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Bright Idea, Dim Bulb

Wal-Mart, the company that lefties, urbanites and greens love to hate, is repositioning itself as a friend of the environment: The retail behemoth has announced its intention to sell 100 million of those compact fluorescent light bulbs that cost an arm and a leg to buy, but save lots of energy (and therefore cut your electric bill.)

This will not work, for one simple reason: The bulbs provide only the illusion of light. We shelled out the big bucks--the things cost upwards of ten times the price of cheap but energy-hogging incandescent bulbs--for a bunch of different so-called swirl bulbs and actually lived with the things for a couple of months before, finally, we all realized that we were straining to read, straining to do anything that required what a good old 60-watt Sylvania provides with total reliability.

The propagandists behind the compact fluorescents claim that the new swirl bulbs are every bit as bright, warm and user-friendly as the cheap bulbs that have served Americans for the better part of a century. These folks are--how to put this--wrong.

The compact fluorescents truly do last vastly longer, use far less energy, and are a great way to strike back at the power company and at the makers of electric bulbs. But if you use them, you will feel as if you are living in a cave.

The argument for these bulbs is compelling: "If every one of 110 million American households bought just one ice-cream-cone bulb, took it home, and screwed it in the place of an ordinary 60-watt bulb, the energy saved would be enough to power a city of 1.5 million people," writes Charles Fishman in Fast Company magazine. "One bulb swapped out, enough electricity saved to power all the homes in Delaware and Rhode Island. In terms of oil not burned, or greenhouse gases not exhausted into the atmosphere, one bulb is equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads."

But those SUV-owning greens who push the swirl bulbs as a way to feel less guilty about their contribution to global warming and the depletion of the planet's energy sources would be far better off trading that SUV for a Metro farecard than getting all righteous about screwing in pricey light bulbs.

Consumer Reports says there have been great improvements in the quality of compact fluorescents, but the magazine nonetheless warns that their performance is inconsistent--some work better base up (as in a ceiling fixture) than base down (as in a table lamp), some cause interference or static in audio equipment and TVs.

Someday, maybe, they'll get this right. And surely after many decades of incandescent bulbs, there ought to be a way to do the same work using far less energy. But this "one bulb per house" campaign is a classic case of thinking too small. Once again, marketing imperatives push aside the possibility of far more dramatic and important action:

Americans could be persuaded, fairly easily, to make significant changes in lifestyle to save energy--if the changes were pitched as a way to secure ourselves against the demands and troubles of the Middle East and terrorism. The political party that manages to blend green concerns with homeland security worries and finally seek from Americans the sacrifices that so many millions were prepared to make after 9/11 won't be preaching about changing one light bulb in your house. That movement will be far more ambitious, changing the way Americans drive, where we choose to live, and how much we're willing to pay for gas and other products.

In the meantime, what we're hearing so much about is a ploy on the part of Wal-Mart to reach a cluster of Americans who don't like the big retailer.

By Marc Fisher |  January 5, 2007; 8:01 AM ET
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Comments

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Rats! And here was one thing I thought I could do to help out, given my PU truck driving,motorcycle riding profligacy. Oh well, surfs up dudes!

Posted by: STick | January 5, 2007 9:34 AM

Marc,

What color temp are your compact flourscents? And many of us SUV owners think energy conservation is the wrong way to go! Burn up all the oil as quickly as possible so the energy companies have to find new solutions is the answer not conservation. And dont forget most SUVs dont put out any more pollutants that fuel efficient Versa. And that motorcycle puts out more pollution in hour than a SUV does in 2 weeks. So get off the Hog and into an 07 Tahoe.

Posted by: Vaherder | January 5, 2007 9:36 AM

Marc, I'm a big fan, but this is the most irrationally bitter column of yours I've ever read. Yes, Wal-Mart certainly could be doing more, but don't kick them in the shins for taking one small step forward. And compact fluorescents cost, what, twenty dollars for a six-pack? That's big bucks? How little are they paying you at the Post that you think three dollars and change is a lot? (Hint: A lot more than most of us make, so chill.) Are you using the right wattage on your bulbs? I just swapped out a 60-watt regular bulb for a 75-watt compact fluorescent and my room is MUCH brighter for much less power.

Posted by: Miles | January 5, 2007 10:02 AM

I have used those energy saving bulbs for a couple years. They really are great- most of the time. I have found that the indoor spotlight/tracklight bulb is almost worthless, but the spirals seem to work ok. Not as bright or aesthetic, but sufficient for most lighting jobs. The best advance is on the way in the form of LED bulbs. Those will use almost no energy and be plenty bright, and last nearly a lifetime. I saved a bundle this Christmas by using LED bulbs. A little more up-front cost, but I imagine I will not have to worry about lights for many years.

Posted by: Chris | January 5, 2007 10:04 AM

Some of the more advanced fluorescents (used in the aquarium and agriculture trade) use internal reflectors to direct more of the light that bulb produces in the desired direction, rather than in a 360d arc perpendicular to the axis of the bulb

Since these compact fluorescents are helical, this approach might be even more helpful in directing what light they produce. Any engineer out there know if this is being done?

Posted by: Mark | January 5, 2007 10:06 AM

we've switched over to CFL's at our house and they are actually BRIGHTER than what we used to have. They have different wattages, Marc, maybe you need some that pump out a little more light.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 5, 2007 10:09 AM

-And many of us SUV owners think energy conservation is the wrong way to go! Burn up all the oil as quickly as possible so the energy companies have to find new solutions is the answer not conservation.-

Is this before or after the environmental detriment takes place? If there's no earth left to save (from the pollution and litter and all those leftover car bits that can't all be recycled), then new energy solutions won't do us any good, now will they?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 5, 2007 10:13 AM

Oil companies are in the oil industry; they're really, really good at finding oil, sucking it out of the ground, and processing it into (eventually) electricity, and are happy to cut costs if necessary in order to make more money (see, e.g., the Exxon Valdez). But why in the world would we trust them to also be good at coming up with ways NOT to burn oil? I agree that technological progress is much more likely to solve the oil problem than convincing Americans to use less energy - we're selfish bastards, and even if we weren't, there are too many people in third-world countries who want to live our lifestyle and are happy to burn the oil to do it. But I don't trust the oil industry to do anything right, much less solve the environmental and economic monster that is oil dependency.

Posted by: Kate | January 5, 2007 10:23 AM

I have to agree with Miles here. Your editorializing about your single, bad experience with the bulb is your right as a columnist, but you're doing great damage in this case. Efficiency is going to be a cornerstone of future energy policy, with all its geopolitical ramifications.

In my apartment I have two identical IKEA lamps, one with a moderately expensive, hot spectrum incandescent bulb, and another with a CFL. I can't tell the difference and friends can't tell the difference. I forget which one is the CFL, and only remember when it takes that little bit for it to turn on.

I suggest giving it another try before damning this important technology for yourself and others.

Posted by: Gary | January 5, 2007 10:23 AM

Mark --

It's the global warming, stupid. If Wal-Mart is helping, good for them. (And I don't like their labor practices, either.)

Posted by: Charlie Miller | January 5, 2007 10:23 AM

I've been using these bulbs for years. All you have to do is think a little and read the lables. Don't buy based on the CFL ad copy that says "65 watt equivalent". Watts measure power consumption, not light. Shop according to LUMENS. The light characteristics are different of each type of bulb. It takes some fine tuning, but as a general rule, buy a bulb that has a little more LIGHT OUTPUT than the incandescent bulb you are replacing.

"Arm and a Leg?". These things are cheaper than ever. Even if they didn't save energy, I'd buy these just for the long life. Aside from the energy savings, I'm curious how many people die falling from ladders changing light bulbs every year.

Posted by: Bill | January 5, 2007 10:27 AM

I am afraid this guy is a dim bulb, and probably needs to get his eyes checked. I have made the switch in my condo and in my office. The fluorescent bulbs are so bright I am seeing things I did not know existed. As another comment stated, look for lumens not watts. Also, columnists should do a little more research before popping off.

Posted by: Jack | January 5, 2007 10:33 AM

Marc-we've been using CFL's now for several months, and they're great. Got to give the big Wal a little credit for doing one thing right-they've got a LONG way to go though!

Posted by: Jerry | January 5, 2007 10:36 AM

We replaced nearly all the bulbs in our house with CFLs over two years ago and have not had to replace a single bulb since then. We have had no problems with them. I even hand sew beneath one, which requires a fairly bright light. The key, as someone mentioned before is lumens, not watts. They are pretty reasonably priced at Ikea, but they are a steal at Costco.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 5, 2007 10:43 AM

Put one in the front porch light. A few more in the recessed lights and a bunch in the basement. Hallways lights as well. We've had em for years and we just save money and don't have to change bulbs very often. What's the downside?

Posted by: Bill | January 5, 2007 10:52 AM

There are so many easier ways for Americans to save more energy other than changing lightbulbs. Driving closer to the speed limit and less aggressively would save far more energy. Combining car trips is another simple one. I live in an apartment building and recently noticed the electric meters of empty apartments rapidly spinning while my occupied apartment meter barely moves, yet the building uses oil heat. I live and work at home but my electric bill is consistently less than $20. Why?

Posted by: thw2006 | January 5, 2007 10:52 AM

I'm wondering if Marc is allowing the CFL bulbs time to warm up. The difference in light output can be quite striking. One of the recent "swirl" types is in a lamp in my living room. When first turned on, it's output is pitiful, but within a half a minute it is every bit as bright as the 60w incandescent it is rated to replace

Posted by: UrbanOtter | January 5, 2007 10:56 AM

I think this is just some individual problem Marc is having. I've switched all my bulbs to compact fluorescents and have had no problems with brightness.

Posted by: jlep15 | January 5, 2007 11:12 AM

I buy based on Lumens, not watts, as someone suggested, above, and have been using them exclusively in my house for 2 years, EXCEPT on lights with dimmer switches.
Haven't replaced one yet, and I actually like that the bulbs take a minute or so to hit their full brightness, because when I turn the light on in the bedroom or office in the morning, it doesn't blind me, but rather adjusts with my eyes.

Posted by: Much better | January 5, 2007 11:14 AM

I just changed my lights, and the CFL bulbs STINK, no matter what wattage or lumen factor you use. Marc is spot on with this - maybe in another 10 years this will be something most people can use, but for now give me a filament. This is a total ploy by Wal-Mart to market to people like me and scare big suppliers into more price cuts while manufacturing keeps moving overseas.

Posted by: MD Greenie | January 5, 2007 11:24 AM

Are you kidding? I use exclusively compact flourescent bulbs, with a couple of exceptions, just 'cause the old ones haven't burnt out yet, and I have had ZERO problems with total blindness like you've described. Are you sure you're screwing them in right? Are you plugging the lamps in? I even have an outdoor lamppost with two 135w equivalent compact flourescent spirals, which use a total of about 70w of actual energy, and they are 200% brighter than the incandescent bulbs which burned out and necessitated my diassembling the dang thing to change them out.

As far as Wal-mart goes, screw them. They have done nothing but decimate American culture and lower our standard of living, and they don't care a bit about their employees or the world. Fantastic that they've now got religion, I guess, but I'd just as soon see them wither up and blow away. And I will NEVER shop there. EVER.

Posted by: Andrew Bacon | January 5, 2007 11:33 AM

Oh, and one more thing. The article you refer to as propaganda, the one in Fast Company, is WAY better than the one you wrote.

Posted by: Andrew Bacon | January 5, 2007 11:42 AM

If one is buying based on equivalent lumens, and that requires a higher wattage, doesn't that reduce the energy savings?

Posted by: Tom T. | January 5, 2007 11:55 AM

I have not yet tried CFLs. Can someone tell me if they constantly buzz the way old flourescent tubes do? Thanks.

Posted by: Mr. Jones | January 5, 2007 12:09 PM

I've had nothing but ice-cream-cone flourescent bulbs in my apartment - my last two apartments, actually. I find they give light for reading, sewing, detailed electronics work, etc., just fine.

Who's the dimb bulb?

Posted by: Ted | January 5, 2007 12:50 PM

The Consumer Reports article you reference is from Jan. 1999. Your argument is as out of date as that study. It takes CF bulbs a couple seconds to reach maximum intensity (still a modern gripe), but the average 75% power savings is REAL, and available TODAY.

Sure, making everyone use electric cars has greater energy-saving impact than changing lightbulbs, but the point is about making humanity less wasteful in everything we do.

Changing over to CF light is "Bright Idea". Too bad you're the "Dim Bulb".

Posted by: GoodReferences | January 5, 2007 12:56 PM

CFLs are just a way station on the way to using LED lights. In 1o years, lighting technology as we know it will be totally different. Try out some of the multi-LED reading or desk lamps. They are expensive now, but that will come down in a couple of years. LEDs emit no heat and last forever.

Posted by: Phil | January 5, 2007 1:19 PM

my compact fluorescent lightbulbs are also brighter than my incandescents. I have no idea why yours are not, but perhaps you should invest the extra few dollars, follow other commenters' suggestions for getting brighter bulbs and report back? they really are a good idea, so why not give them another shot?

Posted by: Sasha | January 5, 2007 1:41 PM

I swithched over to CF bulbs a couple of months ago and they have been fine. No complaints at all.

Posted by: well lit | January 5, 2007 1:41 PM

After referencing the problems in the Consumer Reports article, your hope is that "Someday, maybe, they'll get this right". By "someday" do you mean like, today? As in 8 years after that 1999 article was written?

Posted by: Jeff | January 5, 2007 1:54 PM

Marc:

Your assessment of compact fluorescent bulbs is right on the money. About a week before Christmas a local store was having a sale on these bulbs. I had been thinking for some time about switching over to them as a way of saving money and saving energy, so I bought some. The first one I installed was in a lamp. This bulb was advertised to give the same amount of light as a 150W bulb with the energy use of a much smaller watt bulb. I have two lamps in this room so I left the 150W incandescent in the other. Your assessment of "living in a cave" is right on. The amount of light from the fluorescent bulb was CONSIDERABLY less than from the old one. They weren't even close!
The next bulbs I installed in a ceiling fixture. Initially they were brighter, although also of a higher wattage. (I replaced 60W with 75W fluorescents.) Over the course of an hour or so, however, the brightness changed considerably from much brighter to much dimmer. I left these in for a few days and my wife, my children, and I all commented that sometimes it was brighter in the room than it had been before, sometimes about the same, and other times darker. More irritating was that these bulbs hummed sometimes. Within a week all of the bulbs were returned to the store and replaced with the old kinds.
I want very much to reduce my costs and save energy. I agree with you that the political party that succeeds coming up with a plan to force Americans to cut energy use without distroying the economy will win. Compact fluorescents at their current stage in development are not a reasonable part of the solution.

Posted by: L. Olson | January 5, 2007 1:58 PM

I find they are brighter than incandescent bulbs and have no idea what he's on about in terms of brightness. They seem to hum in my house when put into hard wired sockets so I've limited them to lamps and overhead lights, one of which has 6 or so bulbs. Should be a good savings from that one alone.

Posted by: Jane | January 5, 2007 2:02 PM

So, Marc,

a) user response is at least 10-1 in favor of positive experiences with the CF bulb - that should tell you something.

b) you decided to cite an 8 year old article on this evolving techology? what poor journalism! would you use an 8 year old article saying plasma tv's have burn-in problems? again, if you can't find something more recent, maybe that should tell you something..

c) you repeatedly say the bulbs are costly - when they actually last many times longer than regular bulbs, so over their lifetime they are in fact -cheaper- ! (and this is -before- you account for energy savings.)

d) and why would you even say this:
"That movement will be far more ambitious, changing the way Americans drive, where we choose to live, and how much we're willing to pay for gas and other products."
when you react so negatively against the simple changing of your LIGHT BULB? you'd never change how you drive and live based on your reaction here.

I think you should issue an apology and retraction for such a counter-productive article. I hope anyone who reads it reads all of the feedback as well - but for those who don't posting an update would be helpful.

Posted by: Drew | January 5, 2007 2:15 PM

I like the fluorescent bulbs and use them a lot. I do have to use the bulbs labeled "replaces 100-watt" instead of an old 60 or 75. These use 18 watts and the smaller ones use 13 watts. The 18 watt is as bright as a 75-watt incandescent and the light is more white than incandescent, more pleasing to the eye.

Posted by: David Fourer | January 5, 2007 2:21 PM

Marc, columns like this make me wonder if critical reasoning is considered a core competency in Journalism programs. Making a generalization based on one anecdotal experience with a single bulb is somewhere between wrong and inane.

I think it's wonderful that Post readers get to enjoy material from a variety of political and philosophical viewpoints. But we shouldn't have to suffer such inexcusable sloppy thinking, no matter what the political ilk.

Posted by: John | January 5, 2007 2:32 PM

The U.S. generates very little of its electricity from oil -- about 3 percent. Hence, the rhetoric about the bulbs promoting "energy security" and protecting us from the Middle East is nonsense. Electricity generation is about coal, natural gas and uranium -- domestic fuel sources. Petroleum is about cars.

Posted by: Tom Firey | January 5, 2007 2:40 PM

As a "green" and a big proponent of energy responsibility, I have to say my experience with CFLs has been almost uniformly positive. It's unfortunate that you, Marc, would write an uninformed hit piece like this and do a big disservice to the cause of energy conservation.

Posted by: Marylander | January 5, 2007 2:54 PM

I would like to try these bulbs, but I don't want my house to look like a bus station bathroom. Right now I use those "Reveal" (brand name) bulbs -- they're kinda blue on the outside, and they make light that is supposed to show colors better and be more "natural" than regular ones. Anybody know if there are CF bulbs that will produce the same effect? I'm willing to pay more upfront, I'm just stymied about what exactly to look for.

Thanks!

Posted by: mccxxiii | January 5, 2007 3:02 PM

To MCCXXIII:

Try and find a bulb called VitaLite. They are florescent bulbs that have the entire light spectrum of the sun except the ultraviolet. Everything looks like daylight in a room with these bulbs. They are a little pricey tho.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 5, 2007 3:16 PM

Look for the Energy Star logo on the packaging. That is the best assurance of quality of product in terms of efficiency, light output, and longevity. And yes, compare by Lumen output.

Posted by: jackie stewart | January 5, 2007 3:25 PM

Marc seems bright (yuk, yuk) but I'm surprised at how often he's just plain wrong and stubborn. And I've noticed a proclivity for straw man arguments...

"But those SUV-owning greens who push the swirl bulbs..."

And then to go on an say that this bulb stuff is too petty to worry about - you're wrong. Read "The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices: Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists." They do a good job delineating what is worth the trouble (cars, home appliances - of which lighting is very significant) and what isn't (cloth vs. disposable diapers, paper vs. plastic bags).

And then, Marc, to finally conclude that the real solution will be something much more comprehensive and sophisticated. I'm not so sure that people will be willing to completely overhaul their lifestyle before they're willing to simply purchase different bulbs.

Posted by: DC | January 5, 2007 3:27 PM

so you don't like CFLs because you don't understand them. And your argument is based on an 8-year-old article.

Sigh.

Could you at least use the CFLs in your porch lights? That's where I think we'll get our biggest savings because those stay on (at least in the winter) 24-7. And you don't have to try to read by them. Every little bit helps.

Posted by: gogreen | January 5, 2007 3:36 PM

"And surely after many decades of incandescent bulbs, there ought to be a way to do the same work using far less energy."

It blows my mind when comments like this are made, so I will make one: If there were a way to do the same work using far less energy and it weren't the CFL, it would be available.

I recently moved to D.C. from the Midwest, and I replaced all the CFLs in the house I sold with incandescents so I could bring the CFLs with me. My wife, who refused to install a CFL in her reading light, finally succumbed, and she and I both are doing just fine with CFLS in almost every fixture in our home.

The savings on those babies are not immediate nor are they dramatic, but it adds up. And they have gotten better even if they are not perfect yet (there are differences in brands, and ultra-cheap ones don't seem to be as good as brand-name ones). Like any new technology, they are more expensive, but the more they are used, the cheaper they'll get (a contribution Walmart will be making). And the technology will improve -- they've just gotten a bad rap (as was the case in this column) from a few bad apples -- er, I mean, bulbs -- in the early going (I had two of the first generation, very ugly and bulky, but I installed them in my basement and those things were still going strong five years later).

And, speaking of the Metro, take note of the fact that most of the bulbs lighting up stations these days are of the CFL variety.


Posted by: Edward | January 5, 2007 3:51 PM

I've replaced all my overhead lights with compact florescents and they are fabulous. I can really see to cook and hopefully no one will have to climb up there to change the bulb for a few years.

However, I replaced the lamp light bulbs with full-spectrum incandescendents, which seems to have helped with the basement feeling of my condo.

Posted by: dynagirl | January 5, 2007 3:54 PM

// And dont forget most SUVs dont put out any more pollutants that fuel efficient Versa. //

This is nonsense. If a vehicle uses three times as much gas, it will also take in three times as much air in order to burn that gas, and therefore put out three times as much exhaust. The exhaust might be equally clean per cubic meter as a fuel efficient car's, but there is three times as much of it!

Posted by: LTL-CA | January 5, 2007 3:58 PM

Marc,

I think the readers have really "lit you up" on this blog entry. Time to sing "Turn out the lights, the party's over."

Posted by: Mister Methane | January 5, 2007 3:58 PM

Marc,

I think the readers have really "lit you up" on this blog entry. Time to sing "Turn out the lights, the part's over."

Posted by: Mister Methane | January 5, 2007 3:58 PM

// And dont forget most SUVs dont put out any more pollutants that fuel efficient Versa. //

This is nonsense. If a vehicle uses three times as much gas, it will also take in three times as much air in order to burn that gas, and therefore put out three times as much exhaust. The exhaust might be equally clean per cubic meter as a fuel efficient car's, but there is three times as much of it!

Posted by: LTL-CA | January 5, 2007 4:01 PM

I dunno what sort of compact fluorescent lights you have used, but the ones I have all around my house put out plenty of light, thank you very much.

Posted by: Dim Bulb? | January 5, 2007 4:09 PM

Anything from Wal-mart is too cheap to take seriously. High end compact fluorescents are instant on, can have differing levels of brightness for 3-way lamps, and are available in different shades - including the warm incandescence found in regular bulbs. You need to do better research.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 5, 2007 4:14 PM

I have had great experiences with CFLs. I am disappointed with the shoddy reporting in your article, Marc, and I have to say that I will be reading your articles (if at all) with a lot more skepticism.

Posted by: Used to be a fan | January 5, 2007 4:34 PM

Mark might want to review some basic physics on the operation of incandescent bulbs before he makes unsupported statements (wishes?) Sounds like he is the dim bulb. My entire house, ceiling fixtures and lamps, have used conventiona 40 w. bulbs. As each one goes it is replaced with a CFL with no obvious change in output.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 5, 2007 5:05 PM

My initial reaction to Marc's column was similar to those of many commenters. That's why I love blogs like Marc's--readers can share with others differing opinions and evidence. What a contrast to the paper-and-ink WaPo (with its hairbrained ombudsperson trying to 'referee' criticisms).

Readers, keep up the good work. Marc, keep throwing out the good topics...but be prepared at times to stand back and watch the comments fly!

P.S. I have used CFs in my hallways and secondary lighting fixtures for years. I love not having to change bulbs every 6 months!

Posted by: infoshaman | January 5, 2007 5:13 PM

Marc,

I am usually in agreement with your columns but even in the cases when I'm not, I find your opinions and reporting reasonable. But here on almost every count you are wrong and way off the mark.

We have been happily using CFL's for several years and know many people who are also happily using them. Judging from the responses you are in a distinct minority. Can I suggest a follow up article after you've explored the issue more completely to account for your obviously rare and much less common experience?

But you are sadly mistaken on other counts as well. I have never been inside a Wal-Mart. This campaign will not pull me in, but it does lower my resistance. Still, I don't see how they gain much economically. For every CFL light bulb sold, they loose revenue. In the long run that is significant revenue given their goals. If they make it up by expanding their customer base, that is a big positive in my book. If companies only lose money while reducing green house gases we are literally sunk. If only Exxon could figure out how to increase profits while reducing CO2 emission, we would not need to worry about climate change. But Wal-Mart is also planning to install solar technology in their stores. It is only when companies like Wal-Mart begin acting like climate change is a real risk that any progress will be made.

Your comment about SUV's and more ambitious goals is similarly misguided. If the world is going to stabilize and then reduce the global carbon budget, it will take significant sacrifice. That's why easy and readily available means to conserve energy, like changing out light bulbs, are so important. If we can't even accomplish simple energy conservation with technology that is readily at hand, how are going to accomplish the really difficult stuff?

So let's say for the sake of argument that CFL's give inferior light. Were we to wait at every turn for only perfect solutions, we would be waiting far too long. Energy conservation and security are important concerns. But they are side bars compared to climate change. That is the big deal.

It is real and if you haven't noticed, it has already come to your neighborhood. In Washington DC the effects so far have been pretty minor and benign. It's like we've moved south a few hundred miles to North Carolina. Unfortunately it is not stopping here. What our climate would be like in a generation or two of changes like the last 10 years is really hard to conceive. Convincing people of it (including yourself maybe)enough to do anything different is exceedingly difficult. That is why your article does a disservice to the conversation. I say Bravo Wal-Mart.


Posted by: David | January 5, 2007 5:25 PM

My experience with CFL bulbs has been similar to Mr. Fisher's. I have tried them several times over the last five years. I have tried both the globe style and the spiral style. I understand that I have a very limited sample size (5 or so). I am quite sensitive to the quality and brightness of lamps. The CFL's I have tried have not matched the incandescent bulbs they replace. The final brightness has not been a problem. The globe style lamp takes several minutes to warm up to get bright enough to read. It takes longer to warm up when the temp is lower. If we are going to go in and out of a room we end up leaving the light on for a long time instead of just when we are in the room. The spiral lamps I have tried have been very harsh and caused me eye strain when reading or doing fine work. They have been banished to the closets and the basement. They are probably not saving much energy where they are because they are not on for very long periods of time. I am wary of buying more of these bulbs until I see that they have improved. Is there anyplace to see the quality of the bulbs before I buy them? I believe all of the bulbs that I have tried are energy star rated. Can anyone have suggested a good place to find ratings of companies and bulbs for quality? Do any of you have a brand that you recommend?

Posted by: JH | January 5, 2007 5:46 PM

mark, do a modicum of research and buy bulbs of the appropriate color temperature and lumens for your needs. they're geat, as many people here have said. it is cutting edge technology; don't look for it at wal-mart...duh! try 1000bulbs.com or something like that.

Posted by: glenn | January 5, 2007 6:01 PM

I saw an article recently in the NY Times about Wal-Mart's intent to sell 100 million of the CFLs.

I'm not a radical greenie but I am energy and cost conscious so I picked up a 3 pack at the local Wal-Mart for $7.58. That's right, $2.50 apiece, not exactly big bucks.

I plugged the 3 into the front and back porch lamps and the lawn house number lamp. They looked fine to me, no noticeable difference from the incandescent bulbs. The rest of the family agreed so I outfitted every lamp and overhead light in the house with them.

We're happy with the CFLs and look forward to some savings on the electric bill as well as doing something for the environment without much effort.

It's your right to exaggerate and your statement "But if you use them, you will feel as if you are living in a cave" seems to be designed to cause heat rather than shed light on a decent product.

Posted by: johnny_nyc | January 5, 2007 6:02 PM

I am disappointed in your analysis, Marc. I tried switching a few years back and determined that the bulbs are good for those areas of the house that need lighting, but do not need to be bright enough to read or engage in activities that are full of bits and pieces of stuff. I still use the bulbs for hallways and closets. If everyone mixed up their use, we would save a lot of energy!

Posted by: Dean Bonney | January 5, 2007 6:27 PM

I found this whole string of comments so bizarre that I was intrigued, so:

An hour ago I called my builder buddy, and he dug up a GE "double biax" (four tubes set in a square arrangement) bulb which claims to provide 1200 lumens, and is rated for 10,000 hours of life. It seems to be rated for color at 4000 degrees, and is a little "whiter" than an incandescent, but not too far off. This bulb is a 2-pin plug-in type, but he gave me a screw-in adapter so I can use it in the lamp in my bedroom. The tubes extend slightly above the top of the lampshade, but the lamp is set above my eye-level, so that's OK with me.

I like it just fine. It's noticeably brighter than the 75-watt incandescent which it replaced. I do get the impression that it's a fairly expensive bulb, though.

Posted by: Bob S. | January 5, 2007 9:29 PM

Oh, I forgot to mention that the above-mentioned bulb draws 13 watts.

Posted by: Bob S. | January 5, 2007 9:31 PM

Oooops, I'm a blind idiot. It's 18 watts.

Posted by: Bob S. | January 5, 2007 9:32 PM

OK, I was curious so I just pulled out my multimeter. The bulb is actually using/producing (lets see here... 112 volts times 147 milliamps...) about 16.5 watts.

I think that this particular bulb costs almost twenty times as much as the cheap bulbs that I usually buy, but it's rated to last about fifteen times as long, and uses about one-fifth the energy. I don't have the electric bill handy, but it's probably a noticeable (although not dramatic) savings. But that's not counting my time & irritation involved with changing bulbs, or the opportunity cost savings associated with freeing up that energy.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 5, 2007 9:45 PM

I recently bought the spiral bulbs and in my case they work GREAT. I'm glad to see so many other people are having similar experiences.

Posted by: larry3 | January 8, 2007 12:08 PM

I use the natural light colored (bluish) engery saving bulbs. THey're great.
:D

Posted by: Deana | January 11, 2007 11:44 AM

Marc -- I hope you'll take a 2nd look at this CF light issue. I've been using CF lights for years. I don't use them in every light fixture in my house, just the light fixtures that are on for more than one hour at a time every day.

Of the many comments that have been posted, the one you need to keep most need to keep in mind is that light is measured in lumens, not watts. For example, a standard 75-watt lightbulb produces about 1200 lumens of light. By contrast, an 18-watt CF bulb produces about 1100 lumens. All of this information is listed on the packaging.

The other thing people need to remember is that when they buy a lightbulb, they are also buying all the power it takes to operate it.

Posted by: Dan | January 12, 2007 2:27 PM

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