The Other Side of the Story

four light bulbs on colored backgrounds

How many of you have heard of Compact Flourescent Lightbulbs (CFLs)? Great. Now, how many of you have them in your home? Yes, uh-huh. Thanks.

You may put your hands down now.

Most likely, everyone has heard about the advantages of CFLs by now: even though the bulbs are pretty funny looking, they use much less power than incandescent and last a great deal longer. By switching to them, we can save money and reduce energy use, thus saving the planet. As my boys would say: booyah.

Do a quick online search for information about CFLs and you get a lot of results extolling their virtues.

Look a little further, though, and you’ll find that there’s more to the story. For example have you heard the following facts?

  • flipping a CFL bulb on and off shortens its life-span; consequently they should be left on for at least 15 minutes.
  • CFLs, while having improved since they were introduced in the 1990’s, can still take a few minutes to reach full brightness and even lose their capacity for brightness slightly over their lifespan.
  • CFLs contain mercury and need to be properly recycled. Throwing them into landfills will pollute the environment.
  • Did I mention that CFLs contain mercury? If one is dropped and broken in the home, it’s hazardous. EPA guidelines say to open your windows for 15 minutes to air out the room. And don’t use a vacuum to clean it up. You’ll spread the mercury into the air.
  • the town of Traer, Iowa did an experiment in 1987. Half the residents switched to CFLs, while the other half stayed on incandescent. Energy consumption went up, presumably because people knew it wasn’t costing as much.
  • the energy bill just signed into law here in the US raises standards over the next several years, effectively outlawing the manufacture of incandescent bulbs by 2014. Other countries around the world also have this goal.
  • on average, CFLs are sized longer than incandescent making them not a good fit for many light fixtures. Will we have to abandon or redesign those fixtures in 6 years?

So why are we discussing light bulbs on a parenting blog? Simple: it was an easy, non-controversial way for me to make my point. (I considered religion and politics for about a nanosecond, but opted for this…for obvious reasons.)

What’s my point? That’s simple too. We live in what has often been called the Information Age. We are inundated with information on every possible topic from morning till night and beyond. Yet more often than not we fail to realize there’s another side to the story. We don’t question where information comes from or test the source. And we don’t consider whether the source of the information has the same agenda as we do.

THAT is something I rant about to Hubby on a regular basis. Poor guy.

A very important aspect of parenting is equipping our children with all the tools they need to function in the world. If we’re going to teach the children to critically evaluate the information that comes at them from all sides at ever-increasing speeds, then we’ve got to know ourselves how to do it. Tune in next time for some tricks to help you critically evaluate information.

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Earnest Parenting: tips for parents who pursue the truth.

The editor-in-chief of Earnest Parenting, Amy is the mother of two sets of twin boys. Yes, they drive her crazy, but they also make her laugh occasionally. Amy enjoys writing, quilting, reading, and working on her burgeoning cyber empire.

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  • Jan-queenofkaos January 17, 2008, 8:10 am

    Just the other day my daughters were having a pillow fight and broke the light bulb.

    I had NO IDEA about the mercury and was more concerned about glass shards in my oldest daughter’s hair.

    I sure wish I had known at least to open a window and get the kids out of the room and right into the shower.

    Thanks for the info!

    Reply
  • Amy January 17, 2008, 10:48 am

    Oh wow, that’s scary! Here’s the link for the Energy Star site that has clean-up instructions. http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/promotions/change_light/downloads/Fact_Sheet_Mercury.pdf

    Reply
  • Birney Summers January 17, 2008, 2:30 pm

    CFL have a very low power factor. They use less power but they use it poorly so some folks make pay a cost penalty for them.

    Reply
  • Raymond Chua January 17, 2008, 9:38 pm

    Good point. I seldom question the source of the information I got. 🙂

    Reply
  • Cindy January 18, 2008, 9:26 am

    Thank you for the information. I agree that all parts of the story need to be addressed before making judgments. I love how you got your point across! Mercury?! Wow. Definitely did not know that.

    Reply
  • JoLynn Braley (The Fit Shack) January 18, 2008, 10:21 am

    Hi Amy,

    I not only learned about my CFL bulbs, but you also made a very good point….just because someone writes or talks about something (whatever the subject), where did that information originate? Is it even true?

    Back to the topic of the CFL’s, I’ve noticed that they have a “warm up” period, and I didn’t know that you shouldn’t vacuum up if one breaks (thankfully that hasn’t happened). Thanks a lot for the info on this. 🙂

    Reply
  • Robert @ reason4smile January 18, 2008, 10:44 am

    Hi Amy,

    agree very much with you about your opinion on checking the source and the agenda behind.
    My opinion: for us adult, learn to take the good things, as we both are Christian, I’d like to share my Christian insights on wisdom,
    I’m quite a liberal as a Christian, I like to learn, and get to know the wisdom of men, but my principle is this, I will make use of human’s wisdom but not to lean on them, I’m leaning to God and the word of God.

    My full post, actually one of my principle in blogging as well:
    Seek wisdom but not to lean on it

    For children, I agree with you, need to teach them about bible and the critical thinking! I’m no experience =) sure you know how to do it!

    God bless you!
    Robert

    Reply
  • Colby January 18, 2008, 11:41 am

    I didn’t know about the mercury either. I have several of these bulbs in my house and luckily haven’t broken any yet. Thanks for the clean-up instructions link. Good to know in case one of my bulbs break.

    Reply
  • Karen (Karooch from Scraps of Mind) January 18, 2008, 9:45 pm

    Great way to get your point across Amy. And some great extra info about CFLs as well.

    Reply
  • PreSchool Mama January 18, 2008, 11:43 pm

    Thanks for the info! All this is definitely an eye opener, especially the power usage going up bit.

    Reply
  • Rob January 20, 2008, 1:36 pm

    You did not link to any references for this article and I have to take issue with you on a number of points. You are correct about the mercury, but fluorescent bulbs have been with us since the ’60s in hospitals, schools, restaurants and many other places.

    The amount of mercury is miniscule too. If you research on toxicology you’ll see you’d need to break dozens and dozens of bulbs to get an adverse effect. Although you are correct these bulbs therefore have to be correctly disposed of – and not simply trashed.

    On the other hand, an 8w CFL produces as much light as a 60w incandescent and last 7 times longer. The overall damage to the environment is 7 times less for materials and a further 7 times for energy use. That’s 14 times better for the environment while, at the same time, saving you 6/7ths of your lighting bill and 6/7ths of your lightbulb (bill here in the UK these bulbs are only 50 pence – less than a dollar).

    Yes some CFLs do take a while to get bright – some only take about 5 seconds – it all depends on the make. Also would you prefer a bulb that gets dim at the end of it’s life to one that just blows? That’s how CFLs die – you replace them when they are too dark or flickery for use.

    New CFLs are now available for every type of light fitting. You just have to shop around. When incandescents are phased out, the old lines will be replaced with new ones suitable for all your existing fittings.

    I can guarantee you that if you replaced every lightbulb in your home for a cost of, say 25 pounds (less than $50) for 50 bulbs you would see your energy bill drop substantially. The only way it could go up is if you suddenly decided you could now have 5 TVS on instead of one or two – or something like that.

    Reply
  • David Rogers January 20, 2008, 12:59 pm

    Very informative post – I had no idea CFLs contained mercury!

    Reply
  • Amy January 20, 2008, 6:41 pm

    @everyone: thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I enjoy reading them.

    @Rob: Lol. The lack of links was purposeful, and my follow-up to the argument will include them.

    Remember that the point isn’t to bash CFLs, it’s to emphasize the need to critically evaluate the information we are barraged with daily.

    For the record, I have CFLs in my home.

    I’d be interested you re-examining the numbers in your comments. If something is 7 times improved, and then 7 times again, then don’t you have a 49 times improvement? Also, the bulbs here in the US are dramatically more expensive than incandescent.

    The rest I’ll discuss in the next post.

    Reply
  • Diane January 22, 2008, 3:49 pm

    I’m all for using low energy bulbs, but I still try to switch them off when we’re not in the room. I’m surprised we’ve not been given special recycling bins for the bulbs, or banned from putting them in the general waste yet.
    I know the long tube lights have a special place at the tip so their nasty stuff isn’t spread everywhere.

    They’re a lot cheaper now thank goodness – you can pick two up for a pound at the right places.

    Reply