February 02, 2007

Compact Fluorescent (CF) Lamps or Light Bulbs or Whatever

Colin McEnroe was vamping about these on his show yesterday. (He was also talking with Cherry Jones and raving about "Doubt" at the Bushnell, I almost got tickets but I thought that the work was too intimate for the balcony seats I really could afford, and then the damn Bushnell online ordering wanted about $7 extra per seat for a handling charge. Grrrr.......) Think I will stick to more intimate theatre - Hartford Stage and Theatreworks.

Anyway, back to Compact Fluorescents (hereafter, CFs). I've picked up a few multi-paks of these. They are in most of the main overhead fixtures in the house - kitchen, bedrooms, halls, basement. The exceptions are mostly related to form, environment, or aesthetics - an artful dining room fixture with small bulbs . A 3-way incandescent in a floor fixture in the living room. A lower watt bedside lamp. Bathroom vanity fixtures (globes). Outdoor lamps. I am sure if I set my mind to it (and I will) I could come up with another 5 or 6 bulbs worthy of replacement.

I kind of like the way the CFs come on quickly with a sort of yellowish, dimmer glow, and then brighten as they heat up. Some see this as a negative, but I've come to like it - it feels analogish (vs. the ON / OFF binary, instant gratification of an incandescent bulb). It feels like I am lighting a campsite lantern or something whenever I turn on one of these bulbs.

I am also somewhat concerned about the externalized costs of CFs, specifically the environmental costs incurred during manufacture and the environmental costs of the mercury contained inside these puppies. Energy hogs though they may be, incandescent lamps are pretty darn simple from a manufacturing and disposal perspective.

I am also somewhat concerned about the failure mode of CF's - we all know how an incandescent bulb fails. But, being an electrical engineer, I could envision a less benign failure mode for CFs - a slow burndown resulting in fire, a smokey failure (mercury release?), an explosion with resulting glass shards.

Along the way, I stumbled across Don Klipstein's Web Site - including a most thorough consumer guide Some Better Compact Fluorescent Lamps - And some you might want to avoid. I kind of love the fact that there is a person like Don, apparently for no reason other than he is interested, buying, testing, measuring the energy consumption and light output of CFs. Reading his site, for example, I come across the availability of three-way bulbs, globes (for bathrooms), and miniature CF's (for decorative fixtures).

Oh, and about the post title "Compact Fluorescent (CF) Lamps or Light Bulbs or Whatever". CFs have dragged us into the same linguistic territory as record albums and CD's. We continue to refer to an artist as releasing an "album" even if the "album" is just released on CD. So to, we refer to a CF "bulb" even through perhaps the word bulb is anachronistic.

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