Murdoc the Green

One Billion Bulbs Statistics

For all of Murdoc’s capitalist tendencies, Republican leanings, and derision for stupidity like Live Earth, he’s also concerned about the environment and more than happy to do a little to help protect it. Particularly if doing so saves him a bit of cash and sticks it to those who would hold us hostage with oil.

One little thing I’ve done over the past few months is begin switching over to CFL light bulbs. Not earth shaking, I know, but a number of factors help it make sense for us. First, though they’re a bit expensive up front, over the life of the bulb it will save you money. Second, we seem to go through bulbs like crazy in our house. I don’t know if it’s something screwing with our electricity (which I’ve suspected is a bit screwy since we moved into this place) or if bulbs are just cheaper than crap these days. (That couldn’t possibly have anything to do with that “Made in China” stamp, could it?) In any event, CFLs are touted to break even or possibly even come out ahead in bulb-replacement costs. If CFLs hold up against the electricity gremlins or whatever it is in our house that makes us go through bulbs like water, they’ll easily be worth it.

When I started doing this, I joined Instapundit’s One Billion Bulbs group. Head over to his front page and find the banner on the right sidebar. Joining up records your purchases as part of his legion of readers (which is kicking the tail off of Kos’ readers…you know, the crowd that’s so concerned about the environment…) and under your own username you can track your savings, which makes it sort of fun and can be a real eye-opener.

We started by just replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs as they burned out, but today I went and swapped out a bunch of still-good incandescents. We have a lot of lights that are on dimmers or have several power settings that use regular bulbs. We also have a bunch of 3-way lamps. Regular CFLs don’t work with dimmers, and though dimmer-capable CFLs are supposedly around I’ve not found them. Regular CFLs don’t work at all with lamps that have several power settings on one regular bulb either, so my thinking is that I put CFLs into all the lights that they’ll work in and save the regular bulbs for lights that can’t take CFLs. I have a stockpile of incandescents ready to go, and in the meantime I’m saving a bit of money by using lower wattage CFLs. I’ll continue to replace the 3-ways as they burn out, as 3-way CFLs are a bit more expensive.

By the way, does anyone have any experience with dimmable CFLs? Will LEDs be a better way to solve that?

For the record, I’m opposed to a ban on incandescent bulbs. However, as the prices of CFLs (or alternatives) come down, the cost of energy goes up, and public awareness grows, I think the problem will take care of itself. For instance, I’ve changed a total of 22 bulbs now, and I was conservative on the number of hours each one was used. My total expenditure on bulbs is about $50 as many of my bulbs came in $10 6-packs. My estimated annual savings in electricity alone is $142. Before Christmas my bulbs will have paid for themselves.

A lot of times Murdoc points out stuff like books or movies and he earns a (small) bit of change if anyone purchases it through the affiliate program. This isn’t one of those cases. Murdoc just doesn’t mind saving some money and figures his readers wouldn’t either.


  1. I changed over to CFLs in my garage a couple of months ago. The 3 lights combined use 39 watt versus the 60 watt per bulb before. Here a few observations. They are not quite as bright and there is a bit of a lag in powering on. So when I walk into the garage and hit the lights, I have to wait about 1 to 2 seconds for them to power up. Then it takes about 5 minutes for them to reach maximum intensity. Also, they don’t appear to give off much heat. So that is nice during the summer. But in the winter my garage might seem a little cooler. All in all I like them, but won’t replace my regular bulbs until they wear out.

  2. The far lower heat output is also a benefit as far as I’m concerned, though not really enough to write home about. Regarding the lag, the more expensive GE bulbs I first bought have this lag. A second or less, though, not 1-2 seconds. The cheaper bulbs I bought in 6-packs have no lag whatsoever. One five bulb lamp has one lagging bulb and four that don’t. Either way, not really a problem. May switch a few around so the laggers are in places where it’s not so noticeable. I also would have waited for existing bulb to burn out except for the need for regular bulbs in a number of lamps as I noted. That made it make sense to swap out others now before they burned out. Finally, another thing that might be nice is the fact that a lamp rated for 60W can take up to a 60W CFL, which will be FAR FAR brighter than a 60W incandescent bulb. There will be no $$$ savings, of course, but you can get a hell of a lot more light if you think you need it. Also, as a 60W CFL is far cooler than a 60W incandescent, you might also be able to get away with going above 60W with a CFL. I don’t know that I’d recommend it, though, and I can’t see why anyone would need to.

  3. Also, I haven’t really noticed that it takes time for them to reach ‘maximum intensity’, though I suspect that it must. It certainly hasn’t been anything I’ve worried about. Your mileage may vary, of course.

  4. Comrades, Well, despite all the good things said about CFL, I have a need for incandescent in my shop area. The only thing I might consider would be swapping the incandescent for LED if it were possible. My main reason in needed incandescent bulbs is for pure light while painting. The CFL slightly distorts the colours, and what you thought a perfect match or ‘just the right shade’, etc, might be very off when you take it outside, or somewhere where normal bulbs are being used. Customers can take umbrage with that sort of thing. Additionally, there seems to be a pesky problem with disposing of CFL bulbs due to mercury inside the glass tubes. That, apparently, is the one little drawback that the promoters don’t want to adequately address. respects,

  5. No doubt that CFLs aren’t for every application. And in some cases they won’t make economic sense. I only think it’s worth it if it’s worth it. And if it works. But if places where CFL will work and be worth it are changed, you can save some green while being just a bit green. In many cases it’s win-win. The mercury issue is often overstated, but even the issue that there is is being lessened as manufacturers are lessening the amount of mercury in CFL bulbs. As long as folks learn a bit about them, use them when it makes sense, and use sense when using them, it’s a relatively painless way to contribute and help yourself at the same time. That’s all. All that being said, I had been waiting for LEDs. The cost is still higher, though. So I took the CFL plunge. By the time these wear out something a lot better will be available.

  6. Re: brightness. I have noticed it takes a couple of minutes to achieve full brightness on the higher wattage lamps. The lower ones seem to have less of a noticeable effect. I mostly use florescent lights in places where they will be on a lot (e.g. office), so it isn’t much of an issue. I think it’s just the tubes warming up. Re: whiteness. Getting quad phosphor helps a lot. They aren’t perfect, but they are a lot more neutral white than incandescents. You can get them in 5000K, 5500K, 6000K, etc. depending upon your preference. I like something in that range, because those colour temperatures map well to direct/indirect sunlight. There have been times I’ve left a lamp on, and thought that I had left a window open. Re: heat output. Yep, it’s great in summer. And yes, you can get a mighty powerful light without worrying about burning your house down, unlike halogen lamps. Re: time to switch on. Some lamps have separate starter units. You can replace those starters with ‘instant-on’ but I haven’t been bothered so far. I guess the same is true of the compact ones, except since the starter isn’t replaceable, you have to buy them with it integrated. I think it just comes down to some extra electronics which adjust the current flow during start-up intelligently. Those electronics cost a bit more, which is why a lot of them don’t bother. Now, my problem is that I installed mostly florescent lights more than five years ago when I moved in here, so I can’t in good conscience sign up to that site and say that I’ve swapped them now, can I?

  7. Someone mentioned the mercury issue… I know in my state, it’s illegal for me to throw out CFL bulbs, and via a nation NPR segment that happened to correspond to my state, I know there are only 3 places in the whole state that will take the bulbs. I wonder when they’ll get that taken care of, because even with manufacturers working to lower the mercury content, they’ll not get below the legal rubbish limit anytime soon. I can’t wait for a law to pass in my state requiring these bulbs, and also a coincidentally-timed crackdown on folks that throw them away, as a great source of revenue for the state. Talk about legislating yourself a cash flow! That being said, I’ve replaced a few bulbs that get heavy usage and aren’t somewhere I care about the aesthetics of the light. (I hate the way all the ones I’ve seen look color-wise, and the fabled ‘look like incandescant’ bulbs have never done so IMO.)

  8. One thing you can do if you need white light and object strongly to the 60 hz strobing of the CFL is go to halogen lights. They don’t save a lot of power, but some. They also produce a very white light. Better light than most regular incandescents which tend to be kind of red. They also last longer than an incandescent bulb. I’ve already put those in places where regular bulbs were burning out all the time. I’ve got florescent tubes and CFLs in my shop and garage. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start.

  9. I replaced all of the bulbs in my house a few years back with CFL. I remember looking at my electric bill the next month and seeing a $21.00 drop. Since then I have averaged about $17.00 per month savings. Needless to say I am quite impressed.

  10. I am a long-time MO reader, and I consider myself a serious environmentalist. I own a Hummer H1, do not drive it often, never ever litter, leave every campsite better than it was when I got there (I was a Boy Scout), and try to conserve energy at every opportunity (I believe in biodiesel, solar/ wind/ nuclear power, and recycling everything). I also hunt (poorly) and carry a knife+lighter when awake, so I think I’m a good MO type of person. I have several of these light bulbs, and I think they do last longer than incandescents and use less energy, but I am really concerned about the mercury issue. Every hard core website for environment groups says the most dangerous pollutant you can get is mercury, yet they promote CFLs at the same time. I’m curious, does anyone know exactly how much mercury is in one of these things? I mean, (1 billion light bulbs) x (???g) = might be a problem… I think I’ll do some research… I thought I read here or nearby about a lady in Maine who broke a CFL in her daughter’s room, then (foolishly?) called the state DEP about cleaning it up. They said it was a toxic danger zone and $4,000 ? later her daughter could live there again…

  11. Thanks, Nicholas, that makes sense. I found some more info on Wikipedia in the meantime here – ( One thing I noticed is that CFLs do not perform well in cold environments, but some of the newer ones do have have good color temperature and dimmable capability. They say this about the mercury content: ‘Under the voluntary commitment, effective April 15, 2007, NEMA members will cap the total mercury content in CFLs of less than 25 watts at 5 milligrams (mg) per unit. The total mercury content of CFLs that use 25 to 40 watts of electricity will be capped at 6 mg per unit.[26]’ They have a graph that shows that less mercury is used over the lifetime of the CFL when you include the power generation. Then they mention this… ‘However, because household users have the option of disposing of these products in the same way they dispose of other solid waste, it is expected that most consumers dispose of old CFLs with their standard domestic waste [29]. As each CFL manufactured by NEMA members contains up to 5-6 milligrams of mercury[26], at the Maine ‘safety’ standard of 300 nanograms per cubic meter [30], it would take 16,667 cubic meters of soil to ‘safely’ contain all the mercury in a single CFL. [31] [32] Some institutions consider hazardous mercury levels anything over 2ppm [33]. Using this limit landfill containing more than 1 CFL with 5mg of mercury per cubic meter would be considered hazardous.’ It seems proper disposal gives CFLs an advantage, but most folks tend to give this short shrift…

  12. Shipmates, heh. I live in Maine. There are so many messed up laws here it isn’t even funny. All these self-proclaimed enviros come up with ideas about how to save this or protect that, but none of them bother to look down the pike at wh is going to have to pay for it. Because of all these sorts of regulations, especially on businesses, Maine now ranks 48 out of 50 in a redent report on the friendliest business climates. That’s 48, as in 3rd from the bottom. sigh. The old joke up here says to always make certain you had a cover or cap on the back of your pick up if you had any dirt or other materials back there. If not, and it rained, chances were some fellow from the DEP would come along and declare it a wetlands. Maine is a tragic example of what happens when you elect hippies to run things. Respects,

  13. CFLs give ugly light. I’ve tried them. Plain old-fashioned ugly. Not to mention that the whole ‘I’ll do my bit to save the world’ is just ridiculous. If we add up all the energy we will ‘save’ over twenty years it will be offset by the 6 new coal-fired power stations built in China in one month.

  14. Couple of comments: 1. as far as whiteness goes, one thing to check for is a ‘CRI’ (color rendering index) number. Not all bulbs list this, especially the cheaper ones, but it can be a help. The scale coes from 1 – 100, and the closer to 100, the closer the output is to sunlight. Typically, 85 and above is a good rating unless your requirements are strict. The other method is the old trial and error method, i.e. when you find one you like, grab a stockpile! 2. fluorescents as a class do not like cold weather, so if you are putting any in an unheated area, make sure the bulbs are reated to work in the expected temperatures. This is one source of the ‘brightness delay’ discussed above – as the temperature drops, the time to reach full brightness lengthens.

  15. I’ve not had any issues with the quality of light from our CFLs. I hear this complaint all the time, and I’m one that complains about tube fluorescents, but so far no complaints about the CFLs I’ve put in from me or the family. They’re different, to be sure, but a lot of the folks I hear complaining about the quality don’t really seem to have a reason for what they think. I also hear complaints about widescreen movies because they’re different. I’ve always found that to be one of the dumbest debates to have, but the pan and scan fans swear up and down and inside out that movies look stupid with those black bars on the screen. Fortunately, with high def and 16:9 sets and such gaining in popularity, this asinine argument seems to be fading away. For all we know, the light that we’re used to having indoors is the wrong color and ugly. Unless you’re doing something that absolutely requires certain light types, of course. As I keep saying over and over, it only makes sense if it makes sense. As far as doing ‘my bit to save the world’, I will usually only do my bit if all else is equal. In this case, it’s not equal for me to ‘do my bit’, ‘doing my bit’ saves me about $140 a year. I don’t give a rip about Chinese power plants or a global movement to save the planet. I’m saving myself $140. The fact that I can ‘do my bit’ at the same time is bonus. Alternatively, we could all be total jackasses and just say ‘doing my bit won’t make any difference because the Chinese will just put up another power plant’ and no one does anything. Smart. Good plan. I’m not telling anyone else they should get CFLs. I’m saying I got CFLs and said why and listed how much $$$ it should save me. Make your own decision, obviously.

  16. There are more places that accept flourescent tubes that NPR led me to believe, though many of them are private and will charge. There is a county one near me that will take up to 10 bulbs/tubes, I assume for free. Perhaps there’s one near you…

  17. Murdoc : as I understand it, the way florescent lights produce light is a bit different.. an incandescent creates light in a wide frequency band, because it does so by glowing from heat. In fact that band is so wide, a lot of it is non-visible, which is why they use so much power, and get so hot (a lot of it is infra-red). But while it doesn’t necessarily give you a good white-point, it does give you light at all visible frequencies. On the other hand, florescent lights rely on various phosphors which glow at certain frequencies when bombarded by UV produced by the plasma. This light is much narrower in frequency (and hence less wasteful) but you do get ‘gaps’ in the bands. They look white by managing to spread the bands in such a way that they ‘add up’ to white. But, since some bands may be missing/weak, some coloured items may look strange under their light. This is why I say to get a quad phosphor lamp if you can, since it covers more of the spectrum of light and makes things look more natural. But also, I’ve been living with a florescent light for decades so I suppose to some extent I’m used to it.

  18. Murdoc, I wasn’t complaining, mind you. I’m all well and good about saving money by switching to CFL where I can, and that sounds like a good plan to me. Slightly off topic. I ginned up a presentation once on a reverse theory of light. It speculated that light bulbs didn’t MAKE light, per se. My theory was that light was everywhere, but that particles called ‘Darkons’ filled the available environment and blocked the light. Lightbulbs were, in effect, Darkon absorbers. They generated heat vis the friction of the Darkons being absorbed and passing through the glass of the bulb. The absorption field strength decreased with distance from the filaments, which is why the ‘light’ appeared brightest closest to the bulb and seemed to fade away the farther one went from the bulb itself….. Really pissed off my daughters science teacher 🙂 The sun is basically a giant natural Darkon absorber, This also fills the bill about all that missing ‘dark matter’ in the universe. It’s actually composed entirely of Darkons, which have ne weight per se, but fill up all the available space. Respects,

  19. The wave length given off by CFLs are a problem for some who suffer from migranes. They cannot handle being around CFLs.

  20. It is not the wavelength of light that triggers migraines (and epileptic seizures for that matter). It is the flickering. This is probably more of an issue for European countries, since their electricity cycles at 50Hz (times per second) while most of the Americas cycles at 60Hz. Newer bulb designs have reduced (eliminated?) the effect of the flicker.

  21. I know I’m kinda late to this thread, but I’m a geek and I can’t let it go. I have been using CFL’s off and on (sorry, but yes, that was a pun) for about 10 years now. I am an electrical engineer, and I did some FCC compliance work with some of the early versions. So I was turned on to them (sorry again) quite a few years before the general public. They really have come a long way in a short amount of time. Color/hue: I do quite a bit of photography and printing, so this is important to me. Basically, they are all over the place. Some are cool, some are warm. I’ve even had some from the same package that varied by probably 1000 degrees. I have noticed some manufacturers are claiming to have a better handle on this recently. My advice is, if you don’t like what you see, shop around. I relegate especially cool or warm samples to closets, porches, etc. Mercury: This issue is way overblown IMO. Yes, they contain mercury. But so do 99% of all fluorescent, high intensity, and even neon bulbs. And the amount of mercury in a CFL is less than that found in the traditional 40w 48′ tubes that are manufactured (and disposed of) by the billions. Should they be treated with care? Yes, absolutely. But mercury in no way should be considered a show stopper. The cost/benefit analysis of the potential negative environmental impact versus the energy savings with fluorescents has been pondered for years. And most folks have come to the conclusions that fluorescents, while not ideal, are certainly a prudent choice. Energy savings: The direct energy savings are real, and nice. But this time of year (at least in the northern hemisphere), the indirect savings in air conditioning costs are significant too. Every watt of heat out put by a bulb requires another watt or so of energy to pump back out of your house or office. So you get a double bang for your buck in the summer. Of course, this is offset a bit in the winter, when you’re giving up a few watts of ‘free heat’. But all other things being equal, the net loss in heating isn’t as great as the savings in cooling. That’s why I’ve been a fan from day one. They make a whole lot of sense no matter what your motivations.