Let’s talk about Lightbulbs

lightbulbIs anyone else confused about lightbulbs?  I know there are different kinds, and some are considered better for the environment than others.  Which is which?

For most people, here are our lightbulb choices:

  • Incandescent: makes light by passing an electric current through a tungsten filament until the filament glows.  These are not very energy efficient.
  • CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamps) and Fluorescent: an electric arc causes mercury and other gases to glow.  CFL bulbs are more energy efficient than incandescents and last longer.  Unfortunately, they contain mercury which makes a broken fluorescent hazardous.
  • LED (Light Emitting Diodes): these make light by applying voltage to negatively charged semiconductors, which causes electrons to create light in the form of a photon.  They have the longest life and lowest energy use so far.
  • HID (High Intensity Discharge): an electric arc causes metallic additives to vaporize and create light.  This type of bulb gives off an intense but unpleasing light, and thus is often use in street lights.

LEDbulbLED’s are the winner!  As heard on NPR, companies out there are making LEDs more affordable and desirable to families and homes.

MOM’s switched our track lighting to LEDs in the summer of 2011, to cut our energy consumption.  It amazes me that making a lightbulb change, whether in a store or home, can save so much energy!

Want to learn more?  This website has more details about different lightbulbs.

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8 Responses to Let’s talk about Lightbulbs

  1. rhekelley says:

    Thanks for explaining differences between bulbs. I would like to stress that CFL’s are a terrible choice because of the mercury contained in them. If you look online under “what to do when a fluorescent bulb breaks,” the instructions sound like you need to be a nuclear cleanup specialist. We have gone back to incandescents for the time being because we don’t want the health hazards, but there is talk that these will not be made much longer.

    I don’t know who thought CFLs with mercury are a good idea, but I hope that LEDs continue to become much more affordable and that will solve the problem (if the industry will stop making them!), and that the government will be willing to name them the danger that they are (not holding my breath!). Thanks, MOM, for switching to LEDs.

    • Ken says:

      I think you may want to reconsider switching back to incandescent bulbs because of your concern that CFLs contain mercury. First of all, the amount of mercury in CFLs is very minuscule and manufacturers have been able to dramatically reduce the amount in all types of fluorescent bulbs (yes, those long-tubed ones also have mercury). Secondly, incandescents require more electricity and most of the present power generation (fossil fuels) gives off mercury emissions. Consequently, according to the EPA, the amount of mercury from power generation to power an incandescent is greater than the combined minuscule amount in CFLs and the amount from the power required to run them. Please always try to recycle CFLs and I agree that LEDs are the preferred bulbs for overall energy savings.

      From EPA/Energy Star:
      “How do CFLs result in less mercury in the environment compared to traditional light bulbs?
      Electricity use is the main source of mercury emissions in the U.S. CFLs use less electricity than incandescent lights, meaning CFLs reduce the amount of mercury into the environment. As shown in the table below, a 13-watt, 8,000-rated-hour-life CFL (60-watt equivalent; a common light bulb type) will save 376 kWh over its lifetime, thus avoiding 4.3 mg of mercury. If the bulb goes to a landfill, overall emissions savings would drop a little, to 3.9 mg. EPA recommends that CFLs are recycled where possible, to maximize mercury saving.”

      • rhekelley says:

        Thank you for the info, Ken, I will do further research about that, but nothing you can say will convince me that I want these things in my home or to support the industry. I have a household member who is being treated for mercury toxicity (mostly due to tooth fillings and immunizations) and cannot risk being exposed to any more. The cleanup process described online convinced me to get rid of all of them (through recycling, not trash).

        My initial feeling, not having done more research, is that my personal use of incandescents will have less impact on the environment than if a CFL gets broken in my home. I have researched the effects of even minute amounts of mercury in my living space and don’t want to take those chances any more. I find it interesting to know that iIf a thermometer gets broken in a school science lab, they clear the school and bring in HazMat people, which tells me something. I know there is a lot less mercury in a CFL than a thermometer, but it’s still very toxic.

        As the costs come down, we are replacing the incandescents with LEDs and soon hope to be all LED. But thanks for the statistics; I will look into it more, mostly to push LED use over incandescents.

      • MarkM says:

        Ken, great information, thanks for doing the research! I just want to add that our local MOM’s (as do others probably) offers CFL recycling. It’s not that hard to bring burned out CFL lights to the store, makes recycling much easier. Also, in my history of using CFL bulbs in a household with two children I’m yet to have a single one actually broken. On the other hand I found manufacturer claims of 7 year lifespan somewhat exaggerated, at least for some bulbs.

  2. Carol Bass says:

    I just imagine that GE had a pile of unwanted mercury. What better to do with it that to put it in lightbulbs and turn a waste into profit. You may have noticed this recycling of toxics as a common theme in commerce. I don’t know this as a fact – it just seems plausible.

  3. Some helpful tips. Thanka for sharing about Led lights

  4. Eva says:

    @rhekelley, I can understand not wanting to take any chances with CFLs given your experience with mercury toxicity! It’s certainly important to be comfortable with products in your home.

    @Ken, thanks for the info. I didn’t know about mercury emissions!

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