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Wal-Mart Is Pushing Compact Fluorescent Bulbs 923

While we all know from reading the internets that Wal-Mart is irredeemably evil, the world's largest retailer has committed to get compact fluorescent lightbulbs into 100 million homes this year. CFLs are found in only 6% of households today. These energy-saving bulbs use 75% less electricity than incandescents and produce far less greenhouse gas to manufacture and use. Wal-Mart seems determined to use its marketing prowess to do what hasn't successfully been done in the CFL's 25-year history: to convince consumers to pay more upfront for large savings over the product's lifetime.
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Wal-Mart Is Pushing Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

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  • Re:Brilliant! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by omeomi ( 675045 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:20AM (#17439714) Homepage
    I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that the reason I don't use them has nothing to do with their cost. I had one once, and the delay between the time that I switched on the light and the time the light actually turned on really annoyed me. I know it's stupid, but that's why I haven't bought any more. That, and it didn't really last all that much longer than other regular bulbs that I have. It didn't ever burn out, but it started flickering to the point that it would give just about anybody a headache.

    Personally, I'm hoping LED-based lightbulbs become more common in the near future...
  • by amigabill ( 146897 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:21AM (#17439720)
    When will these things become dimmable? Or get good LED "bulbs" dimmable? I've got dimmer switches in 4 rooms of my house which means I'm not able to use these things there. I do have a few elsewhere in the house, and I'd love to use them exclusively, but they don't freakin' work in some things. If they don't freakin work, I don't freakin use them there...
  • by Jeff1946 ( 944062 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:25AM (#17439768) Journal
    Don't forget the major source of mercury pollution in the US in coal burning power plants. Perhaps the energy saved with CFLs would mean less mercury in the environment even if they are improperly disposed of.
  • by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:38AM (#17439910)
    I don't think it is the color of the light that makes them seem dimmer. I think it is just a case of over exaggerating the benefits. When they say the bulb is equivalent to a 100 watt bulb, you can expect to actually get the equivalent of an 80 watt bulb. This wouldn't be so bad if they, as you said, sold 150W equivalent bulbs.

    There are two issues I have with CFLs though.

    1) I have had problems with them interfering with IR remotes. The first time it happened to me, I thought I was mistaken about the TVs channel changing on it's own, as I wasn't really paying attention. The second time it happened, I freaked me out, because my wife was out of town, and the idea of my lights changing the channel never occured to me. I had to do a complete check of the house with a golf club to make sure there wasn't someone in the house. When the house checked out empty, I started looking for other possibilities. Over the next few weeks, I figured it out. Having the remotes stop working when the lights were on was the final determination. This may be better know, but it has kept me from using CFLs at all in any room that needs the use of an IR remote.

    2) The county dumps in my area have declared the CFLs to be toxic waste. This makes it illegal to throw them in the garbage when they do die. The stores that sell the bulbs are not collecting them, so the only legal way to get rid of them is by driving them to the dump.

    I don't know the actual toxicity of the CFLs, but I have to wonder what the actual environmental impact is when you account for the bulbs being toxic, and the extra trips to the dump to dispose of dead bulbs. Anyone with real data on this care to chime in?
  • Re:Brilliant! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by exploder ( 196936 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:40AM (#17439928) Homepage

    I just bought 2 packs from (speak of the devil) Walmart last week.
    Guess what? There is a delay.. maybe a second or so - and then on top of that it takes them about a minute to get up to full brightness. So the 100W equivalent CFL's I have put out (guesstimate) 20W of incandescent equivalent light. I keep my house at 70F. When the bulbs have been operating and are up to about (guesstimate) 100F, they turn on with about a 1/4 second delay. Who keeps their house at 100F?
    Sounds like I have significantly better bulbs than you do. I don't remember when/where I bought them, but they say "Commercial Electric" on them...who the hell are they? I guess they can make a good bulb, whoever they are...

  • it's about time (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Yonder Way ( 603108 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @01:01AM (#17440088)
    I've been pushing these things on everyone who will listen for almost ten years now.

    It's amazing to think that in all that time, I've only lost three bulbs. Two of them burned out after 6+ years of regular use. One of them met an early demise thanks to a kinetic incident involving a toddler and a toy.

    The initial investment may seem high (and when I started buying them, it was easy to spend around $20 on a single bulb) but over the years you more than get your money back.

    The only real gotchas I've found is that they don't work at all with dimmer switches, and they may require a warm-up period if you use them outside and it is quite cold out. Indoors they are instant-on now. The old ones used to hum, flicker, warm-up to full brightness, etc. but those problems have pretty much been overcome years ago.

    On the upshot, a relatively small desktop lamp can usually accommodate an incredibly bright CF bulb. To achieve similar brightness with a conventional bulb would no doubt destroy the lamp. If you like to read by a strong light source, you ought to try this.
  • by Nova Express ( 100383 ) <lawrenceperson @ g m a i l .com> on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @01:05AM (#17440116) Homepage Journal
    Fluorescent lights cause fading/bleaching in book covers. [loc.gov] Though not as prnounced as the effects of sunlight, it still damages books, which is why, as a book collector [rr.com], I won't be replacing my incandescent lights anytime soon...

  • The cost per BTU of heat from your gas furnace is probably a lot less than the cost per BTU of heat coming from your incandescent light fixtures. (If it wasn't, you'd be better off ditching your gas furnace and just using electric baseboard heaters.) So by using more efficient light fixtures and running your furnace to make up the heat, you're still saving money. How much depends on the cost of gas and electricity where you live, but if you google around and find an electric-heat versus gas-heat calculator, it'd be pretty trivial to figure it out.

    It's not quite as much money as you'd save in Florida, where in addition to the electricity that CFLs save, you also save the cooling cost of moving the heat they produce out of your home, but the savings is still there.

    Also, unless you have a house with very strange lighting fixtures, I'm going to bet most of the light bulbs are probably at head-level or higher: that's not where you want your heat to be produced. At best, most of it is probably rising up to the ceiling where it's not a major contributor to the felt warmth in the room. I suspect a far greater percentage of the heat produced by incandescent bulbs is wasted, versus the heat produced by an appliance that's designed to warm the room, simply by virtue of their location.
  • Re:Brilliant! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anarchitect_in_oz ( 771448 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @01:25AM (#17440274)
    Most of the LED lights on the market are a lot "colder" than CFL's, although there are some colour mixing bulbs you can get as well. They tend to be expensive as they have to mix red, yellow and blue or cold white to get the right mix.
    The other issue with LED is that it's hard to make them to run on regular household voltages like standard incandesents and CFL, so you need a transformer, whichs tends to negate the benifit you get.
    Upshot is they don't make that good of a drop in replacement in household situations, except for Halogen downlights where you have the transformer already.

    That said we are seeing more and more LED type lights for use in new installations if you design to use them there are a great product they offer you many options to play with in how you light space, although they don't do well for area lighting. Waiting for OLED large panel lights to fully round out the options.

    I've heard things about LED/Flouroscent hybrids, that use very cheap to produce LEDs that output mostly UV, then use phospherscent coatings to convert that to white light. Just like CFL they can adjust the coating to get the right light colour temperture. Waiting to see what will hit the market. It's very promissing it's really is a best of both worlds situation as it's rarely the phospher coating that gives out in fluoro's. So you get low power, low heat, instant on, dimmable, good colour temp.
  • by Fallen Kell ( 165468 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @01:31AM (#17440328)
    LEDs are here. Even MythBusters did an episode on lights and costs. In it, they created a testing device to simulate the abuse a light takes turning on/off with it cycling every 2 minutes. After 2 weeks in that, only the LED lights still worked, traditional, florescent, and CFL's all stopped working by that point, with traditional going first, the regular florescents and the CFL's going approx the same time (the edge went to the CFL's). The LEDs also produced more lumens per watt power consumption as well as used the lest amount of energy to turn on, whereas the traditional florescents had a 7x power spike for turn on, and the traditionals had a 1.5x spike, even the CFL's had a power spike. Everything says to use LED lights now.
  • Re:Brilliant! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bman08 ( 239376 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @01:31AM (#17440330)
    I've found that people are crazy with the lights. If it's not the delay, it's an insane need for brightness. Show of hands; who's running 100+ watts in their bedside reading lamp?

    With the smallest CF's I can find I've got mine down to 10W with no eyestrain and the wife can sleep. My experience with CFs is that they're a tiny bit slow to warm up and the light can feel a little dingy... also some of them hum a little. It's a small price to pay.

  • by syphax ( 189065 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @01:48AM (#17440450) Journal
    If your electricity came from burning oil (easiest way to compare) at 33% efficiency:

    1 CFL saves 360 kWh over its life (delta of 45W times 8000 hours). That took 360 / .33 = 1,080 kWh thermal to produce (oil -> electricity).

    A gallon of gas contains about 36 kWh of energy (sorry for the weird units; I should have gone to BTU to start). So 1 CFL saves 30 gallons of gas.

    Where is your dump?
  • You may have to look a little harder to find them in the compact (screw-in) styles, but there are a lot of color temperatures available in fluorescent bulbs. The "cool white" (CW) that you are probably imagining is one of the most common ones, but it is by no means the only color available.

    Typical CW fluorescents actually produce a slightly greenish light, not blue (and if you look at a spectrometer's output, you'll see a big spike around 550 nm, which is green), and have a correlated color temperature somewhere around 4000K. I say "somewhere around" because, since they are really producing a number of fairly distinct wavelenths rather than a continuous distribution, they don't have an exact black-body radiator equivalent. But the general consensus is that it's somewhere around 3400-4200K (depending on phosphor), with a greenish cast. It's this green cast that's the real killer, and makes CW fluorescent light so unflattering to most people's skin; the color temperature itself isn't the major issue.

    If you want warmer (lower color temp) light, it is possible to buy "warm white" fluorescents. They have a correlated temperature of somewhere around 2950-3000K, or about the same as a 100W bulb. To most people, it looks a lot like an incandescent. They're still spectroscopically different (again, fluorescent produces peaks and valleys at various wavelengths, as will anything that's not actually heated to several thousand degrees), but they're designed so that the human eye perceives them as a warm 3000K source, rather than the usual green.

    To be honest, I think "warm" lighting is vastly overrated. I agree that the CW fluorescents are obnoxious, but what I discovered is a far better option than trying to approximate the 3000K yellow glow of a bulb, was to jump up in color temperature, rather than trying to go down. Personally I've found that the high-temperature (5000K) "Daylight" fluorescents are the most pleasant. They don't have the green cast that the 3200K CW ones do, but they also don't have the false yellow tinge that the 'warm' ones do. They really are the closest thing to sunlight, if you get the right bulbs. (Some people also find them very handy for Seasonal Affective Disorder, in fact they're the key component of those pricey therapeutic lamps.)

    Until I changed to 5000K lights, I never realized how yellow incandescents made everything appear. Walking from a room lit with the high-temp fluorescents to incandescent bulbs is like going from the outside into a cave; it's really striking. Rather than trying to produce crummy imitations of what are really a limitation of incandescent bulbs (their low color temperature), I think fluorescent light manufacturers should really be extolling their high-color-temperature, "full-spectrum" bulbs, because once you've lived with them, there's no going back. Unfortunately, it's going to take a while to rid people of the idea that 'high color temperature' means the cruddy, unflattering, green light they've grown accustomed to in office buildings and other institutional locations.
  • Re:Brilliant! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Technician ( 215283 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @01:53AM (#17440506)
    My only current complaint is that they don't play nice with dimmers.

    Visit Home Depot. They have a larger selection and include dimmable and hard to find sizes including candelabra bulbs which are dimmable. A set of 8 3 watt dimmable bulbs in my decrative chandelier is a nice touch.

    Power wise it replaced 8 25 watt bulbs.
  • by ink ( 4325 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @02:01AM (#17440572) Homepage
    http://www.centennialbulb.org/photos.htm [centennialbulb.org] It's a bulb in a Livermore/Pleasanton fire house. It has a carbon filament that is much thicker than modern bulbs and also burns much cooler/darker. (105 years old)
  • OT: Electric heat. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <slashdot.kadin@x[ ].net ['oxy' in gap]> on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @02:06AM (#17440604) Homepage Journal
    Actually with fuel prices so high, electric heat is break-even, possibly even cheaper, than gas or oil heat. I did the math last year (BTUs per KWh, BTUs per gal fuel, considering furnace efficiency, etc), and electric was slightly cheaper for me. Bummer that replacing my gas furnace is itself a major expense, so the cost benefit would take many years to balance out.

    If this is really the case where you live, the immediate solution isn't to go ripping out your furnace, but just to supplement your gas heat with electric spot heat. You can go down to WalMart (or the socially responsible big-box retailer of your choice) and pick up a 1.5kW oil-filled electric radiator for about $50, last time I checked. Prices might be higher now that it's winter. Places like Job Lot often have them on sale for even less.

    But if you take one of those and park it bedroom, or better yet get a few of them and place them strategically throughout the house, you can probably keep your gas furnace from running on all but the coldest days, and still be comfortable. Or heck, get one with a thermostat and set it higher than your gas furnace's setting, and you'll effectively have an electrically-heated home (probably requiring more than one, depending on the size of your place). The bottom line is: there's no need to have a single energy source for your heating needs. You can easily have electric rads with a gas furnace as backup, just like many people in northern New England use wood for heat, but still have an oil furnace as backup. Diversification is probably a good thing in any event, economics aside, and electric heat is one of the easiest things to add, because you already have the "fuel" coming into your house.

    Back to the light bulb issue, using electric radiators is still probably preferable to heating using incandescent light bulbs, because the heater will sit closer to the floor (heating more evenly), and will be cheaper in the long run as heat-producing appliances -- a $50 heater that produces 1.5kW of heat and lasts for years is a lot cheaper per watt-hour than a $1 bulb that produces 100W and lasts for 1,000 or so hours. Plus, you're not contributing nearly as much waste, and all the externalities that it implies.
  • by dakirw ( 831754 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @02:55AM (#17440910)
    My only current complaint is that they don't play nice with dimmers.
    GE makes some dimmable CFL bulbs now. I picked up a couple from WalMart. The downside is that the dimming range isn't very big (the dimmest output is about half of the max) and are less flexible than incandescent bulbs. They're also rather expensive - about $12 per bulb. Not cost effective yet.
  • by nemeosis ( 259734 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:00AM (#17441264)
    My college library designed the building so that the lights would shine up and hit the ceiling, and the light would reflect off the white paint.
    Maybe you should buy a vertical upright lamp.
  • by 10Ghz ( 453478 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:03AM (#17441276)
    I don't know how it is in USA, but in Finland daytime-electricity (peak-usage) is usually more expensive than off-peak electricity. So when you need the heat, you would be using the most expensive electricity to get it. However, if you had indirect electric heating, things would be a lot nicer. Many people here have water-boilers that are heated off-peak electrically, so the electricity doesn't cost as much. The hot water is then circulated under the floorboards during the day, heating up the floor. End-result is that you have heat that is generated off-peak, and the resulting heat is put where it's most efficient: on the floor. You can really feel the heat on the floor, and you can actually keep the room-temperature 1-2 degrees celcius lower than you could do otherwise.

    You feel a lot more comfortable if you have warm feet, even if the actual room-temperature is slightly lower than normal :).
  • by Phoobarnvaz ( 1030274 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:44AM (#17441512)
    This makes it illegal to throw them in the garbage when they do die.

    Very true. According to the article...Wal-Mart is looking into having people bring them the old ones when they do "burn" out...like Office Max & others do for toner & print cartridges. At least this way...I get a free ream of recycled paper. Wonder if they'll give you a replacement bulb for 4 or 5 burned out bulbs?

    A little word of caution about these bulbs...was getting dressed one morning & broke the bulb by not watching where my hand went. (Have a very low ceiling & it was one of those with the "U" shaped bulb...not the "curly" type.) As with any type of bulb like this...glass went EVERYWHERE. Had to lock up the cat & get the vacuum cleaner out & clean the whole room before letting her out.

    Of course...love the news story of the "rocket scientists" filling up the burned out bulbs with gas & playing light saber with them. Wonder if they could use the "Force" where they ended up!!!;)
  • by sd.fhasldff ( 833645 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @05:11AM (#17441648)

    To anyone who thought this sounded a tad dubious, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the Consumer Electronics Group of the Electronics Industries Association (EIA) have actually investigated (and confirmed) this issue. A detailed report is available:

    http://www.neptunlight.com/files/IR-and-CFLs.pdf [neptunlight.com] (PDF warning)

    It also provides a helpful primer for anyone who doesn't actually know how one of these things work ;-)

  • by catchblue22 ( 1004569 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @05:53AM (#17441802) Homepage

    I buy the Phillips open coil bulbs (the ones with no glass dome), and I find that they come in instantly. There is a slight warmup time, but they are almost at full brightness without any warmup.

    The bulbs with the glass dome around them take far longer to warm up. I'm not sure why this is so...perhaps the open coil bulbs can handle more startup energy because they dissipate heat better than the closed bulbs.

    We have replaced almost all lightbulbs in our house with compact fluorescent bulbs, and the effect on our electricity bill has been noticeable. The color of the light is almost indistinguishable from regular incandescent bulbs in most applications. I have found that it makes a huge difference what type of bulbs you buy. Do NOT buy the cheap Ikea bulbs, as their color is terrible, and their warmup time is excessive. I have found that Phillips is the best brand. GE seems ok, but I haven't bought many of them yet.

    At the very least, buy bulbs that are Energy Star rated, as this guarantees certain performance characteristics, such as color. All fluorescent bulbs are NOT created equal.

  • by nobodyman ( 90587 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @06:20AM (#17441914) Homepage
    Profits aren't inherently evil. It's how you come by them.

    The average walmart employee's wage is under the poverty line. 40% of employee's families are on government assistance. The majority of walmart locations are built almost entirely from taxpayer dollars because in addition to and receive enormous tax breaks from local governments (Walmart is one of the top recipients of corporate welfare dollars, a bit of a rarity for a fortune 500 company posting record profits). Oh, did I mention the cleaning staff at non-24 hour locations are locked inside the building to prevent theft(sorry, "to ensure cleaning staff safety".

    I'm sure I could handily undercut the local Bashas if you built my store, I paid no rent, and I treated my staff inhumanely. Walmart's profits are artificial -- they rely upon the upfront costs and recurring expenses being paid for by somebody else.
  • Re:Brilliant! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ColaMan ( 37550 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @06:58AM (#17442130) Journal
    If he is using electric heat, there will of course be no savings BUT THERE WILL BE NO LOSS EITHER

    Unless he's using a reverse-cycle A/C system with a COP greater than 1. Which is pretty much all of them.

    For the guy further up that wondered if there really is much difference regarding the extra heat of incandescent bulbs - there is. Especially the halogen types. Air-conditioner installers need to take this extra heat into effect - a dozen 50 watt halogens in a large room is like having a small 500 watt bar heater running continuously.

    And that type of discussion leads into the most efficient bulb for the situation. Builders, take note - 60 degree halogen bulbs are not for general room illumination, you need a stack of them to light a room evenly.

    I have 4 x 15W R80 compact fluorescent downlights in my loungeroom. Their output easily exceeds the 4 x 75W incandescents that were there originally. At 18 months of age and about 7000 hours use, they now take about 30 seconds to get to full brightness, and know what? I don't care. I turn them on when we get up... they stay on all day and finally are turned off when we go to bed.

    I really need to put a skylight in that room.....
  • They is good! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:29AM (#17442258)
    My first CF bulb from *13* years ago is still going on my front porch, having been exposed to the elements all that time.

    Of course here in So Cal we don't get many, er, elements. Hey, how's that weather, Colorado?
  • Re:So aggravating (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CommandNotFound ( 571326 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @09:59AM (#17443428)
    Does anyone know of a site that does a "shootout" of different brands? Google wasn't much help for me. I've used CFLs in lamps and secondary locations for years, and noticed that quality varies a lot. It would be nice to have some research available so I don't have to waste money and time buying poor quality units.
  • Re:Oh come on... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Monkelectric ( 546685 ) <slashdot@mon k e l e c t r i c . com> on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:43AM (#17444790)
    What wishful thinking. This process allows the ownership class (read: not you) to capture the wealth of the middle class. Any time you hear the term "globalization" or someone singing it's praises this is secret code for "capturing the wealth of the middle class."
  • by threeofnine ( 813056 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:29PM (#17445514)
    Recently here in, New South Wales, Australia, every 6 months or so, at the local shopping center, there is a thing where they give about 10 bulbs away to each household, which has been great for getting more of them into houses.

    I have also seen 30W ones as well here, although I do not know what the equilivent in incandencent is.

    The dimmer issue is the only real problem with them at the moment.

  • by thorkyl ( 739500 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:11PM (#17448178)
    I have been switching all of my lights to CFL's as they go out.

    I have always run 60 watt bulbs and am now running 13 watt CFL's

    Lets do the math

    13 watts x 26 bulbs = 338 watts per hour
    338 watts x 7 hours per day = 2,336 watts per day if I leave them all on for 7 hours

    60 watts x 26 bulbs = 1560 watts per hour
    1560 watts x 7 hours per day = 10,920 watts per day if they are left on

    lets see the money

    2.336 kilowatts x 30 days = 70.8 kwts
    10.920 kilowatts x 30 days = 327.6 kwts

    70.8 * $0.142 = $10.05
    327.6 * $0.142 = $46.52

    mmm looks like I am saving money

    All I know is that at 9.95 for 3 or $3.32 each it only takes 1 month and you paid for 6 of them

    My bower bill (the non fuel surcharge part) dropped by ~ 80% after replacing all of the bulbs

    Now if I can just kick the power company in the bulbs to get them to lower the fuel surcharge to be at least equal to the regular bill and not 3 times the bill...

    Just floating around in the BSOD

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger