Why I Hate CFLs

Fluorescent lighting can cause me problems. Older strip lights are especially bad with their 100 Hz flicker (UK mains AC frequency is 50 Hz) – I am particularly sensitive to flickering light and it causes me eye strain and headaches. Newer fluorescent lamps pretty much avoid this. Until they start to fail, and then they flicker and flash. And cause me discomfort.

I grew up with incandescent light bulbs – I’m very used to their colour temperature which gives warm, comforting yellowish hues. I’m used to flicking the switch and having the light reach full intensity as near to instantly as I can discern. There’s an old joke about a bedroom being so small they you could switch off the light and be in bed before it went dark. With a CFL it’s the reverse – you can switch on the light and be in bed before it gets bright! Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are different. I don’t like different – I don’t do change.

Light from CFLs appears cold by comparison – it has a higher colour temperature which is more blue. At low intensities (my wife and I like low lighting levels at home in the evenings for that cosy atmosphere) they appear particularly cold and dim. They don’t light up instantly – there is a warm up period that can take up to a minute or so. They get noticeably dimmer long before they fail – about halfway through their lifespan – so their useful life is reduced. And the powers-that-be have decreed that we shall all use them hence forth – I take a special dislike to having inferior alternatives forced on me. Yes, their energy efficiency is higher in use, but they require much more energy to manufacture, and manufacture and disposal exposes the environment to more hazardous materials. I remain to be convinced that the argument in their favour is as clear-cut as some people make out – especially as their stated longevity is far higher than their practical useful life, taking into account frequent switching and disposal when light output falls below an acceptable threshold rather than when the lamp fails.

We’ve tried CFL lighting in our kitchen. The brightness of the illumination was subjectively equivalent to the incandescent bulb once it got warmed up but it was dim enough to irritate me before that – no good when you just nip in to make a cup of tea or a sandwich during a commercial break and don’t want to hang around waiting until the light gets bright enough to work by. My wife has some vision problems and found it very difficult to see clearly by its light. I ended up throwing the CFL in the trash and reverting to an incandescent bulb – the CFL was just not fit for purpose. We don’t have the choice of replacing the one in our bathroom because the fixture is specific to a particular type of fluorescent lamp. There’s no regular heating in our bathroom – just an electric fan heater – and in winter the temperature in there can fall close to the outside ambient level. That means that the lamp takes much longer to warm up and produce an acceptable level of light – at the time of year when it is needed more. I can be in and out of there, ablutions complete, before it reaches full brightness. So much for technological progress!

Incidentally, I didn’t know until recently that CFLs are supposed to be disposed of separately because they contain hazardous materials. Maybe it said something on the packaging but who keeps that to read months down the line? So I’ve inadvertently added a little Hg to our local landfill. Wonder how many other people have done the same because they either didn’t know or couldn’t be bothered? It’s not like anybody’s going to sift through all those tons of waste just in case there’s a CFL that found its way in there. So there’s going to be more toxic waste building up in the environment as a result. Sheesh! Sometimes I think we as a species don’t deserve this planet.


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