Reducing facility power costs by turning green, Part III

Using Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

If you’ve already started replacing your standard incandescent lamps with Compact Florescent Lamps, more commonly known as CFLs, you are well along the path of saving electricity. Let’s examine some of the reasons CFLs are being required and how they can safely be deployed in your facility.


The reasons behind using CFLs are entirely based on their lower consumption of electricity per lumen of light. They save on power. The EPA claims that using one CFL per American home would save enough energy to power 3 million homes for a year. While I’d like to verify that calculation before I endorse it, experts say businesses can save up to 75 percent on office lighting costs through the use of CFLs.

In any case, CFL sales will soon become about the only choice for lighting products. The government has decided to prevent individuals and businesses from purchasing most kinds of incandescent lamps. To ensure that happens, Congress and the president have outlawed the sale of any lamp that isn’t at least 70 percent more efficient than today’s incandescent lamps.

This means that new lighting technology must not only be more efficient than incandescent, but 70 percent more efficient than Edison’s invention.

Here is the EPA’s statement on the requirement to use CFLs.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (the “Energy Bill”), signed by the president on Dec. 18, 2007, requires all light bulbs use 30 percent less energy than today’s incandescent bulbs by 2012 to 2014. The phase-out will start with 100W bulbs in January 2012 and end with 40W bulbs in January 2014. By 2020, a Tier 2 would become effective, which requires all bulbs to be at least 70 percent more efficient (effectively equal to today’s CFLs).

“It’s not entirely correct to say 'CFLs will be required' or 'incandescents will be phased out' because the standards set by the bill are technology neutral, and by 2012, a next generation of incandescent bulbs could satisfy the 30 percent increased efficiency. There are also other lighting technologies, such as halogen and LEDs that will be able to meet the new requirements and are expected to both increase in performance and drop in cost over the next few years.”

The bottom line is that as of 2012, there will be no more 45W, 60W or 100W filament lamps. As of 2020, there will be no more filament lamps of any type. (Exceptions noted.)

While CFL lamps are more efficient, so are halogen and LED, but those technologies aren’t mandated. The mix of lamps available for sale in the coming years is difficult to predict. However, it’s clear that CFLs will be the primary lighting technology because the government has said so.

CFL shortcomings

The two most common complaints about CFLs are the bulb’s slow turn-on time and unpleasant lighting color. The lamps may flicker and blink as the mercury vaporizes and the lamp slowly rises to operating temperature. While this is occurring, the light appears to be undersized and dim. Over time, say 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, the bulbs will brighten and produce better light. However, CFLs are not a good fit for applications (like stairs) where the lamp needs to come on immediately and with full brilliance.

A third, less common, problem is the use of CFLs in applications where vibration occurs. Those applications include fans and outdoor fixtures. Avoid the use of consumer-grade CFLs in outdoor security applications. Vibration from wind and weather will greatly shorten the bulb’s life.

A final application where CFLs may not be a good fit is in cold environments. When installed in an unheated space, the lamps may not come on in cold temperatures. If it’s too cold, the mercury won’t vaporize, hence no light.

Even with these limitations, the use of CFLs in business environments still makes a lot of sense. Office lighting typically doesn’t turn on and off as often as in a residence, so the slow turn-on time isn’t as much of an issue. And, because businesses leave their lights on for more continual hours, the economic benefits accrue faster.

A comparison of replacement CFL lamp wattage is shown in Table 1. Clearly, the CFL lamps require less power per lumen of light output.

Light quality

As mentioned above, a common characteristic about CFLs is that of color. Many CFL bulbs produce a harsh-color light, that is after they warm up. Fortunately, it’s now possible to purchase CFLs with graded light output.

If you prefer a warmer-looking light, look for bulbs with a lower Kelvin rating. Bulbs with a 2700K-3000K produce a softer, warmer light. They more closely resemble an incandescent lamp and are good replacements for bedrooms and living room spaces.

Lamps with a higher Kelvin rating 3500K-6500K will produce a cooler, white or bluish light. These bulbs are often marked “bright white” or “daylight” lamps. These types of lights are better for task lighting, as they often appear harsh when used as room lights. These are good fits for business applications.

Safety factors

You may have heard about the hazards of cleaning up after breaking a CFL. It’s technically true that the cleaning process is much more complex, but it’s not like you’ll need a HazMat team. (Unless you want to avoid mercury poisoning.) Just kidding.

I remember that as a kid I would occasionally accompany my uncle on his job in the oil fields of Oklahoma and Texas. Mercury was a common substance in his work. The oil field workers used it in gauges. He’d occasionally give me a drop or two of mercury and let me shine a few nickels with them. It sure did make those coins bright and shiny. By the way, as of today, he’s 86 and doing fine, and I’m still here. Today, however, having access to the amount of mercury his crews used would likely be impossible and require a federal-level environmental cleanup if it did happen.

For instance, should you be as unfortunate as to spill as little as two tablespoons of mercury, you are required to call your local or state health or environmental agency. That may sound like a lot of mercury, but having as few as a dozen or so old furnace thermostats could require you to involve the EPA for disposal. The feds are serious about properly getting rid of mercury.

The best similar example is the PCB cleanup broadcasters had to endure. Engineers were even unwilling to load sealed, nonleaking PCB transformers and capacitors into their cars and drive the parts to an approved cleanup center. The engineers were afraid of being in a car accident that might spill PCBs. The risk to them and their employer was enormous. Now, just substitute the word mercury for PCB and you can see how serious this issue has become.

For many reasons, CFLs and their disposal need to be treated with respect and concern for one’s safety as well as that of the environment.

CFL and mercury cleanup

Modern CFLs have a jaundiced history with respect to breakage. While the bulbs themselves are sturdy enough, they do break. When that happens, people want to know what to do. It turns out, everything you think should be done to clean up broken glass is exactly what you should not do.

Early untrue stories about broken CFL bulbs said you needed the local HazMat team to come out and clean up after breaking a bulb. That’s not true. However, given the ritual that is supposed to be followed, expect litigation as the bulbs become more prevalent and folks have to clean up breakage.

Here is a generalized version of the EPA’s guidance in cleaning up a spill of a broken CFL.

• Empty the room of all living things, human and pet.

• Shut off the central forced-air heating/air-conditioning system.

• Open a window to cleanse the air around the space.

• Leave the room, and wait 15 minutes.

• Use a piece of cardboard, and scoop the fragments and powder into a plastic bag.

• Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass pieces and powder.

• Then wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wipes, and place them into the same plastic bag.

• Put the first plastic bag inside a second plastic bag, and dispose of the broken bag in the trash.

• However, some states require CFL bulbs and mercury be “properly disposed of” at an official recycling center. You’ll need to check with your state officials to see if this step is required and determine what recycling fee you’ll have to pay.

Note, the EPA-written rules say to place all of the trash into a sealed glass jar, not a plastic bag.

Also do not use a vacuum cleaner or broom to sweep up the bulb fragments. All that does is mix the mercury with the air.

If a CFL breaks on your bed or clothing, you are supposed to throw all the material away. Don’t wash any of the material in a washing machine.

The Maine EPA advises “When a [CFL] break happens on carpeting, homeowners may consider removing throw rugs or the area of carpet where the breakage occurred as a precaution, particularly if the rug is in an area frequented by infants, small children or pregnant women.” In other words, you have to throw the old carpet away (in an approved manner), and replace it with new carpet.

However, for businesses, following the rules is even more important. Failure to both train people and see that they follow the proper cleanup and disposal procedures could subject the company (and perhaps you) to liability. If janitor Joe grows a horn from his head and then claims it happened because you didn’t train him on the proper cleanup and disposal of CFLs, your goose may be cooked.

For more scary information about cleaning up CFL breaks, visit the link.

There will be more on regulations and green technology next week.

Additional resources:

EPA Energy Star Web site