Lighting your home counts for as much as 10% of your monthly electricity bill. In order to cut costs on lighting, many people are opting for compact fluorescent light bulbs, a household version of neon lights used in warehouses, supermarkets and offices that is supposed to last up to 10 times longer than traditional incandescent light bulbs. But are compacts fluorescent light bulbs really as good as they seem?
Inconveniences Of Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs
Mercury. The main controversy around compact fluorescent light bulbs is that they are made with one toxic, dangerous ingredient: mercury. As a matter of fact, it is the trace amount of mercury in the bulb that allows it to lit.
But let’s put things into perspective: the average compact fluorescent light bulb contains 3mg of mercury. That is 5 times less then a watch’s battery and 100 times less than a thermometer. And it has been proven that the mercury contained in compact fluorescent light bulbs is not diffused when they are lit up: it is hermetically contained within the glass of the bulb.
The mercury contained in compact fluorescent light bulbs can only be dangerous if the bulb is broken. That’s when things get scary… If this happens in your home, here is what should be done: immediately aerate the room where it happened by opening a window, if possible, then close the door and evacuate for a few minutes. After the room has been aerated, put on gloves and hand pick the pieces of broken glass. Put them in an hermetic, solid bag. Do NOT vacuum! If a member of your family vacuumed broken pieces of a compact fluorescent light bulb, immediately throw the vacuum bag.
A bit startling, isn’t it?
Light And Heat. Who never burnt a curtain, a cardigan or a lamp-shade by letting them too close to an incandescent light bulb for too long? That is normal, since incandescent bulbs produce as much as 90% heat and only 10% light.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs produce no heat at all. While this can be practical in the summer, in the winter, it is an inconvenience: the savings you make on lighting can be diminished by spending more on heating.
Disposal Problems. Another main issue – and probably the one that worries environmentalists the most – is the question of the disposal of compact fluorescent light bulbs. What can be done with them bulbs once they are out of order? They are considered a household hazardous waste: you can’t just throw them in the trash. The mercury they contain, along with other chemicals, can cause important damages to the environment.
Adding to the complexity of the situation is the fact that those light bulbs are fairly new on the market, and one of their most notable feature is their exceptionally long useful lives. Therefore, no one really had to deal with disposing of massive quantities of them so far. The real problem will occur a few years from now, when the millions compact fluorescent light bulbs sold worldwide will reach the end of their useful lives. What will be done with them then? To that day, no one found a valid solution.
What Choice To Make?
Despite all their downsides, compact fluorescent light bulbs are still a good economic choice for your home. But when you buy them, take a few precautions.
First of all, choose the light bulb that has the lowest mercury level. You can do that by reading the label on the box carefully.
It is not recommended to stand too close to a compact fluorescent light bulb for long periods of time. Therefore, use them for ceiling lamps, outdoor lamps, etc. Prefer traditional incandescent light bulbs for your reading or table lamps.
Finally, when your fluorescent light bulb reaches the end of its useful life, do not simply throw it in the trash. Call your local hardware store, your city council or your local eco-center for information on the measures you can take to dispose of it safely.
Mireille is a travel, music and theater enthusiast. She wrote for the stage and television, and is now working as a freelance blogger.