Those funny looking light bulbs…

old and new....

old and new....

I will admit I have been buying those new, strange looking light bulbs for a few years not really knowing why they were better, just that they were. Yesterday I came across a great article that explains what CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light) bulbs are and how they work.

Maybe you’ll read the entire article but here are some highlights.

Did you know that the regular light bulb that we have been using has not changed much since Thomas Edison invented it in 1879? You would think that there must be a better way to provide light 130 years later, think of what else has been improved in all those years. Briefly said these old fashioned incandescent light bulbs are really inefficient. They need a lot of electricity, which heats up a filament but then most of that electricity is lost, 90%,  to light up our rooms.

A CFL bulb’s light works from a completely different concept. It is described in this article but to sum it up it works with a vapor in that cool looking spiral. An electric current passes through the vapor exciting gas molecules that produce an ultraviolet light. This light stimulates the fluorescent coating on the inside of the bulb and as it absorbs energy it emits light. That sounds pretty 21st century to me.

So why are they better?

Basically they use a lot less energy to give us the same light as a regular light bulb. A 20 watt CFL is as bright as a 75 watt incandescent bulb. Less energy is needed to power them so power plants can produce less energy for lighting up our houses and offices saving the environment, plus your energy bills go down.

So try to remember that it is worth that extra cost when you buy them. It is time that we all start thinking about the big picture (saving the environment and our way of life as we know it today), and big costs (pollution, land degradation and global warming) of the way that we have been living. And the good news is in the end CFL’s will  save us money on our electric bills too, so you pay a little more now for a bigger savings over the year and help the environment.

According to this article, “In a single year, the use of CFLs over incandescent bulbs removes as much greenhouse gas pollution as taking 2 million cars off the road.” Even if this is half true the savings in greenhouse gases is huge.

The bad news about CFL bulb’s is that this vapor contains mercury, but it isn’t that bad. When coal is burned for power-plants mercury is released from the coal, so using less electricity means less coal is burned, hence less mercury is released into the atmosphere. And at least with the bulbs the mercury is inside, and it has very little mercury inside. The article also explains what to do if a bulb breaks to protect yourself-but don’t get too freaked out, just remember there is less mercury in that bulb than what is inside a thermometer and less than what is being released from all of those coal fired plants.

In effect I see that what is happening here is that we as the general public are being brought into the reality of what already exists in the world of technology. But now it is being used in a more intelligent, sustainable manner, we just need to have more knowledge as consumers to use it wisely and properly. We are really moving forward into a new century, and a new way of using materials. Science fiction is becoming non-fiction, we just need to know how to use all that it can provide.

So what to do with your CFL bulbs when they do eventually burn out?  By the way did I mention that their life span is much, much longer than a regular bulb?

In some tests, they burned brightly for 10,000 hours, whereas standard bulbs burned for just 800 to 1,500 hours.”

Now, when they do finally burn out you recycle them. Isn’t that great, another item that can be recycled. Most Ikea and Home Depots have recycling for these bulbs and many Ace and True Value stores are starting to offer the same. Wal-Mart sells more CFL’s than anyone so hopefully soon they will offer recycling as well.

There is even a next generation bulb that doesn’t pose this problem with mercury, uses even less electricity and lasts even longer but it seems we are still quite a ways off from these. So in the meantime it is important to use the next step from the 130 year old light bulb, and use it intelligently!

Here is another great article from Consumer Reports about CFL bulbs.

All quotes are taken from this article.