Friday, August 15, 2008

The Problem with Installing CFLs in My Home Fixtures

On my recent post about changing over to Compact Fluorescent Lights in all my light fixtures, the author from the blog CFL stopped over to tell me that Home Depot had CFL bulbs on sale. So, last night I took a trip over there to check it out.

Well, no luck. The bulbs weren't on sale at my local store, but I decided to give them a try anyway and see how they would do. I bought a 4 pack of regular bulbs and one candelabra bulb to see if it would fit in my massive dining room fixture. The cost for the 4 pack was $6.49 - the cost for the single candelabra bulb? $6.49. Ouch! The brand carried by Home Depot is nvision.

And my thoughts? .....meh.

I still don't like the light. These bulbs were rated highest by this Popular Mechanics article The Best Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs: PM Lab Test so I really wanted to give them a shot. Maybe it is true, perhaps the colors are brighter, more vivid. I have a friend who is a lighting designer who told me he loves CFLs in his home.* And maybe this lighting really is best for reading - but I just don't like it. It feels harsh to me and frankly kind of green. I like the warm golden glows of incandescents.

Ok, remember how yesterday I said I had 28 bulbs to replace? Well, very few of them are standard bulbs. Most of them are funky in one sense or another. 7 of them are the big round "backstage dressing room" lights that go over mirrors. Another 8 are in the dinning room chandelier. Then there are the ceiling fans. One of the most important bulbs I wanted to change was the bulb in the ceiling fan in the spare bedroom. That is my office/eBay room and I am in there a lot. The fixture has a globe over it, so I thought it would be perfect for CFLs - the globe could help mellow the bright colors. And it might be, except for one little thing...

When I put the CFL in the light it began flickering. Naturally the light was off - I mean c'mon, I'm not stupid! I know better than to be putting bulbs in a live light fixture. After a little experimentation and a bit of figuring I came the conclusion that the reason is that this light fixture is normally turned on and off by a pull chain on the fixture. However, it has been wired to turn on and off on a light switch on the wall. My guess is that because of this there is still a small amount of current flowing through the fixture, even though the switch is off. Does anyone know for sure? I am wondering if purchasing a dimmable light bulb would help that problem.

In the meantime though I had to take it out. The idea here is to save electricity - not waste it by having a constantly flickering bulb when it is supposed to be off. Because I am not crazy about the light, it was hard deciding what to do with my four bulbs. So far I have managed to install 3 of them - one in my kitchen and two in table lamps. The kitchen is okay. In a way it reminds me of my grandparent's house - they had a huge fluorescent 70s style fixture in their kitchen and it kind of takes me back to having a cheese and Ritz cracker snack at the table with Grampa. Because there are shades on the table lamps (and one of them is a lovely shade of amber) I don't mind the CFLs in them, but these lights aren't going to make much of a difference in my energy bill as I don't use them much.

So, what to do about the other lights?

Well, I am going to take it step by step. I have already spent my allowance on other purchases this month so I think I am going to take the next two weeks and identify lights would impact my bill. In other words, figure out which are the ones I am using the most. Then, I am going to have to search for CFLs that are going to work well in that fixture. As I found out, just buying a random 4 pack isn't going to do the trick - I need to do this methodically.

In addition, I am going to try different brands and see which ones I like, then when all is said and done, I'll report back about how they all turned out!

More Stuff:

Comparing Incandescent Light Bulbs to Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Instructables - How to Make a Green House Out of a incandescent Light Bulb

Green Living Tips - CFL Disposal and Recycling

EDIT: Here's how my bill is doing after 4 months of slowly switching to CFLs: Electric Bills Even Lower, Thanks to CFLs

* Hi Matt!
Photo by: Me!


David Kolenda said...

If the CFLs aren't visible (if they're in a globe or covered with a shade), you can use color correcting lighting gel to give you the warmer look of an incandescent.

An explanation for your readers: Theatrical lighting gel can be found at any decent theatrical supply store for about $7 for a sheet of 20"x24" gel. Usually the gel is used for light fixtures fitted with halogen lamps that are 575watts to 1000watts, so you'll be completely safe using them with CFLs in your home.

Info can be found at

Dawn said...

Thanks David!! We should talk about some of my fixtures and see if we can make this work for me. It could be a good experiment!

Anonymous said...

If the CFL flickered in your light fixture there is power to it and indicates a wiring problem. You should get an electrician in there to fix it. The flickering CFL is not the problem, it just uses the power given to it. An incandescent in the same fixture does the same. The incandescent might not flicker as bright, but it's sure to be consuming the same power.