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January 23, 2003

Compact Fluorescent bulbs - hey Mikie, he likes it!

I recently got involved with a church-based effort encouraging the stewardship of the environment through the use of "green power" - power generated from less polluting sources than coal, which is biggest source of power.  The effort I'm involved with is called Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, which is an offshoot of an effort known as Episcopal Power and Light, which started in California.

The folks involved in these efforts are also big on energy conservation, not surprisingly, and they've been talking about Compact Fluorescent Bulbs, or CFLs.  CFLs fit in standard light fixtures.

I've never been very keen on fluorescent light.  I much prefer the warmth of incandescent light; the coolness of most fluorescent lights just doesn't do it for me.  Light is a personal thing; I have no interest in having my bedroom lit up like a elementary school classroom.  Conservationists have urged switching to fluorescents in the home for years; "Yeah, right" has been my response.

But I've started noticing the CFLs at places like Home Depot and Costco, and given that I'd agreed to work with the Green Power folks, I  thought I ought to at least check one out.

So when I was out at the grocery store last night, I picked up a CFL that was a replacement for a 100w bulb; it uses 23w, and should last about 6000 hours.  If you use it 3 hours per day, that's over 5 years.  (The incandescent bulb it replaces is rated at 750 hours.)  Georgia Power charges me 6.3 cents per kilowatt hour; according to the box the bulb came in, I should save something like 30 dollars in electricity over 5 years. 

I took it home and decided to try it in my the floor lamp in my 10-year-old daughter's bedroom.  I just had to change a bulb for her, and it strikes me I had changed it just 5 months ago.  I also figured she'd be less picky about the color of the light than I am.

But here's the part that surprised me: the light it casts looks more or less like the incandescent light I'm used to.  I'm sold.

Downsides: the bulb I bought was $7, which is probably at least 10 times the cost of a 100w bulb.  CFLs also tend to dim over time; one source said the bulb would dim by 30% by the end of its life.   The bulbs tend to be taller than incandescents; they won't fit in all fixtures.  And being a fluorescent, it starts out a little dim, and then brightens up over perhaps 20 seconds.  (It's actually more like 60 seconds if the bulb is cold.) That's not such a bad thing when you turn on the light in the morning; it gives your eyes a chance to accommodate.

The bulb I bought was a 'spiral' model, which GE claims distributes the light a little better. It sure looks funky.;GE Spiral CFL bulb

And my daughter even likes it. "Thank you, daddy," she said. "Will you buy me another one when I'm 15?"