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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.

Take the first step.

Start small. Be conscious of the impact your actions have on the environment and figure out what you can do to lessen the blow. Calculate, conserve, and offset.

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