A recent post on the U.S. phase-out of 40- and 60-watt low-efficiency incandescent light bulbs, which became official January 1, elicited a lot of response from readers.  Many commenters were critical of the ban, dictated by legislation passed in 2007 by Congress and signed into law by then-President George W. Bush.  (See related post: “U.S. Phase-Out of Incandescent Light Bulbs Continues in 2014 with 40-, 60-Watt Bulbs.”)

While a recent poll showed that 65 percent of Americans plan to switch to electricity-saving lighting such as compact fluorescent (CFL), light-emitting diode (LED) or halogen bulbs rather than hoarding the old incandescent bulbs, many readers were deeply worried—and sometimes outright angry—about what they saw as safety risks, high cost and poor performance of the replacement technologies. (Take the quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Energy-Efficient Lighting.”)

We examine five of those concerns here.

1. The energy-saving replacements are too expensive.   One reader complained that he had shopped for replacements for his 60-watt incandescent bulbs at Wal-Mart and was shocked by the price. “Forget it,” he wrote. “I have stockpiled five dozen old bulbs.”  It is true that CFLS are often several times as expensive as old-style incandescent bulbs, which retailed for less than $1, and LEDs—though their prices have been dropping—remain more than 10 times as expensive. But sticking with old bulbs actually would cost consumers far more money over the long run. Noah Horowitz, an environmental engineer and director of the center for energy efficiency at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an email that because CFLs use far less electricity and last longer, someone who switches will save $30 to $50 on their electric bill over the bulb’s six- to ten-year lifespan. (See related: “Light Bulb Savings Calculator.”)

2. CFL bulbs are dangerous because of their mercury content. A number of readers were alarmed that CFL bulbs contained hazardous mercury, and were worried about being exposed to it if the bulbs broke. “I have six kids,” one commenter noted. “I can’t take the chance of having these hazards in my house!” But research indicates that while CFL bulbs do require more careful handling and disposal, the hazard may be blown out of proportion.  According to a 2008 article on the issue in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives, CFLs typically contain from three to five milligrams of mercury—about one hundredth of the mercury content of the older thermostats that may still be found in some homes.  Researchers have found that only a tiny fraction of that is actually released when bulbs break. For example, in a study published in 2011 in the journal Environmental Engineering Science, Jackson State University researchers Yadong Li and Li Jin reported that even if left unattended for 24 hours, a broken bulb will release from 0.04 to 0.7 milligrams of mercury.  The researchers found that it would take weeks for the amount of mercury vapor in the room to reach levels that would be hazardous to a child. That can be avoided by quickly following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s simple procedure for safe cleanup.  Additionally, Horowitz suggests: “When your CFL stops working put it in a Ziploc bag and take it to Home Depot or Lowe’s, who will recycle it for you for free.”  Another way to look at the mercury content of CFLs: reducing electricity consumption by using more efficient lights might help reduce the amount of mercury emitted into the atmosphere by coal-burning power plants, the biggest single source of mercury pollution in the air. (See related story: “Pro-Environment Light Bulb Labeling Turns Off Conservative Buyers, Study Finds.”)

3. CFL bulbs are dangerous because of ultraviolet radiation leakage. Two readers pointed with alarm to a 2012 study by Stony Brook University researchers, which found that most CFL bulbs have defects that allow UV radiation to leak at levels that could damage skin cells if a person is directly exposed at close range. The study’s lead researcher, materials science and engineering professor Miriam Rafailovich, told National Geographic News that she believes the defects occur during manufacturing or shipping. “This is something that could be remedied,” she said. In the meantime, she recommends that users shield the bulbs inside fixtures, stay one to two feet away from them, and avoid staring directly into the CFL bulb. That advice is basically consistent with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s safety recommendations. A 2009 Canadian government study found that at distances of more than 11 inches, UV radiation from a CFL isn’t any more than that of a conventional incandescent bulb. From the National Institutes of Health, here’s an analysis of the Stony Brook study and other research on CFLs and UV radiation.

4. The new bulbs either can’t be used with dimmer switches, or don’t work efficiently with them.That is true of the regular CFL bulbs sold in stores, but most of the LED bulbs on the market today are, in fact, dimmable, according to Horowitz. He advised consumers to look for LEDs whose packaging indicates that they work with dimmer switches.

 5. CFLs won’t light up, or are too dim, in cold temperatures. Horowitz says this is a legitimate criticism of CFL, which have a hard time starting up in extremely cold climates. “If your bulb is located outdoors, say in your porch light, and you want an energy saving bulb, go with LEDs,” he advised.


  1. stan
    August 1, 4:35 pm

    I still think the energy loght bulbs are likely to be an industry scam like it was with the built in ibsolescence of the incandescent bulbs. the main thing that has never been adresssed is that the inefficiency of the incandscent lights consists of hight ratio of heat to light emissions. Didn’t anyone ever notice that we use electric lighting a lot more in winter when nights are longer? of course this is also when we use electricity to heat up our houses and flats, so whats the big deal about extra heat from light bulbs? i could turn off my heater and it would come to be the same! perhaps we could use different bulbs at different times and in different places. Another tjing is that I am yet to see an energy saving light bulb that lasted more than a year! the cost of production and disposal may well outweigh the benefits in energy saving. they break much quicker than the producents promiss! Another hole in the argument is that energy efficiency of our lights is something unquestionably desirable. I don’t like te light from LEDs and only use halogen lights but would still prefer the warm light of the old incandescent light bulbs. I’m happy to pay more for that and save somewhere else (say, not watch tv). I wish i stock piled the old light bulbs!

  2. Howard
    July 28, 1:05 am

    We won’t buy or us them
    We do have some LED’s

  3. Ivan
    July 15, 5:27 pm

    I did not, either, notice them being anyhow ‘longer lasting’ than the good-ol’ incadescent bulbs, when I tried to use them. At the same time, CFLs cost much more. Luckily, in my country, normal bulbs are perfectly legal and easily obtainable. In case idiots in the government will try to prohibit incadescent bulbs, I’ll simply stash a few crates of these in my garage and that’s it. It’s not better for the environment to throw out a CFL instead of a tungsten bulb, the latter is much less harmful for the landfill, like, definitely. I feel sorry for those who trust CFLs made in god knows what developing country.

  4. tester
    June 16, 2:12 am

    Yes, all good but they somehow forgot to mention the most important thing about CFL bulbs:
    “Using it on the places where you constantly switch them on and off significantly reduces its life span (80%)”
    Which means it will last like a normal light bulb and you save nothing.
    So basically.. you should use them somewhere where you turn it on and leave it for hours at the time.
    Now the LED bulbs should be the way to go, but from my experience, the quality of the light is not really perfect yet..

  5. Bobby
    June 15, 7:50 pm

    Shop around, especially on Ebay, there are great deals on LED. CFL bulbs are troublesome, have high failure rates, and the UV emissions are a concern. LED’s suffer from none of these problems and last a very long time while consuming negligible energy.

  6. justme
    June 7, 10:53 am

    I love my bulbs, bought a contractor box of them when I worked at home depot 12 years ago. I have moved many times since then, and I take my bulbs with me. They last forever, way tougher than the old bulbs.

  7. Annie P.
    Ft. White, FL
    June 6, 10:34 am

    I have just experienced a problem with CFL bulbs. When one bulb started to light slower than the others in the same lamp (ceiling fan), it shorted to ground and caused ALL the lamps and outlets to brown out and flicker. I spent hours tracing wires and just happened to notice this bulb issue. I noticed it made a “buzz” as I was removing it, along with being extremely hot!
    I feel this article did not address all the concerns, especially with FIRE being the foremost fear of CFLs. I spent a few hours reading all the CFL boxes in stores to discover that NONE are made in the US, but in Asian countries. Their quality and attention to detail is far below our standards (with the exception of Japan). This is bad business for the American companies that put their name on these dangerous bulbs.
    Maybe Congress should have a few boxes installed in their offices and homes and only after a fire will they see the light. I will pay extra to keep my old light bulbs and piece of mind, thank you very much.

  8. Leslie
    May 19, 5:17 am

    Yes, I agree that LED lights are quite expensive but try to be wise and practical, releasing some dollars is worth it than suffering from too much UV rays plus it’s an energy saver. It will totally save you from expensive electric bills and changing of bulbs once in a while.

  9. Wes
    May 11, 2:47 pm

    “Natural Resources Defense Council says CFLs use far less electricity and last longer, someone who switches will save $30 to $50 on their electric bill over the bulb’s six- to ten-year lifespan.”

    I can honestly say NONE of my CFL bulbs last more than 2 years. 1 year on average. So I am losing money. purchasing these bulb and subjected to Mercury contents. I mean really 10 year life span? I think Natural Resources Defense Council owns stock in CFL

  10. BrotherWill
    Plymouth, MI
    May 11, 7:22 am

    lol. You didn’t address anything. You only confirmed the concerns were accurate and made up some leftist doublespeak babble to justify it. lol NO!