to switch

Some of these were once good reasons. None of them is a really good reason any more. And even though there are still some CFL disadvantages, they are generally more than outweighed by the many, frequently understated, CFL advantages (See below for more discussion of the advantages and disadvantages and for the 5 locations in your home where CFLs are not a good fit.)

So why do people leave good money on the table? leavingmoneyontable 2

So why do so many refuse to make the switch and instead keep on paying far more than they should for electricity?  The reason is much more about the hidden costs of change than anything else:

  • For many homes it is a significant enough change that everyone has to agree, and that is not always simple – particularly with the thicket of CFL misinformation out there

  • and what will friends and family think?

  • busy people have so little time to get discretionary tasks done that changing light bulbs struggles to get to the top of the list

  • if it does, there is sufficient confusion about which CFL is right for which location that the effort can easily derail

If you want to make the change, how do you move forward?

Here are some tips on ways to make it happen! Pick the ones that will work for you:

  • Family rewards program: make it so that everyone shares the benefit if you cut the electricity bill; for instance, figure out how much you spent on electricity in the last 12 months, and then commit to putting half or more of any reduction in spending over the next 12 months to pay for a special treat that everyone would enjoy. Put a little chart on the refrigerator and track progress month by month

  • Family math project: get the kids to plot your spending on electricity over the last 12 months and to estimate your lighting spend assuming 40% of that electricity is used on lighting; figure out how much the family could save by going to CFLs: it should be a big enough number that it gets their attention and this exercise may heighten their overall sensitivity to using – and wasting - electricity

  • Take it in easy phases: don’t try to replace every bulb in one sweep: pick 5 great places to install CFLs, make the switch and get everyone in the home on board with the new shape and light; you will learn which bulb works best in which locations and soon be ready to switch out another set of 5 or 10

  • Buy local and not in bulk; the choices are confusing, so go to a local store where you can comfortably get a little advice if you need it; moreover, if you buy something that turns out not to be what you need, you can more easily take it back and swap it out

  • Take advantage of local offers; in some states there are generous utility programs, which install CFL bulbs for free!

So what about the details on the 10 Reasons NOT to switch?

  1. Light warmth or “the morgue effect”: used to be a major issue; newer CFLs deliver at least acceptable light warmth for almost everyone: look for the “color temperature” in degrees Kelvin to be around 2700

  2. Quick burn out: used to be a major issue as there were many low quality products on the market; look for energy star approved bulbs

  3. Light not dark: used to be a significant issue but now much improved: bulbs still take a minute or two to reach full brightness, but are clearly on from the get go

  4. Flickering and migraines: improved but still a concern for a small minority; CFL manufacturers continue to reduce flickering, so look for quality brands and the energy star logo on the packet

  5. Mercury hazard: still a real issue!

    1. A broken bulb needs careful treatment - although no need for hazmat suits! Remember not to vacuum up the pieces, and follow common sense steps to allow the mercury vapor to dissipate and then carefully collect and dispose of the pieces. 

    2. A dead bulb also needs careful treatment; do not throw in the trash! Disposal options include: take your bulbs to Home Depot, which operates a national recycling program, or inquire if your local government offers a program for accepting hazardous waste.

  6. One at a time: enough already! By all means approach the change in phases, but one at a time is too slow….of course for many it is hard to throw away something that still works, even if it makes good economic sense. If this applies to you, keep the old but still good incandescent bulbs you remove as back-up for the locations where old bulbs are still the best choice (see below)

  7. Waiting for LEDs:  LED technology will be a great option, but right now it’s not ready for the mass market

  8. Global warming: may or may not be a crock, but saving money and energy makes sense regardless

  9. Culture wars: if you want your light bulbs to be a statement of conspicuous consumption, CFLs will never be a good choice for you; if instead you prefer conspicuous conservation, get the (now more rare) “twisty” CFLs

  10. Dimmable dead end: Not any more.  While there still may be some older dimmable fixtures that are still a real challenge, most CFLs now work in most dimmable fixtures.

5 locations in the home where CFLs are not a good choice

CFLs are not the right choice for every location; here are 5 particular places where you will likely want to stick to traditional choices:

    1. Dimmable: can still be an issue, particularly when you put the wrong bulbs the wrong places. If you install regular CFLs in locations with dimmer switches, you will experience no dimming and significantly shortened bulb life.  In that case, the right choice is “dimmable” CFLs.  While not perfect  -- still complaints of humming and inconsistent performance – much, much better.

    2. Enclosed fixtures: CFLs don’t generate much heat, but inside enclosed fixtures the heat build-up can still be significant enough to reduce bulb life

    3. Photocell and motion sensor-triggered lights and time switches: these are not generally designed to work with CFL bulbs!

    4. Quick flips: locations where you routinely flip the light on and off for brief periods (i.e. less than 15 minutes) are likely to result in short-lived CFLs

    5. Fully exposed exterior lights do not provide enough protection to CFLs and be aware that CFL performance is typically uneven outside a temperature range of 0 degrees to 120 degrees Fahrenheit

                                                                  describe the image

But use them wherever you can……                              
……because the advantages are so good: Click me

  • economics: the upfront cost for CFL bulbs is more than for incandescent bulbs, but they use much less power and they last years longer: lifetime savings of around 70%!

  • because they last so much longer, that means you reduce your bulb changing headache by a lot – which is particularly valuable if you have bulbs in some hard to reach locations!

  • brightness options: with much reduced heat production, you can fit brighter bulbs into locations where you need more light

  • less heat = less cooling: in hot locations traditional bulbs intensify the heat and increase the load on your air conditioning system 

    -Andy Belt