Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Clearing up facts on CFLs

Please read my letter to the editor, published in the New Haven Register. Because there were a few editing snafus in the print version, I am posting the original below.

Here is the published letter.

Dear Editor

I am responding to the New Haven Register's recent Editorial about energy efficiency legislation and light bulb technology. Take what side you will on the legislation, but please get the facts straight. First, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) cost less than incandescents -- both at the counter and on your electric bill. A CFL is rated to last about eight times longer than an incandescent in the same application. For equivalent life, incandescent bulbs will total $.25x8=$2 at the counter. That's twice as expensive as the $1 CFLs I recently purchased. More significantly, efficient CFLs offer much higher savings through an immediate reductions on your electricity bill. At today's electric rates, each 60W bulb replaced with an equivalent CFL can save more than $70 over the life of the bulb.

The claim that CFLs emit less light is simply not true. Light output, measured in "lumens", can be found right on the package. Just select an output to meet your needs. You will find ratings to match equivalent incandescents. If you like the yellow color of incandescents, try a "soft white" CFL and/or use an appropriate lampshade. There have been improvements in this area so give it another go if you have been turned off in the past.

Most importantly, the notion that any incandescent can possibly compete with a CFL in terms of efficiency is laughable. An incandescent bulb is a resistance heater that sheds a little light in the process: for every 10 Watts of electricity in, 9 are shed as heat and 1 converted to visible light. The Phillips bulb referenced in your article has gained a respectable 30 percent in efficiency over a standard bulb. However, a typical CFL is 700 percent more efficient than an incandescent (10W input = 7W light + 3W heat). Is there really any contest here?

If you oppose CFL legislation because you don't like being told what to buy then so be it. But please don't throw money down the toilet because of myths and misinformation.


Eddie said...

Looked for a link to the original story on the NHR Web site but couldn't find it. Maybe you could post a scan if you still have it?

CT Energy said...

The original story was an editorial:


Eddie said...

You're making my head hurt with all this math, and facts, and stuff. It's real simple. CFL's are for hippies. Real men use incandescents. End of story.

Anonymous said...

One problem with cfl bulbs - outdoor use. In cold temperatures, the cfl bulb on my porch takes close to twenty minutes to reach full brightness. Also, cfl bulbs don't work very well in light fixtures that operate on a motion detector switch. Then there is the issue of replacing all of the dimmer switches in my house...
Any answers?

CT Energy said...


There are now several "instant-on" CFLs on the market. I have yet to try these, but it is worth a shot. This person tested a few options and although he complained about 1/2 sec delays, I think these would be a vast improvement over your 20 minutes, even at cold temps.

There are also several options for dimmable CFLs though they cost a bit more.

I have never had any problems with CFLs in my motion detector lights. Is your issue with the delay you mentioned, or some other issue?

In general, there are plenty of options out there. They may not be ideal for every lamp in the house, but I would encourage you to spend $10-20 to try a few. If you really hate them you can always get your money back. If not, you will make it back quickly on your electric bill.

Mark said...

I started using CFLs quite a while ago. In normal residential use I have not seen the promised long life; in most applications they've last only marginally longer than standard bulbs.

And yes, I believe that the quality of light they give off is different. Not necessarily inferior, but different.

As something of a right wing nut job, I do object to outright banning the old style bulbs. There are applications where only an incandescent bulb will do (warming a well pump, for example).

Taken on the merits, I'd say CFLs are merely adequate; however I look forward to viable LED bulbs and fixtures.

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