Photo: Light up your life

A ban on inefficient light bulbs by 2012 means you have time to brush-up on tips to extend the life of your CFLs (Credit: Ecstatic Mark via Flickr)

If you're reading this, chances are you've switched many of your incandescent light bulbs for more efficient and long-lived CFLs. I did. Because saving energy, saving money and saving the planet all at the same time is exciting! How could I resist?

I was really bummed out when one of my CFLs kicked the bucket after just a few months. What? I thought it would be years before I had to replace one. But I swallowed the fact that green ideas are just like other kinds of innovation. They aren't always perfect the first go 'round. There's often an element of trial and error — even failure.

Now what to do with this dud?

Seems to me that CFLs came on the market long before a program existed to dispose of them. Today disposal is easy, thanks to municipal programs, retailers, and manufacturers — see Product Care or Earth 911 for drop-off locations. And now there are safe disposal tips because of the mercury issue. (Some new bulbs are mercury-free.)

But it was long after my first CFL purchase that I read about tips for proper use!

My dud of a CFL may not have been a dud at all. I was so keen to save the planet, I unknowingly plugged it into a death trap. That's right. I placed that CFL into a recessed light, which can trap heat and cause premature burn-out. Adding insult to injury, I stuck that poor CFL in a fixture I constantly flicked off and on — my bathroom light — which also shortened its life. Who knew?

My personal CFL drama comes to light in the face of a Canadian efficiency standard set to take effect in 2012. It will end the sale of inefficient bulbs. The good news is that CFL technology continues to improve (remember the pale blue light?), disposal systems are widespread, instructions for safe clean-up exist AND people are becoming more aware of proper usage.

Check out myths about CFLs outlined by Guy Dauncey, president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association and Environmental Working Group's Guide to Light Bulbs.

How have you brought CFL light into your life?

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

January 31, 2011

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Mar 15, 2012
4:23 PM

I have switched all lighting to CFLs for over 5 yrs now and I have yet to burn one out. I live in a basement and need a small light wherever I am sitting. I do this because when I lived in the bush and had no electricity..I had my old kerosene lamp and only used it where I was working or reading. got used to not wasting energy when possible. At my camp now I use small car light bulbs from taillights again only where needed.These hitched up to a car battery run by old solar panels. I wish they would make CFLs in DC mode. I love to read your articles…lots of great ideas.

Feb 28, 2011
10:37 PM

I bought a package of two name-brand compact fluorescents some time ago for use in a fixture over my kitchen counter. When the old 60 watt incandescent bulb finally quit yesterday, I replaced it with one of the CFLs. It lasted no more than one minute.

I’m now using the other CFL which makes a loud buzz. It’s also too bright. I plan to switch back to a 60 watt incandescent if I can find one.

It takes six times more energy to manufacture a compact fluorescent bulb, and vastly more unrecoverable resources, yet it’s the incandescent bulbs which are called “wasteful” simply because they produce heat as well as light.

Studies have shown that changing to compact fluorescents will increase our greenhouse gas emissions, since our furnaces will need to make up for the loss of heat normally provided by our lighting. Then we have the disposal issues which don’t exist with the incandescent bulbs.

There are many problems with the compact fluorescents, and many applications where incandescent bulbs are still the best or only choice. I think banning these bulbs is a very big mistake.

Feb 18, 2011
1:56 PM

Hi everyone, thank you very much for all of your comments! It’s great to have this discussion and to hear your feedback. We do have another blog on energy efficient lighting written by Tyler Bryant, a member of our Climate Change and Clean Energy Team, you can view the blog here, And here, , is additional information on energy efficient lighting on our website.

Feb 10, 2011
12:46 PM

How much CO2 will be needed to recycle these puppies?

Maybe we could put the mercury into vaccines.

Feb 03, 2011
7:13 PM

I have replaced several of my lights with CFLs, but while I have learned to tolerate them, I do not like them. The mercury is a huge issue, and the reality is that most of them will end up in landfills, and ultimately our water supply. Most people will not remember the safe way to clean up the mess when one breaks. And the quality of light is not the same. I have migraines, I have dry-eye, and I have the usual loss of acuity associated with getting older, and find CFLs aggravate all of that. They also change colours (paint, upholstery) and I have fixtures that CFLs just don’t fit. I have found that using a combination of incandescent and CFL, often in the same light fixture, gives me something better. LEDs are expensive, and the one-directional glare issue has not been resolved.

I am waiting anxiously for the other “new kid” on the lighting block, the ESL lightbulb from VU1 in Seattle. ESL (Electron Stimulated Luminescence) is the best of both: the crisp, clean light of incandescent, and the energy efficiency of CFL. The first bulbs (reflector style only at this stage) are just being released for sale now. The standard light bulb is slated for 2011-2012. It will be less expensive than LED, and I can’t wait.

I also think that for a northern climate, worrying about the heat given off is ridiculous. And I speak as someone who, by way of Energy Star windows and appliances, programmable thermostats, improved insulation, wearing an extra sweater, etc has reduced her January hydro bill (electric heat) by 42% compared to Jan 2008, before we began the upgrades to the house.

I don’t think anyone has truly thought through the CFL, and it will come back to bite.

Feb 03, 2011
4:30 PM

I cannot believe that any amount of mercury is safe. Especially not for young children. It accumulates. By the time your in your 50’s how much mercury will you have been exposed to from these bulbs and other sources? If everyone is using these there are more incidents of breakage and where does the mercury go? and ALL of these bulbs should have the extra covering on them so you can put them in without being so worried about breaking them.

My spouse was putting one outside, a yellow one. It busted in his face. He felt the escaping gas. And then, of course we noticed the fine print — which should not be fine — that it had to be in a covered receptacle. That’s not why it busted, but it meant we shouldn’t have been trying to put it in. Also you have to hold it by the base which is not easy in all circumstances, another reason for the extra covering.

Feb 02, 2011
2:21 AM

Well, I’ve been totally confused about light bulbs. When the new energy efficient bulbs became available, I switched all the bulbs in my house, at quite a big expense. I never saw any savings at all in my light bill and no one is telling me they are seeing savings because they changed. In fact, my usage went up a bit. I can’t attribute that to the new bulbs, as their may have been other factors that caused that and I am not an energy expert. I did work in an airport where they tested the bulbs for a year before they became generally available on the market, and that pilot did show significant savings. But, in an airport, they are never shut off. So, when I didn’t see any savings, I contacted a professor at a local university that I had heard had looked at the bulbs and their efficiency. He said that unless you leave the bulbs turned on for a minumum of 3 hours, they actually used more power in the warming up stage. Well, in my house, there is very seldom a light bulb on for 3 hours. So, I removed all those expensive lights, donated them to a local animal shelter, and put new low wattage (15 and 25 watt) light bulbs in. And no, we’re not sitting around in the dark and can see things just fine. My question: Are the new lights that are out now better and should I change my bulbs again?

Feb 01, 2011
6:32 PM

Compact fluorescent light bulbs are all well and good in relation to energy use but the sad fact is that they contain mercury which is highly toxic. Thus if we broke a light bulb in our home we have a problem. It is sad that, as with many things, we look at one aspect without looking at the holistic picture whilst evaluating all avenues before sweeping regulations come into force. Coupled with the mercury issue CFL bulbs also have been shown to create skin rashes, irritation and create MS like symptoms in some people. I for one do not use them.

Feb 01, 2011
1:25 PM

These lights definitely burn out if you leave them in a recessed light — especially in the bathroom. I wonder if the moisture also plays a role? We kept our reciepts though, and bring back any that burn out. Some sure smoke and make lots of burn marks on the bulb that look scary. Are these bulbs fire hazards when put into the wrong type of fixture???

Feb 01, 2011
11:22 AM

I don’t think the whole picture of CFL’s has been addressed. It is my understanding that they are mostly made in China where the people making them are getting sick or dying from mercury. The cost of transporting them to North America must be taken into the equation as well, not just the energy saved in North America. How and where are they disposed of once the consumer takes them to a drop off depot? To date I have not bought any and will be stocking up on incandescents waiting for LEDs to become affordable.

Feb 01, 2011
8:03 AM

I have been eyeballing the new LED lights at Home Depot. They are quite pricy at $45 each for the good ones. I will wait until they come down in price.

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