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.

Comments

  1. Stephan
    Germany
    January 6, 8:42 am

    It is true that not all fluorescent light bulbs last longer than 6 years, but I have replaced nearly all lights in my home with them for several years now and I can not remember when I last bought a new one.
    In fact, I recently noticed that some of the first ones I started with in 2002 are still in operation.

  2. chris brown
    north lanarkshire scotland
    December 28, 2015, 6:01 am

    I have been effected by these bulbs, after fittinh one in mu living room and kitchen, I started feeling strange headaches after about two months of usage. later I was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm,

    I have been suffering strange headpains ever since and that was back in march to april this year.

    2 weeks ago now my dad changed the lightbulbs in my house to led bulbs and I threw out the cfl bulbs, since then I have noy felt any strange headache pains.

    may be my umagination, but I hop the pains are all gone, still only a couple of weeks ago, but its looking good I have no pains now.

    I hope its not my imagination.

  3. Robert
    Texas
    December 16, 2015, 4:36 pm

    The fluorescent light bulbs DO NOT last six to ten years. Who is buying THAT line of crap? I don’t believe I have had a single one last over twelve months.

  4. kimber hawkey
    United States
    December 3, 2015, 1:48 pm

    LOWE’S/HOME DEPOT DOES NOT RECYCLE THESE BULBS!

    We are seriously concerned about MERCURY IN THE LANDFILLS! Even if the recycling is possible – and it doesn’t seem to be any longer – people are lazy and will simply throw them out – thus destroying the earth with the mercury.

  5. Mike Tuke
    San Diego
    November 27, 2015, 5:10 pm

    I suggest to anyone buying LED lighting is first, keep receipt, secondly with a marker write the date on the stem of the bulb, and lastly if you move, take them with you in case you move. ( so keep the bulbs you replaced them with ) You will always need bulbs. I have replaced probably 40-60 bulbs in my entire house which includes outdoor landscape lighting. I recently got rid of 14 CFL lights in my kitchen at a cost of $10 a pop which is well worth it since I am in the house I will be spending the rest of my life in. So for me it is a no brainer changing out to LED, no more than a 4 year ROI

  6. Mary D
    usa
    November 23, 2015, 9:48 pm

    i have recess lighting in my kitchen and dining rm. i have tried phillips halogen, phillips indoor floods, and now i just put in one cfl. both the phillip’s bulbs burnt out rather quickly. the fixtures are only three years old. new with a remodel. can someone tell me what type of bulb i should use that will last as long as the package says? i feel i am working to buy bulbs. plus i want the rooms to be bright

  7. Stephen L.
    Irving, TX
    November 23, 2015, 3:45 pm

    There are so many comments here claiming they represent fact based opinions, many of which have holes big enough I could drive a truck through. You anti-government folks can have your $10 a gallon gas and your lead filled air, because that’s what you’d have without government actions. Children, when given free-reign, would eat all the candy they could. Same with adults. Left uncontrolled, we’d dig ourselves a huge hole and then blame government for not doing anything to stop us.
    And those who criticize the looks or durability of LED bulbs and long for the days of incandescents, I say you need to buy newer LED bulbs, quality ones, not the cheapest ones you can find. Like buying incandescents, cheap LEDs are a false economy.
    I’ve used LED bulbs for years now and have different styles in almost every lamp. I evaluate each new one I see on the shelves and sometimes purchase them. I’ve seen their quality (light output and style) improve over the years and during that time I think I’ve had only one bulb go bad. I’ve pretty much run out of places to put new bulbs.
    I have some C7 style (night light shape candelabra base) .6 watt (yes, point-six watt) bulbs that stay on 24/7 in areas that are normally dark and benefit from a small light (for security and safety purposes). Doing the math, I could run 100 of these bulbs for the same amount of energy used by ONE 60 watt incandescent.
    I don’t mess with 3-way bulbs (too expensive for what they are). I use higher lumen bulbs with wall light dimmers or lamps plugged into extension cord dimmers. That’s the ultimate in brightness control.
    Some LED bulbs on the market use only 1/10 the energy of an equivalent incandescent, and that number keeps improving.
    There are many reasons to use LED bulbs,even though they are not perfect.

    * Durability (no filaments to break with vibration, some with coatings or plastic globes)
    * Lifespan (lasts MANY times longer than incandescents and CFL, and may last longer than advertised depending on means of use)
    * Appearance (Comes in many shapes similar to incandescents, LED filament style bulbs mimic old Edison incandescents, tubular, frosted, clear, warm color, cool color, changing colors)
    * Temperature (cooler to touch, safer around kids/animals/plants, doesn’t require as much air conditioning to counteract)
    * Energy usage (lower wattages mean cheaper electric bills and lower current through cords and fixtures, better for the environment/economy/security due to lower energy consumption)
    * Reliability (outlasts other bulbs many times over, doesn’t require replacement of hard-to-reach/hard-to-access bulbs as often, full brightness immediately, works in colder environments, vibration resistant)
    * Generally Safer (doesn’t get as hot, doesn’t contain mercury, many shatter less when broken, draws less current).

    There are some drawbacks such as the initial cost. But the frequency of replacement and the energy savings MORE than compensate. It’s CHEAPER to buy and run LED bulbs in the long run. Other issues are generally associated with older style LEDs which are cheaper or being phased out.
    Nobody says you have to replace all your bulbs at one, and nobody says they all have to be the same style, especially if they’re hidden behind shades/baffles/sconces.
    As with any new industry, you’re going to find the good, the bad and the ugly.
    Some people will argue against LEDs… just because. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

  8. Christopher J Gaul
    United States
    November 14, 2015, 10:12 am

    I love the new LED lamps. Home Depot sells them for $2.50 each. The look like a light bulb, come to instant full brightness like a light bulb, have the same color as a light bulb, but cost 1/7 to operate and last 10 times longer. I can shave without getting a suntan from my old incandescent light bulbs throwing off as much heat as a space heater. I illuminate my house for 3 cents an hour so unlike my father I do not storm around the house about people leaving lights on.