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. Greg M
    November 4, 9:39 pm

    I was excited about the savings I was going to get with these LED bulbs. Not to mention the fact that if a CFL goes bad, I would be required to take it to a special recycling place.
    However, after spending a little over $200.00 on these LED bulbs, I’m finding that they are NOT long lasting as advertised. Sure there is great savings to be made through less power consumption. But if I end up replacing more than 5 bulbs in less than a year, that completely negates any savings I received. Of course believing that these were going to last a long long time, I never bothered saving any receipts. It isn’t a matter of the manufacturer either. At least 3 separate brand names have failed.
    I’m really bummed about this.

  2. Sandra I.
    November 2, 2:19 pm

    Forget the campaign to counter-act negativity about CFLs. They give me headaches. I will not ever use them in my home. The federal government has no business limiting our personal choices. It is an apparent conflict of interest for them to promote CFL use, thereby supporting particular manufacturers. I don’t care about their research studies – I do my own on how my body reacts, and mine is true for me. Give up the ghost of CFLs – they are NOT the lighting of the future. (Of course, they do have to sell their current inventory, so your utility company may offer you free bulbs…and who is paying for that, I wonder?)

  3. Glenn C. Rhoads
    October 31, 1:09 am

    Among other things, banning incandescent bulbs is yet another example of excessive government control. The government now tells us what light bulbs we can buy, what health insurance we must purchase, what size sodas we can buy, etc. The reason people came to this country in the first place was for freedom from excessive government control (e.g. England telling its people what religion they could practice)…. How dare they try to tell me what I spend *my* money that I *earned* on? Who the h@ll do these people think they are?

    Also, much of the environmental claims behind this ban is misleading or just plain wrong. One of the misleading claims occurs in this very article. The article points out that the amount of mercury in CFLs is small. It is but what they fail to mention is that the human body cannot get rid of mercury so that the effects of mercury exposure is *cumulative*. A single small exposure over a lifetime won’t hurt you. But one small exposure plus another plus another, etc. will eventually add up. Mercury damages the brain and central nervous system and people should be concerned about potentially adding a number of small exposures in addition to whatever other mercury exposures they get during their lifetimes.

    But even before that, the entire reason for banning incandescent bulbs is the theory that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will lead to increased global temperatures; a theory that is simply not supported by the evidence.

    A scientific theory makes predictions; predictions that can be tested. If all of a theory’s predictions are confirmed by tests, then we have reason to believe the theory is correct. If even one of a theory’s predictions is contradicted by a test, then the theory is wrong and must be modified or discarded. For example Einstein’s theories of Special and General Relativity make numerous predictions all of which have been experimentally confirmed. The theory predicted that light would be bent by a strong gravitational field such as occurs nears the sun. So during a total solar eclipse, scientists measured the apparent positions of the stars whose light passed near the sun on their way to Earth. They found that the light had indeed bent the exact amount predicted by the theory. Every time you use a GPS device to determine your location you are confirming Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. If you used Newtonian mechanics to compute your position, the location it would say were at would be different from where you actually are. Einstein’s Theories have passed every test everyone has ever been able to come up with.

    So how do the predictions of the Global Warming theory stack up against the evidence? The theory predicts that the Earth’s global temperatures would increase significantly over the years from 2000 — 2015. The Earth’s global temperatures did not increase over these years, therefore the theory is wrong. This is not an opinion but a fact. The theory is most definitely wrong.

    There are other ways to refute the theory. Not that any are needed because the above is conclusive. The theory doesn’t make sense on its own terms. Carbon dioxide can absorb heat only from a very narrow range of the spectrum. There is enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere so that nearly 100% of the heat that it can possibly absorb is already being absorbed. Consequently, there can be no significant heating due to carbon dioxide no matter how much the amount of carbon dioxide increases.

    Also, the weather is a “chaotic system.” As a consequence long range weather prediction is absolutely impossible. All predictions of increasing or decreasing temperatures months, years, and decades in the future are simply B.S. Just throw a dart at a dartboard and you have as much chance of being correct as anybody else. Suppose you had multiple identical copies of the universe and on each them you made a small change in the state of the Earth’s weather. Say you change a temperature or pressure at some small point and make the magnitude of the change even less than our ability to measure. Now run all the universes and come back in say three years and see what the weather on Earth looks like. You will find that they are all different; it’s as if you started them all off in completely random states. Now come back in say 10 million years and see what the weather on the various Earths look like. Some may have weather patterns similar to what we have today, others will be in ice ages, others will be hot, etc. Meteorologists call this phenomenon “the butterfly effect.” The term comes from the notion that whether there is a tornado in Texas today depends on whether a particular butterfly in Brazil did or did not flap its wings 6 months ago.

    These global warming alarmists say yes but we can change the weather. Sure you can but they miss the point. You have no way of knowing what the weather would have been had you not changed it and you have no way of knowing what the weather will be now that you have changed it. So yes you can change the weather but you have no way of knowing whether the change will be good or bad. So it is completely illogical to worry about it.

  4. Steve M
    Gainesville, FL
    October 24, 4:14 pm

    I hate the whole political agenda. Conservatives selling piles of elephant crap and Liberals selling piles of donkey crap.

    Before anyone laughs, you should know my university education includes studies in meteorology.

    I am a radically adhere to recycle principals for both economic and environmental reasons. However, I don’t believe in MAN MADE GLOBAL climate change. Big cities create heat islands which affect local climate patterns, but the idea that carbon is changing the global climate is absurd and anyone who believes it is either reading the wrong “science” or literally has something to sell. ANYBODY who got a B or better in their meteorological classes can tell you why!

    That being said, I am still a very strong advocate of energy savings – just for different environmental and geopolitical reasons.

    I was an early adopter of CFLs, but I soon abandoned that plan. Most of my lights are used briefly and my CFLs were not lasting very long. It became VERY expensive to keep replacing them. If you rely on motion and light sensors, the situation is much worse. Some motion activated CFLs were lasting as little as two months.

    Adding to that frustration was the fact that most CFLs produce plenty of light, but the color quality is very poor. There is a reason standard florescent bulbs were traditionally used for workshops and kitchens. CFLs seem to be worse than the tubes.

    Then along came LEDs.

    The LED is the Six Million Dollar Man of the illumination world: We can make it Better, Faster, Stronger…. But at over $50 each they were not practical.

    A bulb count in my three bedroom home revealed over 60 light fixtures – some that are required but are rarely used such as the laundry room, (10-15 min day) garage light (less than 2) closets (0-5) and back porch lights (under 15). In fact my motion activated flood lights [not included in the count] run more often. At $50 these bulbs would NEVER pay for themselves.

    Because these are low use lights, they also have a minimal impact on the environment either in real terms or in the imaginary climate terms. There is simply very little to gain by spending that kind of money on such a small use of energy.

    What is the cost of changing all of the bulbs in my three bedroom home? 60 bulbs X $50 = $3,000! My entire electric bill and gas bill combined is currently under $1,600 per year. Lights probably account for about 15% of my bill, so about $240 per year. Even at 95% savings it would take at least 14 years just to break even, not to mention the lost interest on my cash.

    But now prices have dropped a lot and the equation is changing fast. More on that is a moment, first let us look at why LEDs are the best light source around without factoring in cost.

    1. They are safer than any other bulb. Nearly impossible to break, they will not leave tiny razor sharp shards of glass when the cat knocks over the reading lamp, they do not leave a live 120 volt electrical hazard when broken, they will not burn you when they are being used as a work light or reading light and they do not cause fires. Compared to CFLs they have no chemical hazards either. Halogens are even hotter than incandescent and can easily cause second degree burns.

    2. They start instantly, While CFLs usually take five to ten minutes to reach optimal brightness and color quality, LEDs have no delay, In fact, they are actually faster tan incandescent bulbs.

    3. They never leave you in the dark. When an incandescent bulb goes, it is just dark. LEDs life expectancies are not based on when the bulb will stop working but when the light output has dropped to 70%. As CFLs abd LEDs age, they become less efficient. So the long term energy savings is not quite as big as the EPA would lead you to believe, especially on dimmer controlled lights, because you will turn the controller up to compensate for loss of brightness.

    (Also, we can throw a small bone to the incandescent bulb when used indoors in the winter, because most of the energy loss is salvaged by heating your home. Outdoors the heat is lost. In the summer incandescent is more inefficient because you are trying to cool your home. The heat from incandescent bulbs is quite significant, just look at the area near your bathroom lights in your steamy bath where the wall and mirror by your lights is completely dry. Still don’t buy it? Turn the light in your closet on and close the door. Measure the heat before the light was on and then again after just half an hour. You will be shocked. So then the warmer your climate, the less efficient the incandescent is. In northern Alaska or Canada, they may be very little to gain by using alternate technologies with indoor fixtures.)

    4. LEDs are almost always easily dimmable. Dimmable CFLs are expensive and most don’t offer the range of dimmability of an incandescent or LED.

    5. LEDs have excellent color rendering and like standards bulbs you get get the in cooler and warmer color temperatures. Some of the new LEDs even have the option to change the color at will, but they are rather expensive.

    6. Unlike CFLs and ESPECIALLY halogen, LEDs do not produce unwanted ultra violet light. This is especially troublesome in halogen reading lamps. Check your halogen reading lamp and you will see that the glass is marked that it is filtered to reduce ultra violet exposure and the directions will tell you not to operate the light if the glass is not in place.

    7. LEDs are nearly immune to shock and vibration. LEDs are awesome for work lights and ceiling fans where shock and vibration substantially reduce the life expectancy of conventional and CFL bulbs. (Halogens while less affected are still affected to some degree by shock and vibration).

    8. LEDs are the only light source not significantly effected by turning on and off. Of course CFLs suffer the worst from this effect, but most people don’t realize this has a substantial effect on incandescent bulbs as well. One rated for 1000 hours could easily last 3000 hours if it is never switched off. We don’t do that because the cost of running the bulb will exceed the cost of replacing it. The tungsten filament suffers from thermal shock that fatigues the filament.

    9. Slight damage will not render the LED useless. The slightest damage will render a CFL dark and allow dangerous gasses to escape. An incandescent bulb when slightly cracked will allow oxygen into the bulb which will oxidize the filament almost instantly rendering it dark. LEDs can suffer mild damage and still operate safely though in some cases the light output might be reduced slightly. Halogens come in second place here as they will still operate if the inner glass envelope is not cracked.

    10. LEDs have much less effect on those sensitive to pulsating light and can be tuned to eliminate it. LEDs can operate on DC and if the AC power is converted to DC and “filtered” to eliminate the pulsating DC. Most LED bulbs have no flicker that can be noticed by healthy people.

    Unfortunately, there are no standards that establish the flickering on either standard florescent, CFL or LED lights. Some standard florescent lights such as the energy efficient T-8 have such a high frequency that the flicker cannot be perceived by the human eye. LEDs can run on AC or DC but always convert AC to DC because they can pass current in only one direction. Depending on the brand and model, the light may flicker a little or may not flicker at all. Dimmer controllers also will affect a flicker on LEDs depending on the technology they use, current limiting or pulse width modulation. So for those few who have neurological disorders that are affected by flicker, you should look into your choices carefully.

    So now what of that changed equation? LEDs no longer cost $50. But I would submit that while the $5 LED is a better light than the CFL, for good quality light, one will still spend $10 to $15. The $5 lights I have tried seem to fail quickly due to cheap internal electronics and have lower light output per watt and render color poorly. At least now it makes economic sense to replace most of the standard bulbs with LEDs. However, there is no economic or environmental reason to replace rarely used lights such as closet lights, especially in cold climates, where the waste heat is actually a benefit.

  5. BethJ
    October 12, 1:45 pm

    LED lighting is a migraine trigger for me. I think it’s the excessive brightness, and the blue spectrum lighting is damaging to delicate retinas, over time. Fluorescent lighting also give me eye strain, much faster than incandescent lighting does. Especially for reading or for close work. Not happy with mandated changes that do not allow leeway for health concerns.

  6. Jose Ribeiro
    September 21, 4:09 am

    The dangerous part of a CFL is the electronic circuit. Some of them may cause short-cicuit and blow up on your face. If you use it as a table lamp them UV radiation is also a concern. Light emission diodes are expensive but safe.

    September 14, 11:42 am

    I think phase out of CFLs is a good idea, because the harmful radiations emitted by such bulbs r hazardous without a doubt. Using an LED instead will do some good and is safe although it costs a little more than the CFLs

  8. Zeljko Lesar
    Zagreb, Croatia
    September 11, 2:23 pm

    Since Croatia joined the EU in our country is banned from selling conventional bulbs. I do not understand why someone wants to force you to use much more expensive CFL bulbs, which, furthermore, unhealthy, and exude toxic if broken. Besides the production and disposal are very far from saving bulbs. I want the old and ordinary, cheap lamps. Let the big cities return to a well-organized public transport, let China begins to think about ecology and so on. Let the example. The Belgians put out the lights on the entire length of its highways. Or the Japanese let some off the lights in their cities. Who are interested in the crazy commercials in 3 hours in the evening.

  9. Cathryn Lang
    Slidell, LA
    September 4, 5:58 pm

    If we are forced to change bulbs, then give us something that will have the light output of an incandescent bulb!! And something that won’t take all my grocery money to purchase, and something that won’t cause health problems, when bulb breaks. And repair the power grid, also.

  10. Paula R.
    September 4, 12:40 pm

    CFLs should be banned. Thry are as dangerous or more so than sitting in direct sunlight at noon with no sunscreen for someone with Lupus. People with this disease have a difficult enough time without having their health further damaged by CFL’s.