The year 2014 came in quietly, a silence that within a few short
hours worked itself into a full-on tantrum of a snow storm. As I sit
here hunched over my keyboard while munching on a post-Christmas
chocolate spinach salad, a space heater dries my boots and toasts my
Brutal wind chills and snow-bogged tires aside, our spirits
can be buoyed by one sign of technological progress: the end of the
I heard this announcement on the radio on
my drive home. The news is no big shocker, since Congress mandated the
change-over to compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL) in 2012. But the
final phase-out one of Thomas Edison’s biggest inventions is supposed to
be complete in 2014. You can buy them for as long as the supply last,
but new ones won’t be made.
North Americans have had plenty of
time to get used to the switch. The U.S. Congress approved an energy law
in 2007 announcing the change in our source of artificial light.
Australia nixed incandescent light bulbs with an outright ban set for
2010. Give us Americans the latest and greatest in high-octane,
caffeinated, nicotine-infused energy drinks and the pop-tops are off
before you can say, “Bob’s your uncle.”
But take away a cheap, over-heating screw-in bulb that’s been around since 1879? Why are they taking our light bulbs away?
The most commonly expressed objections to the change are:
-CFLs cost more than standard bulbs. CFL costs about $3, compared with 50 cents for a standard bulb.
-Frequent on-and-off switches shorten the life of CFLs.
-Break a CFL and you have a toxic spill on your hands.
bad thing about CFLs is the toxic substance mercury that helps CFLs
produce light. Some of us remember watching balls of mercury bounce
across our desks in science class. That probably explains a lot about
There are an equal number of pros for making the slow home-plate slide to CFLs. Such as:
-CFLs contain no more mercury than an old-fashioned thermometer.
is still scary stuff, but the EPA says that you should clear the room
for 15 minutes and pick up the pieces with a damp paper towel instead of
-CFLs can be recycled, contrary to popular belief.
trot on down to the closest IKEA. According to the popular television
show “Glee,” there’s an IKEA in Lima, just past the palm trees and right
next door to Target in the two-story shopping mall.
But the big nail in the incandescent light bulb’s coffin is in energy savings.
CFL uses about 75 percent less energy and lasts five years instead of a
few months, translating to as much as a 12 percent discount on your
CFLs can still save you money even if you
leave them on for the recommended minimum time of 15 minutes. CFLs with
the government’s Energy Star label are required to carry a two-year
limited warranty, so if they burn out, return it with your dated
According to Dr. James Boulter, an associate chemistry
professor and director for the Watershed Institute for Collaborative
Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, one 14-watt CFL bulb
can last 8,000 hours. If you are paying 10.5 cents a kilowatt hour, you
will save $38.64 in energy costs with a CFL bulb versus using a
And if you don’t like those squiggly, spiral-shaped CFLs, light-emitting diode lamps (LEDs) are more than twice as efficient.
month, our house was lit for Christmas by strings of solar lights.
Having lived in dark apartments in my twenties and watching my beloved
house plants die one right after the other meant any home with my name
on the purchase agreement would have to let in substantial amounts of
natural light. Therefore, there was enough morning and afternoon sun
shining in our windows to recharge the cheap light string collectors and
light the tree every night during the holidays.
If bidding a
final farewell to the incandescent lightbulb saves any significant
coinage from our grid fees, and lessens our carbon footprint, I’ll dry
my tears and consider it a good start to 2014. One of these new years, I
hope to fuel my car with a filter full of coffee grounds and a banana
peel. It’s coming, if it doesn’t already exist, just as sure as the snow
drift I’m stuck in today.