All CFLs, all the time: the “wife test,” the temperature issue, and the end of incandescents

A grab bag of compact-fluorescent related items this week.

First up, the “wife test”: it seems women are at least partly to blame for the dismal adoption rate of CFLs in the U.S., despite the fact that women are more likely than men to express a strong willingness to make behavioral changes to fight climate change. Women just don’t like CFLs, or so reports the Washington Post (via carbon neutral journal).

Though this sounds like a glib observation, the Post backs it up with a fair number of data points. One energy efficiency expert says that, like so many other things, the issue boils down to communication:

“The guy typically brings a CFL home and just screws it into a lamp in the bedroom, without discussing it with his wife,” Ton said. “She walks in, turns on the light and boom — there is trouble. That is where the negative impressions begin, especially when the guy puts it into the bedroom or the bathroom, the two most sacred areas of the home.”

Husbands, take note.

Elsewhere, Michael O’hare reminds the world that the benefits of CFLs depend mightily on where you live. CFLs are much more useful if you live in a hot climate, and much less so if you live where it’s cold.

CFLs, as we all know, are far more efficient than incandescent bulbs. But the wasted energy from incandescents doesn’t simply disappear. It creates heat. And if you otherwise have to heat your house to keep it warm, then the heat energy from bulbs isn’t really wasted. Using light bulbs to heat your house may not be as efficient as using a gas furnace, but the savings from CFLs aren’t as large as they otherwise appear.

The reverse is true if you live in a hot climate. The excess energy from incandescents isn’t just wasted — it actively increases the burden on your air conditioning, making the bulbs even worse than they appear.

Long story short: don’t forget the basics. If you live where it’s cold, insulate your house and use windows for passive heating. If you live where it’s hot, place awnings over your windows and stop dawdling on getting those CFLs.

Finally, the Wall Street Journal reports that incandescents might be illegal in 10 years anyway. Manufacturers and environmentalists are hammering out proposed legislation now. Such legislation would still put us behind other countries, but better late than never.

Update: As other have noted in the comments, the mercury issue is overblown. The $2,000 clean-up story is an urban legend. You can safely clean up a broken bulb yourself. From an environmental standpoint, burning coal to power an incandescent bulb releases more mercury(pdf) than is contained in a CFL.

Author Bio


Comments Disabled

  1. Xta - May 9, 2007

    Chalk up another point for my “not a woman” count. I’ve got a lot of those. How many do I need to be officially an androgyne? I’ve replaced at this point almost every bulb in my house that isn’t in one of my roomates’ rooms. Finally even got dimmable ones for the kitchen. Woo! The one holdout is my little bedside 3-way touch lamp. The 3-way CFL I got just sucked. I was more of a 1.5 way (i.e. only 2 different settings and only slightly different from each other). Anyone managed to find a good 3-way CFL? I no longer even like the color of incandescent bulbs, but I DO like being able to flail blindly at my touch lamp and be rewarded with a dim glow.

  2. Steve - May 9, 2007

    While visiting my parents house this past week I experienced first hand the reluctance of women to change to CFL bulbs. My mom really disliked the “harsh light” in her bathroom and made me return them. I went with a significantly lower wattage equivalent than I was supposed to and found some with a slightly better color temperature that my Mom finally allowed me to put in. I have replaced 17 lights that are used very heavily so far so I am pretty happy with my efforts. Next up: floodlights. At $12 a piece it’s going to be painful for my parents but here in Vegas anything that reduces heat and uses less energy is helpful.

  3. Rob - May 9, 2007

    Where are people getting the fancy ones that fit odd lamp and socket shapes?

  4. Anonymous - May 9, 2007

    Regarding the second point in this article, the opening and closing summaries are contradicting the facts in the middle. What the middle says is that CFLs are less useful — even contraindicated — in a hot climate because the heat that they give off makes the a/c work harder. But the opening statement says that CFLs are more useful in a hot climate, and the closing statement says to run out and buy them if you live in a hot climate. Are these contradictions editing errors, or am I completely missing the boat?

  5. Bob - May 9, 2007

    What about mercury contamination from broken CFL bulbs?

  6. lkh - May 9, 2007

    I have been using cfls as much as I could for at least 13 years now, originally because they didn’t heat up the house as much. They’re so much better now than then–it was a tough sell to my first hubbie who didn’t like the color, but hubbie #2 is on board.
    Now I really need there to be better dimmables–the house we live in now has 8 or 10 recessed lights on a single dimmer lighting the large 2nd floor room, and it’s just too bright with that many cfls going full blast, so as much as it pains me, we have incandescents in that room. Poor planning on the part of the previous owner! At least everything else in the house is cfl.

  7. lkh - May 9, 2007

    Re: the concerns of “Anonymous” over contradictions, the article says that incandescents are contraindicated in hot climates, not cfls.

  8. elg - May 9, 2007

    To follow-up on Bob’s question, how come no one is talking about the mercury issue? I read a very troubling article about the very serious dangers regarding these nifty new bulbs. Incandescents have been banned in Canada and I changed half the bulbs in my house and have now learned that there are major health risks associated to accidentally breaking or careless disposing CFL bulbs. I heard that LED technology is on the horizon – and that such technology is environmentally sound, safe, and effective. I am all for being proactive, but are we rushing into this too quickly?

  9. Holly - May 9, 2007

    I read the same article re: mercury in the CFLs. According to the article, one broken bulb leads to total contamination of a room. The owner had to pay $2,000 to have the room decontaminated. This is not something I want in my home with two small children (or anyone for that matter). Can anyone dispute the mercury contamination issue?

  10. Jake of Sigourney - May 9, 2007

    We now have the technology to make decorate panels and structures covered with cheap light emitting diodes, readily “dimmed” with remote controllers that can change number of elements energized, and their color, etc. I would not feel “carbon guilt” if currently using dimmable incandescent spots for just a few hours each day. Centrally or locally programmed switching (timed and motion sensing activation,etc.) would currently provide far more benefit than simply changing over to flourescent bulb lighting. Why are we not going in this direction? We could replace our current switches with “smart switches” that can sense our activities and match light output to our needs. We already do this with programmable thermostats, why not for lighting? //

  11. FD - May 9, 2007

    Not that snopes is the most scientific of websites, but neither is the $2000 clean-up scare. So here’s a link to discuss the mercury issue.
    The short answer is if you break one. 1) get the kids and pets out of the room. 2)Open the windows to that room and close the door, allowing the very small amount of Mercury vapor to mix with fresh air and dilute itself. 3)Put on some good rubber gloves and wipe up the glass and debris with damp paper towels and disposable rags. There is Mercury in the bulb but even if it broke and all the Mercury instantly vaproized, which is highly unlikely, the concentration of Mercury vapors is still at a safe level.

  12. R. LeBlanc - May 9, 2007

    We use CFLs wherever it is practical to do so, and there is no gender issue in our family. The reason we don’t use CFL lamps in more places is that many of our lights are controlled by dimmer switches, and we use the dimmer feature all the time, because we don’t usually want the brightest setting. However, there are times when we need the brighter settings. We haven’t found CFLs that interface with our dimmer switches. When CFLs become available that can be controlled by dimmer switches, we’ll use them.
    I’m curious about why this issue hasn’t been mentioned more often as the reason for not using CFLs.
    R. LeBlanc

  13. Laelia - May 9, 2007

    In our house, although we’re not married, I (a woman) approached my long-term beloved partner (a male) about converting to CFL’s four years or so ago. He was amenable and I placed the order. I’d been thinking of doing so for a while beforehand and I was eager to do so. I have loved the CFL’s from the moment of their arrival.
    I do have one confession, however: I ordered full-spectrum CFL’s and went for the highest wattage available for study areas. I had been around a regular CFL and found it hard on my eyes. The full-spectrum, on the other hand, feel wonderful to my eyes. They are more expensive, but they outlasted the two-year warrantee that came with them.

  14. Anonymous - May 9, 2007

    Mercury is an issue with CFLs, and so it’s important to dispose of them properly (just as you should batteries, paint, etc). However, the amount of mercury in CFLs combined with the amount of mercury emitted in supplying energy to them, is still less than the amount of mercury emitted in supplying energy to incandescents. Check out this fact sheet for more info.

  15. Chet - May 9, 2007

    We just switched out 25 bulbs to CFL’s of all size and wattage. As reluctant as I was about the “cold” look I find the CFL’s inside a regular looking bulb to be much more “normal” looking and after a couple of weeks we feel they look better than those evil incandescent bulbs. We have several can lights in the house that are on dimmer’s and found dimmable spot’s at Wal-Mart (yes…Wal-Mart) for about $12.00 a pop. Eager to get them home and in all of the spots we were very disappointed with how they functioned and returned them going back to our regular incandescent spot’s. Hopefully with time they will improve and get better.

  16. Sorina - May 9, 2007

    It is great that TerraPass brings this topic into discussion. However, perpetrating the “wife test” myth is a mistake. There are no “data points” (as Adam says), in the original WPost article. All we get is “Experts on energy consumption call it the “wife test””. What experts? What research? Published where? Any references? I am a scientist and it’s hard for me to give any credibility to something that sounds like an urban legend.
    It is wonderful to see so many women refute this myth. We all need to do our share , we can start little, by changing the light bulbs in our homes and work places. How about we stop using plastic bags next?

  17. MarkS - May 9, 2007

    Oh great! Home Depot handed out 1 free CFL on Earth Day out here, which was enough for me to convince my wife to switch them all. I dropped one and broke it in our second bedroom the other night while putting them in, and did pretty much everything wrong. I handled the glass with my hands, vacuumed it up, and then disposed of it in our kitchen trash bag, not sealed. Luckily the weather out here has been good, so our windows have been open, and my two year old wasn’t around when it happened, but now what should I do? I suppose I should at least wipe the floor with a wet rag to capture any residual mercury?

  18. Skip - May 9, 2007

    I don’t mean to condone mercury contamination, but as kids in the 50’s if we found a bit of mercury we would take it to school, roll it around in our hands, and on at least one occasion my teacher asked me to demonstrate it to the rest of the class. If I don’t have any symptoms 50 years later, I greatly suspect that $2,000 to clean up after one tiny bulb is nothing but opportunistic gouging.
    I also seem to recall sculpting with some asbestos-based furnace cement we found in the basement…

  19. Adam Stein - May 9, 2007

    Hi all,
    As others have noted, the mercury issue is pretty overblown. I’ve amended the original post. I have heard an anecdotal report that people with especially severe mercury sensitivity should avoid CFLs, but as with most allergies, you probably aren’t such a person and won’t have a hard time figuring out if you are.

  20. LunaLady - May 9, 2007

    As a woman, I’ve been using CFLs since they came out—they’re in almost everyone socket in the house (except the lights that never get used anyway). Some of my table lamps have “warm” colored shades on them, so there’s no such thing as a “cold” light. I love the low-wattage, brighter light in my bathroom where I put on my makeup–much better than incandescent light. So…I’ve never been aware of any gender issue about these bulbs–mostly I’ve seen an “ignorance” issue about using them. I wish they’d develop CFLs that could be used with a dimmer switch, and cheaper bulbs taht could be used with dusk-to-dawn outdoor lights.

  21. Grace - May 9, 2007

    Can anyone comment on the issue I’m having of very, very slow warm-up times?
    I have been replacing my incandescents with CFLs as the incandescents blow out. I’m really concerned that when, for instance, all the hall lights are CFLs, I won’t be able to see for at least a minute after I turn the lights on.
    Seems to me that this poses safety issues, not just convenience issues.
    Am I just getting a bad batch of bulbs or something?

  22. Emily - May 9, 2007

    Hmmmm … I bought the CFLs and installed them in all the light fixtures, I stalked down the phantom loads and insisted on plugging our microwave and TV into power strips to eliminate them, I bought a reel mower (over my husband’s protests, but now he brags about it like it was all his idea), I insisted on buying a smaller refrigerator, I built an experimental sawdust toilet in our basement at our old house, I talked my husband into a hybrid, I signed us up for a CSA farm, I built the worm bin in our kitchen, I talked my husband into getting the beehive for honey and the flock of backyard chickens for organic eggs and gardening assistance, I asked for ladybugs and lacewing larvae for my birthday, I bought the Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening subscriptions, I’m the one who shuts off the a/c and opens the windows in the summer, I talked my husband into installing a tiny Energystar window air conditioner in one room at our old house so we could have a cool room for our dogs instead of wasting energy cooling the whole house, and I insisted on installing radiant barriers in the attics of both the houses we’ve owned.
    Oh, yeah — I was the one who bought the Terrapasses for our cars, too. I think my husband found the solar attic fans, and he’s the one who took me to Taos to stay in an Earthship one weekend so we could learn more about energy-efficient living. But by and large, I’ve been out in front of the environmental issues at our house.
    It’s been my experience that those who are resistant to change are those who do not understand the costs and benefits. Those who are well-informed tend to embrace responsible lifestyle choices, regardless of their gender.

  23. Anonymous - May 9, 2007

    I’m a female. I live in the north where it’s cold in the winter. It’s also DARK during the long winter nights. While I’d like to say I replaced my lightbulbs to save energy, I really went hog wild replacing every one I could with the Greenlite 5000K bulbs (NOT their Softlite bulb) because the 5000 Kelvin bulbs made my winter nights feel like daylight and I found I had MUCH more energy to DO things even after dark (which might come around 3:30 in the afternoon). I also noticed that I would spend as little time as possible in any room that didn’t have these bulbs. As soon as there are 5000K bulbs for every light fixture in my house, I will replace the rest!

  24. Lela - May 9, 2007

    I am a woman who agrees with this article. The warm lighting of incandescents brings a warm, comforting feel to my home. I despise the harshness of CFLs. My mood is deeply affected by the type of lighting that surrounds me. I know other women who feel the same way, but men don’t seem to care as much. I am very concerned about the environment and energy efficiency, so I have a lot of ambivalence about this issue. So far I have not found a CFL that mimics the light of incandescents. Is this not possible?

  25. Jeanine - May 9, 2007

    I am also a woman and have done all the necessary energy-efficiency changes in my apartment by myself. Insulation for windows, CFLs for all the lights (love’em -but I got the warm ones), changed the old fridge to an Energy Star one, and finally got NativeEnergy carbon-credits (similar to TerraPass). I bought my CFLs at Home Depot and IKEA –I like the HD ones better but IKEA has more socket-size options.

  26. Anonymous - May 9, 2007

    Reply to Grace: Some of the bulbs I used to have were slow to warm up. But 1-1/2 years ago I bought at least a dozen of the Greenlite Mini 100-watt equivalent bulbs (that use only 26 watts) and they warm up virtually immediately. I bought the ones that say 5000K under the barcode on the back of the box — NOT the Softlite. They give great light and fit into enclosed light fixtures that previously could take only a 60-watt bulb. They were about $10 each and have a 9-year guarantee.

  27. Carey - May 9, 2007

    We’ve tried out several different kinds (brands) of CFLs in our house and I agree that some can be unpleasant on the eyes and affect the mood of a room. But, through trial and error, we found some bulbs that were appropriate for mood in a room and were pleasant on the eyes. We found our favorites in a bulk 6 or 8 pack at Costco for $3 (included an instant PG&E rebate). And these also warmed up immediately. So try a few different options before ruling out CFLs completely if you run into problems.

  28. Chad - May 9, 2007

    I have been able to find good, dimmable bulbs that can replace standard dimmable incandescents, but you have to be careful about the type of dimmer. Some of the digital dimmers do not work well with CFLs. I have been having problems, however, finding a good solution for lighting where I want to use a photocell and/or motion/occupancy sensors. Some fluorescent fixtures exist with these features (but not enough to match existing exterior decor), but all of the replacement bulbs seem to caution that they are not suitable for use with motion sensors or photocells. I have also been looking for efficient track lighting, but everything I have found is either incandescent or halogen. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  29. MarkS - May 9, 2007

    We have not had any issues with out CFL’s warming up, or the light temperature. I bought them all at HD (see post above) and they turn on immediately, and provide the same soft light that our incandencents did. In fact, my wife thinks they’re too soft for certain areas of the house, like our kitchen and bathroom, where a brighter light is better for working. I’m pretty sure GE makes them. And they were about $1 a piece for the 60w equivalent.

  30. Maria Sutherland - May 9, 2007

    The problem may be that some people’s eyes are too sensitive for the harsh white glare of normal CFLs. Coming from a family of aesthetically sensitive artists, I’m one of those people who get headaches and blurred vision under florescent lighting. The only way I have made my point is to say that I’m “allergic” so that companies would remove them from over my desk. Normal CFLs are too white and have a slight green tint that is rather sickening. Full spectrum bending towards sunlight yellow is definitely the way to go.

  31. JD - May 9, 2007

    We switched every bulb we could & have been happy with the results although it took a little experimentation to get the right color. Only ones we haven’t switched over are some dimmables because we can’t get a bulb to fit the ‘sleeve’ in one case and in our chandelier can’t get a dimmable that’s bright enough in the shape we need but hopefully there will be more availability soon. I also like not having to store as many bulbs because these last longer.

  32. lauren - May 9, 2007

    I am seconding the comment by Sorina. There are no data points in that article, not a single thing they said makes me believe that this ‘wife test’ is true. Usually even popular press coverage of claims such as those made in the article are backed up by numbers, so the fact that there is not one statistic to support their claims, just vague references to trends in data, makes me quite skeptical. I’m pretty disappointed that Adam is giving this article credibility, regardless of the importance of CFLs.

  33. kelley - May 9, 2007

    I can only speak for my own self regarding my lighting choices, not for these statistics. Yes, I am female. Yes, I buy incandescent lighting. Yes, I also use the florescent lighting when I can.
    Replace all of it? No way. Why? Because florescent lighting gives me a headache/eye fatigue when I use it for point tasks like reading. I was hoping LED technology would kick in faster, but until then, if i have to mail order incandescent lamping from bangladesh, I absolutely will, because I’m not giving up reading. Don’t ignore the argument, make the argument moot by simply fixing it.
    Why on earth would anyone think forcing this issue with legislation will solve it? Save the bluster and $$ for R&D. Build it and they will come.
    cursing people for driving a car will not address the need for a car. abolishing cars is folly. make hybrids more available. how about those hydrogen cars- they ready yet? Electric cars not worthy of car makers accountant? How about smaller municipal governments be the better judge of that by collectively sponsoring, and the companies who gave up manufacturing them turn over the patents involved for free, since they wont commit to the construction.
    Attacking consumers without understanding the solutions they need is foolish and not productive to our collective cause. It’s another road block people create to defeat any meaningful effort toward solutions, and only justifies inaction. wake up folks.
    we need innovation and ingenuity, not whining about who is holier than thou environmentally.

  34. pradwastes - May 9, 2007

    My wife is the bargin shopper and found 15W CFLs at the local 99¢ store in packages of six for 99 cents. She bought several of these and found they were subsidised by Southern California Edison.They are “warm tone” and we both like them a lot since the last Edison bill was a third lower than last year. The dimmable CFL is not all that dimmable, compared to the incandenscent but we will live it.

    Coal is a major source for commercial mercury.

    The first photographs were developed usiing mercury vapor.

  35. Anonymous - May 9, 2007

    That whole “wife test” is garbage. Since when do we accept stuff like that with no actual studies to back it? I’m a woman and I love CFLs. You just have to look at the Kelvins and get a pretty high number, like 3700 or above, and they’re great. Plus, the whole thing about “the guy typically brings the CFL home and just screws it in..” What kind of an expert is this? One of gross, sad generalizations?

  36. helen - May 9, 2007

    Well I don’t have an irritating husband like the one you describe, but I am a woman and I do hate those CFLs. I do have some in low use areas like back hallways and storage rooms. The light quality sucks, and I have yet to find the supposedly better “warm light” versions. While the CFLs are now heavily marketed – filling up shelves at WalMart to make them look better. Common sense seems to still be unmentionable. TURN OUT THE LIGHT WHEN YOU LEAVE THE ROOM. TURN OFF THE LIGHTS WHEN YOU LEAVE THE HOUSE. Use motion sensors and day – night sensors. I do plenty of other things to conserve energy; I’d like to be able to see what I’m doing.

  37. Aaron A. - May 9, 2007

    I’m not sure I buy the argument of “we know a guy that this happened to.” Somebody also “knew a guy” who heard they’d need a HazMat crew to clean up after a broken bulb.

    I can say that the ‘Daylight’ or ‘Natural Light’ bulbs flew like a lead balloon at my house. There was no hum, no scare stories about mercury, just complaints about the bluish-white glow; we get enough of that at the office. Once we got the warmer ‘soft white’ bulbs (6500K, actually quite yellow), the problem was solved. Our most-used light is on a dimmer switch, so I’m still trying to get my hands on a decent LED bulb for that one.

  38. Anonymous - May 9, 2007

    “Comment by MarkS @ May 9, 2007 9 AM Comment permalink
    We have not had any issues with out CFL’s warming up, or the light temperature. I bought them all at HD (see post above) and they turn on immediately, and provide the same soft light that our incandencents did. In fact, my wife thinks they’re too soft for certain areas of the house, like our kitchen and bathroom, where a brighter light is better for working. I’m pretty sure GE makes them. And they were about $1 a piece for the 60w equivalent.”
    On another note, I’m fairly certain that the higher the color temperature number ie 6500k the more blue the light is. So really we should be looking for lower number’s ie 3000k lights to better match the “warm” incandescent light that is easier on the eyes. Correct me if I’m wrong…
    Who makes or sells very warm CFL’s? I have bought many different styles and they all suffer from a very harsh light. (blue)

  39. Doris - May 10, 2007

    I’ve also been using CFL’s since they arrived on the market. I’ve met several men who refused to pay more to save more. Is this really a gender issue? I am a woman who turns lights on to brighten things up when needed.

  40. Annie Beckett - May 10, 2007

    I’m probably one of the people from whom Adam (in post 19), has heard annecdotal evidence of mercury allergy, mercury hyper-sensitivity, or acrodynia as it’s also known. Mercury is an absolute nightmare for me, my sister, my mother. This is a genetic weak variant detox gene problem that results in one’s immune system reacting wildly to even a tiny amount of detected mercury. I switched out all our lighting for CFLs last fall ($1000 worth including recessed and dimmables), and over four months got sicker and sicker. Two bulbs had arrived broken. We didn’t know CFLs had mercury in them. We didn’t know there was a clean up protocol. And we didn’t know a tiny amount can escape from contact between the bulb glass and the surrounding atmosphere because the glass absorbs the gassified mercury inside the bulb. (It gassifies to initiate the light effect). Tiny means nothing to my immune system. Of course if I’d known, I’d never, ever have had them in my home. I developed weakness, tremors, thrush, hypersalivation, electrical sensations (it’s a potent neuro toxin), digestive disfunction, profound energy loss, rapid weight loss, etc, etc. My mother (an otherwise vigorous ninety), did the same and had her blood pressure soar, thyroid levels soar, began having tachycardia, weakness, fainting, weight loss, etc. My sister’s been debilitated by a mercury exposure for years. So while undoubtedly most of you can tolerate a CFL world, we and others like us can’t. Already there are stores in my community I can’t go into. Why isn’t it on the label that CFLs contain mercury?? That they need to be recycled as hazmat? That there’s a clean up protocol? What loophole have the manufacturers slipped through? The irony is I write a weekly newspaper column on global warming. Despite not being able to use CFLs in our home my husband and I have shrunk our home’s carbon footprint 25-35%, depending on the month, this year. My personal prayer is that LED home/office lighting comes on fast. It will make CFLs look like energy gluttons. And GE is developing a CFL equivalent energy efficient incandescent as well.

  41. Kayly - May 10, 2007

    Hmmm…I’m going to ignore the terribly unscientific article about the hyper-mysoginitic “wife test” and reply instead to those who are saying the light is too harsh, too green or the bulbs are too ugly. I live in an 80 y.o. house with original lighting fixtures, all of which are exposed bulb fixtures(chandeliers with upright candelabra bulbs and others with hanging globe bulbs). We have been able to find full-spectrum CFLs that are identical in style and size as the bulbs we are replacing as they burn out. In other words, some of our fixtures have both incandescent full spectrum bulbs and CFL full spectrum bulbs. Other than the white base we are unable to tell the difference between the bulbs. I’m speaking as someone who gets terrible migraines from regular office type fluorescent tubes and as someone with an artistic design aesthetic. I think that the hold outs just haven’t put any effort into finding the right bulbs to satisfy their sensitive aethetics.

  42. Adam Stein - May 10, 2007

    Well, I knew the story would generate some controversy, so I can’t feign complete innocence now. But I have to disagree with those that say the story is obviously bogus (or “hyper-misogynistic”). It references one poll from a respected source, two different sources of marketing surveys, actual purchase data from chain stores, and two credible experts. This goes way beyond the usual two-data-points-make-a-trend reporting. It certainly doesn’t pass the standard of a peer-reviewed journal, but that’s hardly the appropriate bar.
    Does any of this make it true? Not necessarily. But it certainly rises to the level of “somewhat interesting.”
    It also sort of goes without saying that trend data doesn’t tell you much (or anything) about what any particular individual will do. It’s fairly well known that in general women are more committed to environmental issues than men are, but needless to say, there are plenty of people of both genders devoted to green causes.

  43. Rose - May 13, 2007

    Hmmmm, as a woman, I have now replaced almost every bulb in my apartment with CFLs…. I have read some of the complaints about the light quality, but I have not experienced any problems with the “blueness” described. I usually look for bulbs with the same number of “lumens” as a 60-watt incandescent, and the light seems to be pretty much the same. I did get a batch that was on sale at Lowes — I think it had a different lumens number, because they seem very bright (not at all blue, though), but I put them in the kitchen, where I want it bright anyway. As for being slow to “warm up,” I haven’t noticed that either. The ones in the kitchen take a millisecond to come on. The ones in the bathroom are slightly dimmer for about 5 seconds (which I kind of like, if turning on the light in the middle of the night — it gives my eyes a second to adjust!). Check the lumens on the bulbs before you buy them. A 60-watt incandescent bulb gives around 700-800 lumens of light. You may want to experiment to find how much light output you want in different rooms to find what works best for you.

  44. Jolly Green Girl - May 15, 2007

    I just did an article on CFL on my blog. I like your take on it. I might have to do another article about the climate and all that.. and yes, I would have been pretty miffed if my boyfriend decided to put CFL in the bedroom but the bathroom would have been fine.

  45. Things Overlooked - May 15, 2007

    Why would the U.S. Government go along with ridding incandescent bulbs? Who could really benefit? We all know that current and recent u.s. government structures care only and cared only about corporate profits. There never is and never was sincere concerns for the environment.
    The mercury disposal burden and disposal cost is now shifted to local governments. In many ways it is like getting rid of depleted uranium. They can legally disburse the hazardous material while profiting corporations. Why would the u.s. government allow anything environmentally beneficial to occur? Some entity is going to be making money, somewhere.
    [Ed. — Yeesh. Paranoid much?]

  46. Aaron A. - May 15, 2007

    T.O. says:
    There never is and never was sincere concerns for the environment [from the government].

    Even if that is true, our elected officials are quite sincerely concerned with getting re-elected. If the Democrats can position themselves as the Party of Progress(tm) by pushing a few environmental initiatives through, it could have positive effects for the party and its incumbent officers for many years to come.

    Besides, even if Congress as a whole doesn’t care about the environment, individual Congressfolks do. Many of them started out young and idealistic, wanting to change the world for the better. As long as they can sneak a earth-friendly law through without angering the Powers That Be, why wouldn’t they?

  47. Shelley - May 17, 2007

    I am a woman who has been using CFLs for as long as they have been under 20 bucks a bulb, which is at least 10 years. I have them in every room in the house, and I mix the colors, from the cold light of “Sunlight” and then the warmer tones. I was fooled by the sunlight appellation when they turned out to be nearly blue in color, so I mix them, since I bought a dozen of them. I am also a heavy reader and crafter, so I found it took a bit of planning when initially using the bulbs, since they don’t come up to full brightness right away. That is largely eliminated by recent versions, but still an issue.
    I do wish there were dimmable bulbs, and 3 way ones, too, but I will likely not need to replace any bulbs now until LEDs are in the affordable range, and that is definitely the way I want to go.
    I don’t understand the “Wife test” issue. It’s just never occured to me, and I wear make-up and check my clothes, so you would think I would notice, but to me it was more of getting used to change than the bulbs actually being a problem.
    I like having a very low carbon footprint. I don’t have a car, and get all my power from no-carbon sources. The buses here run on bio-diesel (I know, I know, but it’s a start). To me CFLs were a no debate issue, though I do wish they were easier to recycle.
    The only “Wife test” I can think of can be addressed by A: getting the warmer tones B: letting them warm up a bit before deciding that they aren’t bright enough, and C: discussing the change before imposing it. Otherwise it’s a win situation all around. More money to spend on other things around the house, better for the environment, and looking like the forward thinking partner you are

  48. Laurel - May 17, 2007

    It’s funny this whole discussion on CFL’s and the light quality, and is it soft and do women like it. Here’s my story–my husband who claims to be green, said CFL’s have yucky light. So, I went to HD and Lowes, bought a variety of CFLs including recessed bulbs and switched most of our lights out…especially in the basement where the huge “Turn off the lights” sign isn’t working. No one has noticed. Not one person in my family has said a word about the light bulb change. Plus, lamp shades mask the light and it has the same glow. The newer “soft” CFL works and look the same. The “cool” CFLs are very blue and stark. And, the unexpected consequence is when I do walk past a CFL left on by accident, I don’t go ballistic–peace-of-mind and I did see a drop in our electric bill.
    My advice, change most to CFLs, keep your reading lamps incandescent if it helps. I think at this point with all the crud we’ve pumped into our air, the least we can do for our planet is start adjusting our ways and stop asking everything to be the same—it just isn’t going to be. And, in 8 years when my first batch of CFLs burns out, I’ll recycle them.

  49. Moospie - May 19, 2007

    First I must agree with Laurel about the effect of lamp shades on the colour of the CFL. I have CFLs in most parts of my home and find the best results in making the light “warm” comes from more warm-toned, closed style shades. So far I haven’t found any “warm” CFLs to buy, I just use lower wattage “cold” ones, and have no problems with them. I also noticed that several people complained that the CFLs are either too dim or too bright – they come in a wide variety of wattages, so I don’t see the problem! Most of the ones in my house are 5 or 8 watts. Perhaps the person who said that heaps of CFLs were too bright in one room could switch to a lower wattage to solve the problem?

    Also, can anyone supply a list of place that recycle CFLs? Until then, should I just be storing my used ones, or can I dispose of them? (And is this true for batteries too?)

    I should also point out that I am a woman. I was the one who insisted on using CFLs in the house, and I am responsible for almost all of the environmentally friendly things in my house. My partner won’t even use the cloth shopping bags if I put them in his hand myself before he leaves to go grocery shopping.

  50. angst - May 21, 2007

    Sorry but still disagree that CFLs work for everyone. For me CFLs = headache and eye strain. 100%. No matter who tries to hide them. No matter who seems to manufacture them. I’ve tried so many different ones I cannot count anymore- still get headaches.

    I’m jealous of people for whom this is not a problem. But for a pretty significant portion of the population, this is still an issue. And it isn’t a female/male thing — it is a headache vs. no headache thing. Replace my bulbs, don’t tell me, and watch me get a migraine = very cranky wife.

  51. Mary - May 23, 2007

    With regards to the mercury issue, the amount of mercury is so minute that you are carrying 50 times the amount in your watch battery. Why is change so difficult for some people? As far as the danger issue, the left over mercury that is not used is contained in the base of the CFL. Here in Canada, some companies are actually recycling every bit of the CFL. The bulb part (which shatters into dust) is used in paving. The mercury is extracted and reused to make other bulbs. Another bad rap the CFL is getting is how they die. Most CFLs die by breaking just above the base (with a little bit of melting). There is some charring and smell of smoke. This is normal and has never caused a fire. Just don’t buy CFLs on the black market which are not safety approved and you’ll have no problem. You get what you pay for. Before buying, check the lumens, check the rate that the bulbs lose their light (some cheapies lose about 80 percent of their lumens by the time the bulb dies). Check the life span specs (some will last 8 years, some not even a year).

  52. Viola Nicholson - May 23, 2007

    Would someone please tell me why our beloved, highly touted CFLs come encased in a HUGE hunk of PLASTIC? How environmental is that? (By the way – they have cheap ones at Costco, plastic and all.)

  53. worrier - May 23, 2007

    I am a recent convert to CFL bulbs. The thing that had held me back was the cost of the bulbs but I found some at Big Lots/Odd Lots, a 4-pack for $7.99 and similar priced ones at Dollar General. I am also a woman and think the quality of light is fantastic. My apt. kitchen has no windows and the light from the CFL’s really makes it seem like daylight. I think it actually improves my mood to have better lighting there and for reading.
    I also confirm the story about handling mercury barehanded in school during the 1960’s. When we first moved to Tennessee, we could even buy souvenir mini-chunks of uranium at the Museum of Science and Energy giftshop in Oak Ridge! How times change.

  54. rickbb - May 23, 2007

    The biggest problem my wife and I are having is dealing with the larger size of the CFLs. The bulb housing for my desk lamp is tiny — it’s all I can do to squeeze a standard 60W incandescent in. A standard 60W equivalent CFL doesn’t fit. I’m still looking for one that will.

    We have two three-way lamps in our family room. Because a three-way CFL bulb is larger than a three-way incandescent, we need to replace the harps. That’s done on one, but now my wife wants to replace both the harp and the shade on the other, which is the one that is turned on the most. I’m almost afraid to try swapping out the bulbs in the ceiling fixture in my wife’s sewing room, where she spends most of her spare time.

    Seems to me that it would be useful if stores could allow customers to check out sample bulbs or develop handouts comparing standard incandescent and CFL bulb sizes.

  55. Crunch - July 9, 2007

    Color issues or no, the outside lighting can benefit – especially covered lights that are weatherproof. I put a cheap CFL on my outside streetlamp/post and it survived a pretty harsh northern midwest winter okay.
    Many new housing editions have a mandatory night lamp in their front yard. Our is on roughly 12 hours a day, so it got the first CFL for maximum benefit.

  56. Priscilla - July 11, 2007

    Okay, a great source for CFLs is
    They have dimmables, smaller CFLs to fit small lamps, Adapters/harps for table lamps, recessed dimmables, and full-spectrum! The technology on the dimmables are limited, therefore they dim to about 20%. Buy with specifications of 2700 – 3000 Kelvin for warm light, or 5000 – 6500 Kelvins for daylight for cool light. HD (typically best prices) has the generally desired 2700 K, whereas EFI carries all temperatures. The improved technology is such that they are instant on, though some require some warm up period (ask customer service). I know Ikea recycles CFLs but as the adoption of CFLs takes off there will be more options. I passed by a new Whole Foods & saw that they were recycling batteries and ink jet cartridges, therefore save the old CFLs until you find an opportunity to recycle. Living in my house for 6 years, my CFLs haven\’t failed me except for a couple of duds that gave out in a few months but again thats was early on when the technology & quality wasn\’t as mature !
    as it is now.

  57. bulby - July 19, 2007

    There’s a helpful and easy-to-use CFL guide at
    You can sort by specific needs – chandelier lighting, dimmable, three-way, etc – and it will give the names and ratings of bulbs currently available. Ladies – go for higher Kelvin ratings for that warm glowing look! (2700-2800 degrees K)

  58. Anonymous - September 4, 2007

    As much as I would like to switch to these bulbs….
    I need the “3-way/150 watt” item –
    these are SO MUCH BIGGER than the regular bulbs, they don’t fit under the “harp” or shade.
    I tried a taller harp, but now the shade is too high.
    Has anyone run into this situation?
    (All new lamps are not an option….due to rrelocating, 6 of our lamps are new….
    Thank you.
    Sammy Campson

  59. elizabeth - October 3, 2007

    To the first (Xta/Christa) and last (Sammy Campson) posters:

    I have an older lamp–probably circa late 40s to mid-50s that went ka-put the other day. The repair guy said the switch needed to be replaced, and asked if I wanted an on-off or a 3-way switch. I opted for the latter, as I’d been using an incadescent 3-way bulb before. On my way to pick up the lamp today from the repair shop, I invested in a $12 3-way CFL. When I was at the shop, the repair guy showed me with an incandescent bulb that the lamp now functioned correctly–but when I got it home . . .

    I found Xta’s and Sammy’s comments to be true: The bulb only functions at one lighting level, so I could have saved money and bought an on-off switch AND an on-off CFL. Also, the 3-way CFL’s size prevents me from positioning the shade “grill” as it normally is–so the shade doesn’t fit snugly.

    Very frustrating–anyone find any answers?

  60. Anon - October 6, 2007

    Odd. I understand the idea a incandescent light has a byproduct of heat, so the heat is not entirely wasted if you live in a cold climate.

    O’Hare assumes 100% heating efficiency in all of his calculations. That’s okay all things being equal.

    His mistake is to assume the waste heat of an incandescent bulb is directly substitutable with the heat generated by an HVAC. Given bulbs might be in ceiling fixtures, the heat from such bulbs may simple stay up by the ceiling, compared to HVAC which may have vents in the floor or if it has vents in the ceiling uses moving air to cycle the heat.

    Regardless, the basic tenant of TerraPass is it is better to “offset” one form of energy with another which is more carbon friendly, it seems a no-brainer to use CFLs, even for a 10% improvement.

    Especially when the 10% is probably too low of an estimation because incandescent waste heat and HVAC heat are not directly comparable.

  61. Anonymous - October 6, 2007

    Great. I just realized O’Hare blog is just a bunch of leftist political tripe.
    Adam, in future please pick better sources.

  62. Kevin - October 15, 2007

    Most of the lights in our house are can type ceiling reflectors(BR30). We have had poor luck finding CFL bulbs of this type that warm up quickly. The two brands that we have purchased N:vision (HD) and Sylvania (Lowes) both take a minute or two to reach full brightness. They are really quite dim when first turned on. Any advice is appreciated…

  63. Kevin - October 15, 2007

    Most of the lights in our house are can type ceiling reflectors(BR30). We have had poor luck finding CFL bulbs of this type that warm up quickly. The two brands that we have purchased N:vision (HD) and Sylvania (Lowes) both take a minute or two to reach full brightness. They are really quite dim when first turned on. Any advice is appreciated…

  64. LJ - December 16, 2008

    CFL are a waste of money!! I’ve replaced 25% of the lights in the house with CFLs. So far I’ve had 2 blow out within 1-1/2 years and had one break above me by accident while moving furniture (guess I should have called 911 and gone to the hospital for contamanation). As usual, our electric company has to raise the rates every year because folks are reducing usage, the rates go up because the electric co didn’t sell enough power to cover costs. So no more $3 CFL’s, just regular 4/$1 bulbs for me.

  65. Mark Haven - February 16, 2009

    I am a scientist and have studied energy consumption and CFL’s for about ten years. I’m sorry to have to report that a lot of what is propogated by the energy reduction industry is inaccurate. Put simply, the energy savings are negligible when factors such reactive load and heat compensation are taken into account.
    What also needs to be factored in is the VASTLY increased environmental cost in terms of manufacture. A CFL uses up many times more earth resources in production than a CFL. At the very least this wipes out and longevity claims. In addition, it is now possible to manufacture incandescent bulbs with a lifetime approaching that of CFL’s.
    So, why the hype? Well, CFLs cost around 10 times the price of a similar incandescent. Thus, manufacturers stand to profit massively from their sales.
    One final factor to consider. The light quality / colour rendition is nowhere near as good. Developing truly “warm” CFL’s has proven a challenge whilst retaing CRI. This is why most labeled as warm white are really closer to cool white when tested in use or subjectively by users.
    Thus, many, many people find the light too cold and harsh for bedrooms or living rooms. The new dimmable CFL’s look hideously dingy and cold at low light settings as the light colour does not “warm up” as the intensity dims. We psychologically expect this to happen and when it doesn’t we find it disconcerting / sinister.
    Don’t believe the hype. Test out what you are told

  66. Adam Stein - February 16, 2009

    I can’t speak directly to all of the quality issues with CFLs, but the notion that the bulbs are a way for manufacturers to increase profits doesn’t seem to stand up. CFLs last much longer than ordinary bulbs, and profit margins are thin. I suspect bulb makers do better selling cheap bulbs that burn out quickly.

  67. Anonymous - April 1, 2009

    FD writes:
    //There is Mercury in the bulb but even if it broke and all the Mercury instantly vaproized, which is highly unlikely, the concentration of Mercury vapors is still at a safe level.
    Can you or snopes document this “safe level” of mercury?
    The materials safety data sheet sets an upper limit of about 0.025-0.05 mg/m^3.
    Appearance: silver liquid.
    Danger! Corrosive. Harmful if inhaled. May be absorbed through intact skin. Causes eye and skin irritation and possible burns. May cause severe respiratory tract irritation with possible burns. May cause severe digestive tract irritation with possible burns. May cause liver and kidney damage. May cause central nervous system effects. This substance has caused adverse reproductive and fetal effects in animals. Inhalation of fumes may cause metal-fume fever. Possible sensitizer.
    Target Organs: Blood, kidneys, central nervous system, liver, brain.
    You guys can play with mercury all you want, but I’d rather have the choice to avoid potential exposure if I so decided.
    I don’t know how many CFLs have been sold, but this source says 150 million in CA alone in 1996.
    Wal-Mart to cut mercury in CFL bulbs
    With an estimated 150 million CFLs sold in the United States in 2006 and with … For example, California no longer allows anyone to throw CFLs in the trash …