CFL’s just one choice for eco-friendly lighting
By Elizabeth Cychosz, CG Science
Our carefree industrialism is catching up to us. Striving to decrease our carbon footprint, we choose organic foods, walk or use bikes, and fight for emissions regulations. As the consumer industry realizes our intentions, it bombards us with eco-friendly options for food, travel and clothing. One of the most confusing aspects of this is the quest to feel better about our electronics, such as light bulb choice, for example.
In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, also known as EISA or the Energy Bill. It did not, as is rumored, ban incandescent light bulbs but instead mandated, among other things, the regulation of household light bulb efficiency. In a four-phase, three year plan that began on New Year’s Day of this year, the United States Department of Energy will transition to lighting that is approximately 25 percent more efficient than current 40- to 80-watt incandescent bulbs.
The most common and cost-efficient way to implement this is through the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Those handy little swirls of light boast an efficiency of approximately four times that of traditional incandescent light bulbs, lowering the cost of lighting the home. They last approximately six times as long as incandescent bulbs, decreasing the demand and creating less trash. When less energy is required, less coal is burned for fuel, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Ohio University understands the benefits of eco-friendly facilities.
“OU has been working on lighting efficiency for a very long time,” according to Mike Gebeke, executive director of Facilities Management. “From 2000 to 2005, a performance contract was working on energy efficiency and the Office of Sustainability has been exchanging CFLs for incandescent lamps,” he said.
Although CFLs seem like the miracle cure-all for excessive energy consumption, consumers should look into their negative aspects – both big and small – before transitioning entirely.
“[CFLs] contain small amounts of mercury,” said Gebeke. Mercury, which is toxic to humans, contributes to the lighting process, but, if a bulb were to crack, extra care would be needed to ensure none of the particles were inhaled. The presence of mercury requires these bulbs to be recycled properly so as to not poison landfills and harm the environment. Though it is not mandated by the state of the Ohio, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends the recycling of CFLs.
For some people, CFLs spell more than just toxins. According to Rich Mintzer, spokesperson for the Irlen Institute in California, a visual processing treatment center, some people experience fatigue, headaches and discomfort when they stay in CFL lighting for too long. He said Helen Irlen, the executive director of the institute, compared the increased popularity of CFLs to “taking elevators out of buildings with people who have disabilities.”
“The health of individuals should be a priority followed by environmental concerns,” said Mintzer. “You wouldn’t take seat belts out of hybrid cars if in some manner it made them more energy efficient … Those who have difficulties … should be able to have a choice of buying incandescent bulbs for their homes. They have enough problems in public places – they should not have to suffer at home.”
And there are alternatives. Although CFLs might be the best choice for many, do not be fooled into believing they are the only efficient lighting option out there.
Because the Energy Bill does not ban incandescent bulbs but rather regulates the efficiency of all bulbs being sold on the market, energy companies have the opportunity to appeal to those who do not wish to stray from the familiar. Halogen incandescent bulbs already meet the new efficiency standards and continue to be sold, and new and improved incandescent light bulbs are gaining spots on store shelves. According to the Energy Star governmental website, “these bulbs look, feel and operate just like regular incandescent bulbs; they just do it more efficiently.”
Light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs) are also entering the world of household lighting. They are just as, if not slightly more, energy efficient as CFLs, but they last three times as long and contain no mercury. Although currently much more expensive than the alternatives, prices are expected to decrease with demand, and the decreased energy bills and ease of the bulbs’ longevity add incentives.
OU is jumping on the options to increase efficiency across campus.
“We [Facilities Management] are now working with a new performance contract to upgrade more lighting and install LED lamps instead of CFLs,” said Gebeke. “This current performance contract would start in July and be in construction for up to two years. We would then work with them for 15 more years to guarantee the savings.”
Eco-consciousness comes with a responsibility not only to the environment, but to ourselves. Take advantage of the internet and explore the variety of new, efficient energy that the Energy Bill has mandated. All come in a variety of styles and colors, but all come with their own risks. Whether you ultimately choose CFLs, LEDs, or incandescents, do your research to find what works best for you and enjoy!
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