Thanks for all the bright ideas and questions about our first Green Life challenge, replacing incandescent lights with compact flourescents.
CFLs do raise issues. For one, it's sometimes hard to find versions that work with dimmer switches in tri-lights or enclosed fixtures, outdoors or in high-moisture areas like bathrooms. But they are available at Home Depot and elsewhere. The key thing is that you need a special type of CFL for each situation.
As well, CFLs are weakened more than incandescents by being turned on and off. Each flick cuts about 10 minutes from their expected life. That's not really a great deal. But the rule of thumb is, if you'll be out of a room for more than two minutes, turn off the CFLs. (For incandescents, it's 30 seconds.)
As some of you suggested, there is a slight danger if a CFL breaks. There's a bit of mercury vapour, and likely a tiny amount of solid, inside the glass tube. Our experts say there's not much risk from a broken bulb or two, but you need to do a thorough clean-up and, most important, be careful around them.
Disposal remains a major problem. The mercury needs to go for hazardous waste treatment dump. Right now, you can drop them off at Home Depot and Ikea, or you can store them for your city councillor's regular Environment Day in summer and drop them off with your expired batteries. The Recycling Council of Ontario is working on a proposal that would require all stores that sell CFLs to take them back for safe disposal. Chris Winter, of the Conservation Council of Ontario, which has launched a Weconserve campaign, favours a household Red Box collection for CFLs, batteries and other hazardous domestic products.
Incandescent bulbs do help to heat your home, so your furnace will have to work a little harder in winter after you switch to CFLs. But if your furnace runs on natural gas, it's far more efficient than the incandescent bulb at producing heat. Incandescents also generate unwanted heat in summer, and it takes three times more energy to compensate for that by cranking up the A/C than than it does to tweek up the furnace for their absence in winter.
Halogen bulbs are relatively efficient, but you can do much better by replacing them with LED lamps, which are still quite expensive but last a long, long time and require only a trickle of electricity. Their main drawback is that they focus light even more effectively than halogens do. The solution is to have several in a fixture with a lens to spread the light a bit. Even if the fixture contains half a dozen LED lamps, it will still require just 7 or 8 watts of electricity, says Richard Krause, of Carbon Busters.
Some uncertainty about tri-light CFLs. Jenny Vassilev at Grassroots Environmental Products reports that they're hard to come by, since early versions were unstable, so it's back to the drawing booard for them. Home Depot sells them, though.
Grassroots sells a covered CFL called the X-Bulb which can be used in enclosed fixtures. It helps if a little air can get at the bulb.