Screw incandescence! I'm screwing in my fluorescents!

Just as I am no Christian theologian, nor am I an electrical engineer. So this contentious Wiki argument over potential hidden costs of CFLs is largely lost on me.

All I know is that my crackpot artistic side was fascinated by Right on the Right's post which blamed Glenn Reynolds for the actions of a shaky fan:

....instead of blaming myself for running the fan when it's only 75 degrees in the house (the fan shook the light cover loose), I'm going to blame Glenn Reynolds for suggesting the bulbs and Al Gore (though I ignored Al and listened to Glenn). It's all Glenn's fault.
While I don't think Glenn should be blamed for the actions of shaking fans, I'm feeling an obligation to chime in and share a few CFL light bulb replacement stories.

On my hall ceiling, there is an art deco fixture that I like. It's way up there beyond my reach, which means that every time I have to change a light bulb, I have to use the ladder, which has to be hauled up a flight of stairs and then positioned under the fixture. Then I have to climb up and hold the new bulb with one hand, unscrew the old bulb with the other, then put the old bulb down on the top of the ladder so I can screw in the new bulb with my right hand lest I lose my balance and break the old light bulb or (worse) fall off the ladder. This chore was happening far too often, and I began to suspect that simply opening and closing doors was shaking loose the flimsy filaments of the cheap light bulbs I was using.

Anyway, I was delighted to replace the bulbs with the new CFLs -- which look like this:


No muss, no mess. No more precarious ladder climbing, and no light bulb burnout syndrome. My only complaint about the new bulbs is that they're so much brighter, which is fine on the ceiling, but less than esthetically pleasing at eye level. However, they do sell the low wattage variety, which are perfect for front porch lights, and have already lasted forever on mine (at least so far).

All in all I'm very happy with the CFLs, but until now I never bothered to count them, and now I realize I have ten. Esthetically, however, unless they're going to be on the ceiling, I recommend using them on fixtures with shades, as the brighter ones can be glaring. The one in my piston lamp is simply too bright, and it looks like this:


If I had a colored shade it would be better, but as it is I don't like looking at it. This one (in a swinging wall fixture with a colored shade) is much easier on the eyes.


The brighter one in my kitchen actually improved the overall appearance of the fixture. As you can see, it brought out its natural Sci Fi tendencies rather well:


Trust me, it's more eye catching than it was. And I have an old 1970s shadeless Warhol "pop art" style fixture that's been gathering dust in the basement, because it looks so tacky. As you can see, even Coco is not particularly impressed:


But with CFLs, I think it will look incredibly cool!

Enough about my light bulb issues, or I'll have to I rename this post "Everything You Need To Know About My Light Bulbs."

Now for the important part. I cannot blame or credit either Glenn Reynolds or Al Gore for my CFL experiences. The main reason is that I bought these bulbs before Glenn was promoting the idea, and even though I knew Al Gore was for them, this would have tended to disincline me towards buying them, as the natural contrarian in me doesn't like being scolded into doing anything -- not even things that might be good ideas. The non-scolding approach of people like Glenn Reynolds is (for me at least) far more effective than heavy-handed moralistic hyperbole.

And as to laws, if they passed a law mandating these things, I'd be inclined to unscrew the CFLs and change them back to incandescents, then write an angry post about the loss of freedom, complete with a snide suggestion about what the bureaucrats might do with their lightbulbs.

How many government bureaucrats does it take to make a libertarian change a lightbulb, anyway?

UPDATE (03/30/07): I don't know why, but I thought this (from Ann Althouse's post about making your home "relationship ready") belonged here:

Get someone to make a video recording of you as you go through your house or apartment looking at all your things. You take the role someone who's just met you and is trying to decide whether to reject you. Be honest. Be merciless!
(Via Glenn Reynolds who felt obliged to defend some poor slob's barber chair.)

I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I don't even qualify for "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy," so an inside peek at my lightbulbs is the best I can offer.

As to the piston lamp, they can have it when they pry it from my cold, dead, crankshaft!

UPDATE: Commenter "Tum" has just pointed to an excellent post at The Futurist which discusses HSL revolution and links an incredible new technology called Hybrid Solar Lighting (HSL). It involves parabolic suncollector discs which track the sun, and send natural sunlight all through the house through fiberoptic cables, as well as store it.

Incredibly cool.

BTW, my CFLs cost 99 cents each.

UPDATE: My thanks Glenn Reynolds for the link! I'm especially honored that the blogosphere's leading luminary has honored me by characterizing this post with what appears to be a new phrase -- "LIGHTBULB-BLOGGING."

A warm welcome to new readers, and I do appreciate the comments.

posted by Eric on 03.29.07 at 09:41 AM


The Wiki article has a high noise to signal ratio.

What I like most about CFLs is not having to remove the glass in ceiling fixtures so often to change light bulbs. I always worry about dropping the glass. Plus it is a pain to have to get out a stool. Fiddle with the screws etc.

M. Simon   ·  March 29, 2007 10:47 AM

You make a good point about the incandescent filaments shaking apart from vibration. Before replacing the bulbs in my garage door opener with CFLs, I was replacing the bulbs at least every couple of weeks. The CFLs are still going strong after almost two months.

Ron   ·  March 29, 2007 1:36 PM

Also I should have mentioned temperature and humidity. My porch light burned out far more frequently than any indoor light, and I suspect it was exposure to weather.

CFLs are much more convenient!

Eric Scheie   ·  March 29, 2007 2:13 PM

Here is a massive article on the rate of innovation of CFLs, and other lighting technologies.

It is great when a major technological wave is so easily digested by society.

Tum   ·  March 30, 2007 7:24 PM

I had no trouble with my garage door lights going out from movement, but I just replaced 60W regular bulbs with 60W CFLs. I only changed one side (car parked on the other side until tomorrow), so I have a good side-by-side comparison. The CFL light (60W vs. 60W) is much dimmer. I am not happy but it's the garage so I'll live with it. They're forbidden in my house.

Peg C.   ·  March 30, 2007 7:56 PM

What a cool post. Thanks for all the info. That goes for the comments too.

I have replaced most of the lights in my house with CFL. There has been a lot of trial and error with wattage and brightness. Home Depot and Lowes sells CFL bulbs that are "soft white", "bright white" and "daylight" (the brightest). The soft whites are a little dim and are good only for table lamps, closet lights and the like. I have two in my garage door opener and my garage now looks like a morgue. The bright whites are great in any ceiling fixture and the light quality is much nicer than a regular bulb -- much less yellow if that makes sense. These are really good in bathrooms because they don't make you look sickly like the soft whites do. I put daylight bulbs in my bathroom but replaced them with the slightly dimmer and whiter bright whites -- the light from the daylights was too "blue" or something -- they looked great in the day (it really does match the tone of daylight) but just plain weird at night. However, I put a daylight bulb in my desk lamp and it's great.

We're about to get into full A/C season here in Dallas, so who knows how much the bulbs will help. The electric bill for my 2,000 sf townhouse was $450 last August so I'm willing to give these bulbs a shot.

P.S., I bought a couple of dimmable 65w-equivalent floodlights ("bright white") last weekend to test them out in my recessed light fixtures. The light quality is awesome but they don't dim down very much. Still waiting for a better dimmable before I fully commit.

Anthony   ·  March 30, 2007 8:20 PM

I use a CFL in a wall fixture and like it fine. I'd like to put them in the kitchen too. But...

I have a ceiling fixture that's covered with a frosted glass dome. I've been told that you're not supposed to put CFLs in these enclosed fixtures. Not sure why; maybe they overheat or something. Anybody know of CFLs that could replace two 60-watt incandescents?

Hiawatha Bray   ·  March 30, 2007 8:38 PM

I've been putting CFLs in enclosed fixtures for years without any problems. As far as I'm concerned, they're *better* than incandescents in enclosed fixtures, because they run much cooler -- you can unscrew a lit 100W-equivalent buld without burning your bare hand. I just replaced a 60W incandescent in an enclosed fixture in my kitchen with a 200W-equivalent (40W actual) and it's finally bright in there!

I regularly replace 60W incandescents with 100W-equivalent CFLs, for much better light output. The only drawback is that they take a minute or two to reach full brightness. This maty be the reason that people have been complaining about low light output in garage door opener applications -- they aren't on long enough to heat up properly.

Mike G in Corvallis   ·  March 30, 2007 10:14 PM

Don't believe the wattage equivalences on CFLs, which assume that they're 4 times as efficient as incandescents. Maybe to a lightmeter they are, but to the eye they just aren't - for some reason. Instead figure they 3 times as efficient. So, to replace a 60W bulb, use a 20W CFL rather than a 15W one. The manufacturers are shooting themselves in the foot on this point.

And 'daylight' is the wrong color for indoor use; it's too blue.

Bill Woods   ·  March 30, 2007 10:56 PM

For me, the biggest disappointment with the CFL's has been their 'life'. I've had several burn out in far less advertised time (about 1 year) in fixtures that don't get that much use. Additionally, the light quality is kinda poor.

I think the hype behind these is similar to the MPG hype behind the hybrid cars. Better than traditional? Yes. As good as advertised? Probably not.

Gilbert_Sundevil   ·  March 30, 2007 11:14 PM

Started replacing all my incandescents with CFLs in 1990. Some observations:

1. They're getting more compact (twisty shape), more consistently good (fewer duds) and waaay cheaper.

2. They run much cooler, which is nice in a house with no A/C.

3. Except for the few that crap out immediately, they've been averaging 5-7 years of regular use for me. This is especially nice in hard-to-reach locations.

4. In the last 1/3 of their lives, they become noticeably dimmer. So it's good to start out with wattages just a little brighter than you really want.

5. Also in their waning years, some of them warm up very slowly, taking as much as a minute to reach full brightness. If you want a reliably "instant on" light somewhere, you might in those cases still want an incandescent.

6. The slow starting is especially apparent in cold locations, like an unheated and uninsulated garage on a cold morning. A fully-outdoor lamp might not work acceptably in winter.

Casper   ·  March 31, 2007 12:01 AM

After years of using incandescents, I switched to daylight CFLs - in enclosed fixtures. It made the darkest corner of the living room look like it had a skylight. Yeah, they're a bit blue, but they don't need to be changed nearly as often, which I love, and they don't get as hot. I started using CFLs after reading a post on Instapundit. So far, I'm quite glad I did.

GeoffB   ·  March 31, 2007 2:10 AM

Can anyone tell me if the worries about flourescent lighting in the 70s and 80s was just a scam by greedy lawyers or over zealous environmentalists.

davod   ·  March 31, 2007 7:15 AM

I've been using CFL's for years and I have to agree with most of the comments about performance - bad and good - and add a couple of my own.

One of the biggest factors in CFL performance and life I've found is the manufacturer of the lamps. I can think of only one Philips CFL I've had to return because it was DOA. The same is true of the GE branded CFLs. I have had issues with some of the unbranded lamps or those made by companies I've never heard of before. Some failed shortly after installation, others had a service life not much longer than incandescents, and yet others were far dimmer than they should have been for their rating.

One other thing I've noticed about the mystery CFL's: they tend to generate a lot more RF noise. (I've been a ham radio operator for over 30 years and I've noticed when some of the bulbs create a lot of noise on one of my amateur radio receivers. I've replaced more than one off-brand CFL because of the electronic hash they generate.)

DCE   ·  March 31, 2007 7:35 AM

I bought one. I put it in my laundry room. The light is fine, but it's noisy so I won't be using them in living space. On the plus side, I won't be bumbling around looking for the pull-string on the light, now I can just leave it on 24/7 (hahaha).

aaron   ·  March 31, 2007 10:26 AM

I've replaced most of the incandescent bulbs in heavily used fixtures for the reasons above - awkward to reach and/or nobody else seems to turn them off (in my home, my family considers light switches to be apparently unidirectional). But for reading, I have some metal halide lamps from Microsun. Not a choice for frequent on/off situations because it takes a while for the bulb to reach full intensity, these bulbs are as efficient as CFs and to my eyes at least provide a better light for reading. The electronics draw about 25W, but the 68W bulb is claimed to put out as much as five 75W incandescents. Worth a look.

chuckR   ·  March 31, 2007 10:45 AM

Environmentalism: personal preferences disguised as moral imperatives.

Brett   ·  April 4, 2007 8:21 AM

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