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The CFL Controversy: Pros And Cons

The CFL Controversy: Pros And Cons


Millions of us have switched over to using CFL’s (compact fluorescent bulbs) in our lamps, overhead fixtures, sconces and exterior lights. And, for the most part, we have noticed a slight lower rate in our electric bills because the CFL 60 watt bulb we put in our desk lamp only draws 14 watts of electricity. The reduction in electrical power usage is not dramatic for the typical American household because the real culprits which demand much more electrical power are our old and outdated refrigerator, water heater and dryer. These appliances, as well as well as heat pumps and air conditioners, are responsible for our very high utility bills.

The savings we don’t see is that, because millions of us have switched from regular incandescent bulbs to CFL’s, we have made a significant reduction of our impact on the grid and have, as a nation, lessened the demands on our electrical utilities.

Introduced to the market in 1980, CFL’s have improved considerably–costing less, lighting instantly, not flickering and giving off a good, white light. But to date only abut 5% of light bulbs purchase are CFL’s, the rest being incandescents. CFL’s remain a small, niche market product and as a “green” resource, their credibility is still relatively low.

CFL’s have freed us from our former high demands on electrical power, but much still can be done to alleviate our high energy usage. Converting to alternative energy resources like solar and wind power will significantly lower our electrical usage. The more energy-efficient our appliances become and the more we replace our old appliances and HVAC systems with energy star rated products, the less dependent we are on the grid.

Everyone agrees this would be for the better, less usage, less dependence, less demand on utilities and lower energy cost for the consumer.


The typical American household has between fifty electrical sockets and an average of twenty to forty illumination sources including lamps, sconces, ceiling fixtures, exterior and security lights and night lights or auxiliary lights. If 110 million American households replaced one incandescent bulb with a CFL (compact fluorescent light) the energy saved would be enough to power a city of 1.5 million people or all the homes in Delaware and Rhode Island. In terms of oil not burned, or greenhouse gases not exhausted into the atmosphere, one bulb is equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads.

Power plants are the single greatest source of greenhouse gases in the United States and half our electricity comes from coal-fired plants. The replacement of one incandescent with one CFL in 110 million households is enough electricity saved to turn off two entire power plants–or skip building the next two.

Those of us who are visually challenged and need a better reading light than the incandescent they are using, can find great visual support in replacing the incandescent with a cool spectrum CFL which emits a white light that duplicates sunlight and makes a book page very white and the text very black, creating high contrast in reading material that will aid the visually impaired in reading,

Many of us that are affected by migraines claim that the light from a CFL bulb can trigger a migraine reaction. Often, fluorescents in general, including the commercial and residential tubes cause this migraine reaction as well. There is some research being done on the sine waves that electromagnet frequencies produce. Clean electricity produces smooth sine waves. Dirty electricity produces spikes in sine waves and research proves that these spikes make diabetics blood sugar climb. Devices that measure amounts of dirty electricity show that other things in the home that create dirty electricity are computers, printers, monitors. We may be living in a blizzard of dirty electricity these days and, it is reported, that CFL’s contribute to that storm of voltage energy.

CFL bulbs give off Ultraviolet rays, like the sun does. For that matter, so do halogen bulbs, which were regulated to be covered with a glass seal to prevent exposure to UV rays. Not provided with a glass diffuser which filters the UV emission, CFL’s can cause issues to those of us with photo-sensitivity to UV rays, especially for people prone to skin diseases like Lupus, CFL’s could make their skin condition worse. CFL’s with a glass envelope (a cover) over the swirly bulb tested negative for any UV radiation, but this information is not on any CFL package, to date.

A new area of research is being developed relating to electro-magnetic sensitivity, which is the monitoring and documenting of people who get skin rashes, migraines, depressions and fatigue due to the high frequency dirty electricity from a variety of devices in our residential and commercial environment, including CFL’s.

Not sure if the CFL’s you have in your home are causing your headaches, migraines, fatigue, arthritic pain? It has been advised by medical experts to replace the bulbs and see if there is a difference. But, if the household has the typical electronic cluster of computer, monitor, flat screen TV, etc. it may be difficult to the malady to one single source like a CFL bulb.


The news that incandescent bulbs will disappear from store shelves and we will all be required to use CFL’s does not go over well with many of us. Many do not like being told they can no longer use incandescent bulbs. The complaint often is, “It seems that the government is seeking to control everything, including what we use to light our houses!” And because the dramatic savings in using CFL’s may not be seen on the electrical bill, it seems to the American householder that the withdrawal of incandescents from the market is just another ploy of the powers that be to manipulate consumers.

There is also a dislike for CFL’s because of certain disadvantages to using them. One is the mercury content and indeed, all fluorescent bulbs and tubes do contain a small amount of mercury (5 mg or less) which is a neuro-toxin. CFL’s contain less than 5 mg of mercury. If broken they pose a hazardous material risk of inhaling the toxic mercury powder that lines their swirled tubes. There are no HAZMAT (hazardous material) guidelines for incandescents, but there are for CFL’s. They must be disposed of like batteries, motor oil, etc. Broken CFL’s can be disposed of responsibly at your local Home Depot store. But how many of us know that?

If disposal is not done responsibly, landfills could become polluted with mercury, a toxic substance which can leach into water ways and water sources. This build up has been evidenced in our oceans as large fish are monitored and increasing high levels of mercury are recorded in their bodies.

Lastly, CFL’s cannot be used with a dimmer and even though there are dimmable CFL’s on the market, they are more expensive than other CFL’s and there is a criticism that some of them dim “in steps” and do not fade or brighten like incandescents.


So, a person replacing a standard 60 watt incandescent with a 60 watt CFL might find that the CFL is dimmer and yellower and therefore inferior. If they replaced with a different spectrum CFL, they would discover that the CFL in the same wattage is actually brighter and whiter than the incandescent. CFL’s do not behave like incandescents in the sense that there can be (depending on the brand) an offering of three different spectrums (color temperature and illumination) which significantly affects the brightness and color of three different same wattage bulbs.

There is a complaint about how CFL’s look and not everyone likes the swirly look of the bulb. CFL’s that look like standard incandescents are available. A glass envelope in the same standard bulb shape simply cover the swirly CFL.


Lastly, to date, CFL’s cannot resemble or replace small based, clear, flame-tipped or blunt tipped chandelier bulbs. Although CFL’s do come in small (candelabra) based bulbs in that elongated shape, they are simply a small swirly bulb in a glass envelope that visually duplicates the standard chandelier bulb. And, they are not clear, so that jewel-like sparkling filament so characteristic of the standard chandelier bulb simply cannot be duplicated by a CFL. For many who want to replace this type of bulb in their chandelier, this is a draw back. If there is any solution to this problem, it will be solved by LED’s, which can easily duplicate both base, flame-shape and clear glass envelope.

For all of the controversy that CFL’s have created, the millions that have been sold and are in use today and are helping us reduce our dependency on our utilities (they generally last for seven years.)


The true light at the end of the grid-dependency tunnel, however, will most like by LED’s. They’re expensive now, just like CFL’s were a decade ago and they still need to be more consumer-friendly. What is their advantage over CFL’s? They can be clear (where CFL’s cannot come in a clear bulb,) they can be easily dimmed (using a standard dimmer,) they have even less temperature than CFL’s, they use even less wattage (a 60 watt comparable LED uses-watts as compared to 14 watts a CFL uses,) and the bulb life of a LED is 35,000 hours compared to a CFL’s 10,000.

As new products develop to ease our increasing dependency on our utilities sources, there will no doubt, still be those that lament the eminent extinction of the technologically ancient, high temperature, short-lived and highly inefficient incandescent.