Are Fluorescents Ready?

The entire nation of Australia is going fluorescent – I guess I won’t be going there again. The entire province of Ontario is going fluorescent – ditto. Now the legislature in my own state of California is considering a ban on incandescent light bulbs, and astonishingly, it appears likely to pass. Only our governor’s veto can stop this government overreach.

This bill is the wrong approach. Incandescent light bulbs do NOT cause pollution any more than electric cars cause pollution. Why don’t we ban electric cars? If you are purchasing clean energy, you should be able to use that energy to do whatever the heck you want.


Some of us happen to dislike fluorescent lighting. Now the government is going to tell me how to light my kitchen, my living room, my bedroom? The government is going to force us to live under lights we don’t like? I’d rather pay for a $20,000 photovoltaic array so I could produce surplus clean energy. I’d even rather pay more taxes. Just don’t force me to use lighting I find unpleasant in my own home.

Check this fact sheet from General Electric “FAQ – Compact Fluorescents.” As you can see, fluorescent lights are supposed to be left on at least 15 minutes to work efficiently and if they are turned on and off a lot they will have a short life span. Well maybe some of us like to turn lights off when we’re not walking through a room. And now those inconsiderate homeowners who let their “security lighting” ruin sleepy neighborhoods all night long will never be convinced to adopt motion activated lights, they’ll all just blaze away.

How about this according to GE – fluorescents cannot be installed in any fixture that vibrates, from ceiling fans to garage door openers. Or this – fluorescents cannot work with dimmer switches, unless you purchase special dimmer switches (over $50 each), and special fluorescents that can handle these dimmer switches. Some of us happen to enjoy mood lighting – but the only mood our legislators apparently understand is undimmed, always on, bright, glaring, cool white.

What about the fact that fluorescent light just plain looks bad? Maybe some of us are more sensitive to this than others – yet these self-righteous fanatics, dupes of powerful special interests who will make a killing off of selling these expensive bulbs, intend to force us to be constantly tortured inside our homes so they can feel like they did something good for the earth.

If you want to enforce more efficient energy use, put a tax on incandescent bulbs so they cost slightly more than fluorescents. That should work. And if it doesn’t, then maybe our aesthetically-challenged legislators should get the hint – fluorescent light does NOT look good. Is it better than it was? Yes, but it is still annoying, problematic lighting to a lot of people.

Leave my incandescents alone. Make me buy a photovoltaic array. Tax me. I don’t care how you do it. But leave my incandescents alone.


10 Responses to “Are Fluorescents Ready?”
  1. Chris says:

    You should give Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) another chance. What you may not know is that they do save energy, come in different temperature (colors), cause less mercury pollution than incandescent that are powered by coal and are dimmable for your mood lighting that you desire. It is not some special dimmer but just a normal one from Home Depot.

    Maxlite makes a line of CFL that uses standard dimmers and are Energy Star qualified. A CFL that can use a dimmer found online at bulbs.com is only around $15.00 which is much better than $50 that you mentioned.

    You can get CFLs in a variety of types too. You can even get them that look just like the globe and candle bulbs we are all used to seeing in the incandescent world. This kind looks good in that bathroom vanity.

    So let’s talk about color. We all think of that bright white but alas CFLs come in many different color temperatures. You can find them in warm or soft white ( less than 2700 K), white or bright white ( 2900 to 3000k ), cool white ( 4000 K ) and nice daylight ( more than 5000 K ). You can even get them in red, orange, blue and even a black ( UV ) light too.

    CFLs also cause less mercury pollution. Coal power plants are the single largest source of mercury emissions into the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), (when coal power is used) the mercury released from powering an incandescent bulb for five years exceeds the sum of the mercury released by powering a comparably luminous CFL for the same period and the mercury contained in the lamp.

    You say, “Leave my incandescent alone” — I say “Okay. But give compact fluorescents another chance”.

  2. cs says:

    How about LED lighting? Pick your color. Dim it. Turn it off and on.

  3. Ed Ring says:

    Chris – I don’t object to other people using fluorescents, I just don’t want to be forced to use them. Eventually fluorescents may become aesthetically equivalent to incandescents, and eventually the technical drawbacks they display may all be overcome – although you didn’t comment on the problem of rapid wearing out in applications where they are frequently turned on and off.

    There’s more at stake here, however (which is not to discount the aesthetic considerations). This is another precedent whereby our elected representatives are deciding to ban a product. If people prefer incandescent lights – which don’t pollute at all – they shouldn’t be forced to buy fluorescents. I would prefer a tax on energy – which would have the immediate effect of driving more energy efficient consumer choices – to outright banning of any energy use that people deem inefficient.

    Then there’s the whole “reduce CO2 emissions” argument. The problem here is this is becoming an unassailable justification for banning pretty much anything. What’s next? Backyard BBQs? Why not? I believe that any global warming and extreme weather we may actually be experiencing is because – surprise – we’ve dried out and deforested 60% of the tropics, and depleted our water tables pretty much everywhere on earth. If there’s any truth to that, then we should be producing MORE energy, to desalinate seawater and rewater, refill, and reforest the planet.

  4. noname says:

    Your column reeks of zealotry. I would have written the same column a few years ago when I first heard about these bulbs. Fluorescent lighting in my house? Yuck! No way!

    It wasn’t until I went to visit my sister in late 2004 that I “saw the light”, literally. Towards the end of the visit, she mentioned that all of the bulbs in here house were CFLs. I was shocked, I had no idea. The light they threw off looked exactly like the incandescent lights I was used to. When I got home I switched every bulb in my house to CFLs and my power bill went down about $20 per month. They don’t flicker, they don’t buzz, and the light they give off is soft yellow, not white like the giant tubes in office buildings. You really need to head over to wal-mart and pick up a pack of the latest CFLs (not the “daylight” kind, those give off the awful white light we both hate) before you write a knee-jerk column like this. You can’t judge a CFL based on the look of nasty light cast by the long tubes found in factories and schools, it’s not the same thing.

    As for GE’s FAQ, what do you think they’re going to say? Do you think GE really wants to sell you a bulb that will last 5 to 10 years? Wal-Mart had to drag them kicking and screaming into selling CFLs in volume.

    I’ve been using CFLs in my refrigerator (how’s that for rapid on-off cycles?) and in ceiling fan fixtures for years now without problem. None have ever burned out on me.

    And they also just came out with CFLs that work in normal dimmers. So seriously, lose your zealotry and actually investigate what you’re writing about before you go off like this. What you wrote is a stunning example of self-righteous entitlement. “I should be able to do whatever I want because wah wah wah I paid for the electricity and wah wah wah I don’t care about pollution from power plants and I don’t care about the environment.” Sad. Grim. Pathetic.

  5. Ed Ring says:

    noname: You should have read the post before I toned it down! Perhaps it is a bit zealous – but you miss the point if you think I’m indifferent to pollution from power plants. The larger point I wanted to make here and can’t say enough is (1) we need to produce more clean energy, that’s CLEAN energy, not just improve efficiency, and (2) banning a product that does not pollute is an approach that micromanages the issue – instead we should tax energy use in order to drive consumers to choose more efficient solutions.

    You have convinced me to take a more detailed, first hand look at the latest fluorescent technology. I remain convinced that banning incandescents is the wrong approach – and my passion stems from my belief that this measure is just the beginning of a fundamentally flawed approach by our leaders. We need incentives to produce more clean energy and consume energy (and water) more efficiently, not product bans, rationing, or punitive pricing. In my opinion, that is the American way.

  6. brooklynjon says:

    I agree with the author that banning a class of products is generally not the best way to make policy. The better way to do this is to tax energy. This tax need not be punitive. It just has to add back all the costs of consuming energy that are not included in the price of the energy – the so called “externalities”. Adding back in all the costs – from the excess health care costs from environmental pollution, to the various costs of securing access to oil – would allow people to make rational decisions as to how to consume energy. If electricity were $1 per kwh, would the author have the same disdain for fluorescent lighting? Maybe. Maybe not. Ultimately, he will have to decide for himself. Perhaps a few key incandescents would be enough to make him happy. Perhaps a more expensive CFL with a high CRI would do the trick. Whatever he chooses, both the costs and the benefits will be flowing to he who made the choice, so the choice will be a rational one, even if it is one with which someone else may disagree.

  7. tm3912 says:

    “2) banning a product that does not pollute is an approach that micromanages the issue – ”

    You are being disingenuous when you say this. By using a product that is not as efficient it indirectly causes more pollution by making the polluting power plants work harder and longer.

    “(1) we need to produce more clean energy, that’s CLEAN energy, not just improve efficiency”

    I agree but we should be doing both not just the one. You would have us not use the more efficient bulbs but try and make more clean energy.

    “instead we should tax energy use in order to drive consumers to choose more efficient solutions. ”

    You know this hurts no one but the poor and middle class people, the rich will just shrug and continue on as they have before. How wealthy one is shouldn’t be the criteria for something that is harming everyone.

  8. Ed Ring says:

    tm3912: We agree that both efficiency and increased production should be encouraged. But banning incandescent light bulbs, which do not pollute, is a bad precedent. Yes, I know, most electricity comes from coal fired power plants. Similarly, did you know that most biofuel comes from burned down tropical rainforest? I would no more condemn electricity use than condemn biofuel use – it depends on the source. In my opinion you should attack the source, not the end user.

    Let’s not forget that fluorescents contain toxic materials. Did it ever occur to you that this is being pushed by bureaucrats who want to create yet another state-funded agency where we’ll be forced to turn in our spent fluorescents?

    If you don’t like the tax energy use approach, you are facing some tough alternatives, in my opinion. Taxing energy use could have provisions to exempt low income households. Carbon trading in many respects is a disaster – polluters buy carbon credits which fund rainforest destruction to grow “carbon neutral” biofuel. There is no energy shortage – there is only a shortage of clean energy. Why not place a tax on incandescents, so they cost the consumer more? Wouldn’t that encourage more adoption of fluorescents? I have done further research on fluorescents and they are not able to replace incandescents in all applications in the home, and as an alternative in those cases they are unpleasant.

    Bottom line, if I purchase clean electricity, I should be able to use it any way I like. And remember, the more we over-produce, the more revenues our utilities collect to finance a more rapid transition to clean energy. Rationing, which this proposed ban is a form of, shoots itself in the foot, by reducing the revenue stream that would make a utility economically healthy enough to pay for green innovations. It creates a downward economic spiral I think we should avoid.

    Last but not least, what if all this hysteria about CO2 is complete hogwash? What then? You know, people don’t even know the difference anymore between CO2 and dangerous pollutants. Maybe the CO2 bandwagon is so big all of a sudden because (just like fuel cell distraction killed the electric car) it diverts attention from gross polluters. You can spew all kinds of toxins into the air, and still have a small CO2 footprint. Think about it.

  9. tm3912 says:

    Ed,
    “Bottom line, if I purchase clean electricity, I should be able to use it any way I like.”

    Granted. As soon as enough clean electricity is produced then I agree, however until that time (which is a long ways off) conservation through efficiency must be practice (enforced) Now I understand that you want a tax on incandescent light bulbs, that would be used towards building new cleaner energy. However it simply does not work that way. I would love it if it did, but congress would get ahold of that money and it would be used for every pork barrell items they could think of and special interest would see that hardly any was spent on cleaner energy.

    “Let’s not forget that fluorescents contain toxic materials. Did it ever occur to you that this is being pushed by bureaucrats who want to create yet another state-funded agency where we’ll be forced to turn in our spent fluorescents?”

    Again granted fluorescents contains mercury which would need to be recycled (probably curbside like paper, can, bottles, etc) I don’t remember where I read it but the leading polluters of mercury are the coal fired plants. The extra energy that is being used by incandescent light bulbs, is contributing more Mercury to the enviornment than recycled Flurescents ever would.

    “Carbon trading in many respects is a disaster ”

    Never made any sense to me right from the beginning.

    “Last but not least, what if all this hysteria about CO2 is complete hogwash? What then? You know, people don’t even know the difference anymore between CO2 and dangerous pollutants. Maybe the CO2 bandwagon is so big all of a sudden because (just like fuel cell distraction killed the electric car) it diverts attention from gross polluters. You can spew all kinds of toxins into the air, and still have a small CO2 footprint. Think about it”

    I have thought about it and agree with the above paragraph. In my opinion best evidence shows that CO2 does contribute to global warming and most of the attention is being directed there. However we should not take our eye off of the other pollutants.

    I think we are a lot closer in our views than one would think. I hate how much government interferes with our lives and want them to back off. However in this instance I feel they have to get involved. I think that your tax idea, in a perfect world, would work but won’t in todays “real world”

    Sorry for any typing errors I wrote this in a hurry and couldn’t spell check.

  10. Bryan Long says:

    This is an interesting discussion. Ed is completely right that a high tax on energy would be the single best thing we could do to encourage efficiency. Cut taxes on what is good (labor, invention and investment) and raise taxes on what is “bad” (carbon, methane, toxins, non-sustainable forestry, wasteful mineral extraction, etc) and the market will fix things. This approach would be much better than the government trying to pick and legislate certain technologies, whether florescents or ethanol. BUT, will we do this? There is such a strong, manipulative emotional response against any taxes that no politician dares to go there. It is easier to pass codes, restrictions and subsidies. I’d rather see the best, most sensible approach. But if that isn’t going to happen, maybe something like an incandescents ban (or high tax) is the next best thing.

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