Fighting climate change with cold cathode compact fluorescents

Our trusted advisors Karl and George both have off-grid cabins, where every watt they can eke out of their solar panels makes the difference between reading by headlamp and being a bit more civilized.

So, naturally the weekend email thread was on the latest and greatest compact fluorescent (CF) technology, so-called cold-cathode bulbs. George was particularly excited about the bulb pictured here, a 5W 300 lumens (about 40W equivalent), available for a cool $10 each.

If you’re monitoring your electricity usage you probably already know what a big impact installing traditional CFs can have on your home electricity. These bulbs typically save about $40 per bulb over their four year life — a net value of about $30! How many products do you buy that actually build value?

Even if you are filthy rich, the environmental incentives are high. Changing a standard 75W bulb to a 20W compact fluorescent will save 500 lbs of coal and 1300 lbs of carbon.

The new CCF bulbs are even more efficient, typically boosting efficiency 4-7x over regular incandescents. George has installed these in his cabin and notes additional advantages:

  • Dimmability: the CCFs are dimmable, with no hum.
  • Size: CCFs fit in all fixtures, unlike some long or snow-cone CFs.
  • Longevity: CCFs last up to 25,000 hours.

The last one is particularly relevant for a busy consultant like George. Even if George makes it up to his cabin every weekend, the bulb will last for 96 years. Perhaps the manufacturer, Litetronics, should take a cue from the marketing team at Patek Phillipe.

You never really own a cold compact fluorescent by Litetronics…

…you just pass it on to the next generation

George, here’s hoping you outlast your latest light bulb purchase.

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  1. Gordon - February 15, 2006

    Another option.
    One can buy a bubble pack of five small fluorescent lightbulbs for about $12.00 (If I remember correctly.) at places like COSTCO and Home Depot.
    As small as a regular lightbulb. No dimming!
    14 watt equals a 60 watt regular bulb.
    There is a 100 watt equivalent bulb as well. I think it uses 20 watts.
    For commercial and floodlight there are now 75 and 100 watt equivalent fluorescent bulbs that fit most recessed and many tracklight, 110 volt variety. Same sources.’
    These cost in the range of 2 to 4 dollars, and will last a very long time.
    Tell everyone.

  2. Hank Schrieber - February 15, 2006

    Cold cathode sounds great. But I would lke to know how close the color temperature is to full spectrum. Bulbs that are not are not healthy.

  3. Perry The Cynic - February 15, 2006

    My experience with the COSTCO bargain-basement CFLs has not been great. They look okay and don’t flicker (that I can see), but they die fairly quickly (2-3 months on average), in both outdoor and indoor use. Not cost effective, at least in grid use.
    May be a case of “you get what you pay for.” :-)
    — perry

  4. A Rhodes - February 16, 2006

    Too bad that the cold cathode bulbs from this manufacturer only come as large as an eight watt equivilant to a sixty watt bulb, at least so far.

  5. Jack - February 16, 2006

    The Costco CFs do die rather quickly, but nothing like 2-3 months. I have over 50 of them in my house (various types), and my MTBF has been on the order of 18-24 months. It’s true that some died rather quickly, but averaged out over time, they hold up rather well. In addition, if they die early, you can have them replaced by the manufacturer or Costco.
    Lastly, here in California, at some times over the last couple of years, there have been PG&E instant energy rebates when you buy these, so I got most of mine for about $1 – 1.50 per bulb. At that price, you can’t beat it, even if they only last 2 years or so.

  6. Marty - February 17, 2006

    Ah, but price isn’t the only consideration. Think about all those unnecessary light bulbs sitting in the landfill. Me, I’d go for longevity even if the sticker price is a bit higher.

  7. T - February 22, 2006

    but do these guys use mercury vapor? that’s one issue i have with a lot of cfl lamps… (and while a regular light bulb can be crushed and not take up much landfill space, CFL’s have integrated electronics, and unless they’re made in RoHS-compliant factories, usually a decent amount of lead solder)

  8. theo - March 6, 2006

    I ordered these because I live in an apartment with dimmer switches everywhere. So ordinary compact flourescents (CFs) are out. And while these cold cathode bulbs do contain mercury, so do normal compact flourescents.
    The big problem, though, is that the product, frankly, sucks. They claim to substitute for 40W bulbs, but they seem dimmer. They flicker at various light levels (fully on, and dimmed). Finally, in my light fixture, they still give off light when switched off (incandescents, obviously, don’t do this).
    I wanted to be excited about this product — but substandard innovations like this aren’t doing the environment any favors.

  9. Dan - March 20, 2006

    The litetronics do use mercury but they are careful to make that clear on the bulb. I purchased 25 such bulbs for a coffee shop. They are a nice warm color and available in a range of spectrum. Get outside if you really need full spectrum!
    The bulbs dim nicely but have been horrible in terms of life. In the year we have lost nearly half of them and they very expensive.
    Will NOT buy them again until they have the bugs worked out. We will switch to home depot purchased non-dimmable bulbs. They are much cheaper, last years in my home, and give great light!

  10. Tim - April 16, 2006

    I too was excited to hear about this CCF technology, so I ordered the Litetronics bulbs to try out, both 5 and 8 watt versions. I was really disappointed.

    The advertised equivalence to incandescent bulbs and subsequent energy savings were way too optimistic. The 8W version seemed closer to a 40W equivalent, certainly nowhere near as bright as a 60W bulb. The 7W Sylvania CF twist lamps that I wanted to replace them with are brighter than the 8W frosted CCF Litronics bulbs… (so much for CCF lamps yeilding more lumns/watt than hot cathode technology)

    The color of the 2700K lamps was too red – unacceptably so. The 4000K versions were closer to the expected color; but I can’t handle lamps that cool.

    They were dimmable as advertised, although they take an inordinately long time to get to their full brighness. I guess if you are very patient this wouldn’t be problematic, but it was for me. My wife definitely couldn’t handle the slow startup time.

    The cycle life of these lamps is the most compelling feature of these cold cathode lamps as far as I’m concerned. Compact fluorescent (hot cathode) lamps when used in areas of the house where lamps are frequently turned on and off tend to last me only 3 years or so in spite of the fact that they are rated 5+ years.

    CCF a really cool technology; but I think it needs more time to mature to become truly compelling for the masses. I’ll try them again when the technology matures a bit more and when they get a little more realistic with the incandescent equivalent ratings of the lamps.

  11. Danny - April 18, 2006

    These are great bulbs! We’re doing a complete mall Retrofit and using these in the marquee sign. They look great! If anyone is interested in getting these exact bulbs, please let me know as I can get them extrememly cheap. -Danny

  12. Gordon Peterson - October 20, 2006

    Actually, I think the comment about them staying lit even at the “off” setting of the dimmer is one of their GREAT features!! I call that “nightlight mode”, since it’s a very low light level and uses a NEGLIGIBLE trickle of power… a great way to be able to move around the house at night without having to “turn on” lights (very handy for e.g. those late-night trips to the bathroom!). An incandescent would use the SAME trickle, but produce NO light…!
    The TCP ones I’ve bought light up INSTANTLY… there doesn’t seem to be any “ramp up” time at all, and in fact this ability to “flash” them is part of why they are so popular in Las Vegas on those big walls of flashing light bulbs…!!
    I’d LOVE to hear from Danny and hear what kind of price he can get on them…!!!! Danny, E-mail me…! gep2 at terabites dot com …!

  13. Lindsey - February 24, 2007

    A buddy of mine, who is a teacher, came across this company that works with schools to do environmentally friendly fund raisers. Not only do the schools make extra money but they help the environment and make people more aware of global warming as well. They also offer lesson plans for teachers who are interested in teaching their students about the environment as well as lesson plans for An Inconvenient Truth with Vice President Al Gore. Their main product is compact fluorescent light bulbs which save a ton of energy and money compared with incandescent bulbs. They are called One Plant Fund raising and their website is http://www.oneplanetfundraising.c
    om. Definitely worth checking out!

  14. Juci - February 25, 2007

    My dad bought a load of these the other day. I think home depot had a sale that day or my dad heard good things about them so he wanted to buy enough for the two houses (large family). I’m quite happy with the way the light lightens up. It doesn’t get that nasty yellow too quickly like the non-CCFs.

  15. Anonymous - April 5, 2007

    Danny, if you could get me these bulbs cheap or have a source that would be great

  16. Anonymous - April 5, 2007

    Does Home Depot sell the cold cathode flourescent

  17. Anon - November 14, 2007 sells much brighter versions- 13 watt and 18 watt.

  18. Melinda - March 21, 2008

    Some Home Depots and Loews do carry them. You may have to contact the ones near you directly to be sure.
    I was wondering if anyone is uneasy about the mercury in the CCFs and CFs like me. I just read that if a traditional CF breaks in your home you should leave the room for up to 15 min so that the gases can escape. Mercury poisoning from the fumes are a real hazard. And mercury that gets into landfills in the future can and will pollute our waterways and fish.
    This can’t be the only solution to save money on electricity through lighting.
    It could give the best light ever but if it potentially pollutes worse than what we were using, is it really with the money savings?

  19. Adam Stein - March 21, 2008

    Hi Melinda,
    CFLs result in a reduction of mercury pollution. A lot of mercury is put into the atmosphere from burning coal to generate electricity. So the energy-savings from CFLs result in decreased mercury pollution overall, even taking into consideration the small amounts of mercury used in CFLs.
    Although you should use care when disposing of a broken CFL, the amount of mercury involved is not terribly dangerous. It’s roughly the equivalent of eating a few cans of tuna fish.
    – Adam

  20. apw - April 12, 2008

    Whats so good about CFLS? They cost more money don’t last and they are full of mercury and other toxic stuff. When the quit you have to pay to have them disposed of and the light is crummy.

  21. Brian Hair - May 2, 2008

    well… if everyone is soooo concerned about the crappynes of the life cycle of these CFL’s and the toxin’s found therein… There is a miracle product that we’ve had for a while. It lasts nearly forever and uses little power as well. Behold…. the LED. Problem solved.

  22. Kev - August 15, 2008

    Cold cathode lamps have advanced greatly in the last 2 years. One company has developed a 13 & 18 watt version. Called the C3 (3rd generation)

  23. Ken - December 9, 2008

    Adam wrote:
    How many is “a few”? I think it is maybe 75 cans of Albacore or perhaps 150 cans of lower mercury content tuna. Is that “a few”?
    Double check that though. Don’t believe what some random idiot on the internet said.

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