October 6, 2007


Edison's Dimming Bulbs: How Wal-Mart and the government are killing the incandescent light bulb. (Daniel Gross, Oct. 6, 2007, Slate)

Compact fluorescent bulbs cost more than regular incandescent bulbs. But according to the U.S. Department of Energy, they last up to 10 times longer, use about one-fourth the energy, and produce 90 percent less heat. Over its life span of four and a half years, a CFL more than repays its higher cost in energy savings: $62.95 per light bulb. Oh, and they're good for the planet, since they produce fewer emissions. But while they've grown in popularity, CFLs have yet to emerge as a household staple, in part because consumers can't see beyond the shock of the sticker price to the long-term savings. "When you buy a compact fluorescent bulb at the cash register, you experience the higher cost vividly and all at once," says Robert Frank, a Cornell economist and author of The Economic Naturalist. "But when your electric bill goes down as a result, the savings are not as evident." Consumers routinely make such short-term economically irrational decisions.

As it aims to vanquish Thomas Edison's filament bulb—and save the Earth—the CFL is running into the brick wall of human nature. But the CFL is getting a lift from two of the globe's most powerful forces: image-conscious Western governments and Wal-Mart.

...rational economic behavior sometimes has to be forced upon folks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 6, 2007 8:19 AM

There is the small matter of cash flow, and for poorer people, the cost of just one light bulb can be significant. The longer term savings don't do you much good if you are short on cash now.

Posted by: Henry IX at October 6, 2007 11:23 AM

"up to 10 times longer"

..rational economic behavior sometimes has to be forced upon folks.

How frequest do they last "10 times longer"? How about some actual statistics instead of talking points? Betcha the average, median and modes are all a lot closer to 1 than to 10, and people know it. Which is almost certainly why the social engineers have to resort to the means of first resort: force.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 6, 2007 11:31 AM

OK, let's not mention:
(a) fluorescents bulbs don't work well in cold areas, i.e. below freezing it's sometimes difficult to even get them to come on, or
(b) mercury pollution. Current commercial straight Fl lamps have to be separated in the waste stream. No one seems to looked this far ahead (or will talk about it) as far as consumer bulbs go.
The coming thing in lighting development is LED arrays.

Posted by: ed in texas at October 6, 2007 11:44 AM

What about eye damage due to flickering lights.

Posted by: erp [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2007 12:09 PM

My experience over the past 3-4 years is that CF bulbs in high on-off cycle locations last at best 2x incandescents.

Posted by: TimF at October 6, 2007 1:05 PM

We have just replaced an incandescent flood light with a CF bulb above the kitchen sink, and promptly smashed the old bulb on the counter. Glass fragments were all over the place. I wonder if we had to call posion control to clean up the hazardous mercury and decontaminate the kitchen if we had broken the new bulb.

Posted by: ic at October 6, 2007 2:04 PM

No, force is required because, as you nicely demonstrate, no one believes in reason.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2007 2:46 PM

Yeah, if you buy that bulb you might have to skip a carton of cigarettes....

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2007 2:47 PM

There have been flourescent and CFL bulbs in my house for years. The only way they last longer is in places where they're hardly used. A regular bulb might pop signficantly sooner than a CFL will burn out. But in a room where the lights are on all the time, on and off constantly, maybe they last a year and a half. Maybe.

Posted by: RC at October 7, 2007 8:01 AM

The things are great for the basement, but that's about it, light quality is terrible.

Posted by: Perry at October 7, 2007 10:30 AM

The one I am using right now is the first one I have found where the light does not bother my eyes and it is holding up very well. That said, I don't see myself going to a complete CFL setup any time soon. The initial outlay is just more than I want to spend at one time.

The one problem I see is that I have several well-loved lamps that have a shade fastened to the light bulb. How to handle that one with CFL?

Posted by: dick at October 7, 2007 11:34 PM

I've stopped using CF's only because I move a lot and have learned that they break easy while moving. But if you have a house, they'll work great.

You can't treat them like incandescents though. If you are turning them off and on all the time, they will wear out. Turn them on once in the day and do not turn them off until you go to bed. Your energy costs should still go down, and they'll last longer. It's counter intuitive though since we're so use to the very inferior old bulbs. They should probably come up instructions so people don't make the natural mistakes that come when you treat them like incandescents.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 8, 2007 11:47 AM