Friday, March 21, 2014

Not So Fast with the CFLs

Not So Fast with the CFLs...
You can't buy 100 watt incandescent bulbs anymore, so what do you do?  We are being encouraged to use #CFLs (Compact Florescent bulbs), but you should know that you are bringing a toxic hazard into your home.

CFLs use 20-30% less power and last 10X longer than regular bulbs - but they contain mercury!
So now you need to know a whole bunch of safety stuff about these bulbs.  For example, if one breaks, you need to know #howtocleanupabrokenCFL.  First you need to clear everyone out of the room to let the dust settle, turn off your furnace or air conditioner, use a wet cloth or sticky tape to clean up the settled mercury dust, dispose of it in a sealed container and you must always take a CFL to the toxic waste dump!  Oh, and DO NOT USE a vacuum.  Yay - wasn't that fun? 
Turning CFLs on and off frequently shortens their life span.  They are less effective in cold environments, like garages or porch lights in the winter.  When installing (or removing) a CFL, only turn the plastic base, not the glass.  As they age, they overheat, so if they are mounted upside down, you may get a burning smell (jury is out on whether they are a #firehazard - I say yes).
As a #homeinspector, I wonder about mercury residue in the future within homes.  You will never know if there was a toxic situation because of a broken bulb and careless handling.  Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, and it's especially dangerous for children and fetuses.  I know you can't worry about everything, but it is food for thought.
What about LEDs?
Well LEDs are more expensive, and also should be disposed of in a toxic dump.  Cheaper bulbs are not as reliable, bright or long-lasting.  The light is directional.  Those are the negatives.
On the bright side (pun intended), they also last much longer and generate very little heat.  Modern LEDs are much brighter and more consistent, but an inferior bulb can fail more quickly and isn't as bright - stick with the name brands.  Also, look for one whose packaging says it is dimmable.  These lights are also "instant-on", unlike CFLs which need to warm up.
However, an LED GU10 type bulb (typically used in pot-lights) that replace halogen bulbs, are so worth it.  A 50 watt LED uses only about 8 watts of power (that's 16% of the power usage).  I once measured the power consumption of a kitchen circuit with 6 halogen potlights turned on and it was the biggest power draw of any of the circuits in the house at the time.
Our home and building inspections cover issues found on the day of inspection, but we do like to give you maintenance tips for the future.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact us (advice and support are free).
And the bottom line is...
  • Look for high quality LED bulbs as a replacement for incandescent bulbs.