Bulb busters

Five myths and misconceptions about CFLs

Josh Levig and Rose Healion of NV Energy discuss CFL bulbs with Susie Griego of Home Depot, which has a CFL recycling drop-off box.

Josh Levig and Rose Healion of NV Energy discuss CFL bulbs with Susie Griego of Home Depot, which has a CFL recycling drop-off box.


Energy efficiency experts have been touting the compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, often just called the “curly cue,” for several years as a means of reducing energy and saving money. Yet, several misconceptions about CFLs remain. We spoke with members of NV Energy’s efficiency and conservation program to bust some of the myths surrounding CFLs.

Myth No. 1: CFLs are more expensive than incandescent lights. CFLs often do cost more than incandescents, but no longer by much. They can be found for just over $1 for a standard 60-watt-equivalent bulb. Locally, NV Energy has been buying down the cost of CFLs through manufacturers, so there’s very little price difference for most of them. “We have them at Goodwill stores, two for 99 cents,” says Rose Healion of NV Energy’s residential lighting program. “We’ve tried to saturate all the demographics.” Considering they use up to 75 percent less power than incandescent bulbs and can last up to nine years, CFLs eventually pay for themselves. “You’ll get 10 times more light out of that CFL,” says Adam Grant of NV Energy.

Myth No. 2: CFLs aren’t safe. CFLs require mercury to light up, but Grant says it’s about 4 milligrams. Compare that to the 500-2,000 milligrams in an old school thermometer. But if the CFLs are heaped together in a landfill and break, the mercury build up can be a problem. That’s why it’s important to recycle them properly—which leads us to Myth No. 3.

Myth No. 3. They’re hard to recycle locally. Residents can drop off CFLs for free recycling at any area Lowes, Home Depot or Waste Management site. There are also drop-off boxes at the Washoe County Health & Human Services office on Wells Avenue, and the Yerington Paiute tribal office. Be sure to wrap them in a paper or plastic bag when dropping them off so they don’t break and release mercury inside the recycling box.

Myth No. 4. They’re inconvenient. Many think CFLs can’t be used for dimmers, three-way lighting systems or recessed lighting. That was true in the past, but it’s not now. A range of shapes, sizes and lighting strengths are now available. And if you don’t like the look of the curly-cue, they now make CFLs that look much like incandescents. “They’ve come out with some globe tops on them, so you can’t really tell the difference,” says Grant.

Myth No. 5. The light quality of CFLs isn’t as good. “That was true many years ago, but it’s not now,” says Grant. “The manufacturers have really brought these bulbs up to top quality. Any kind of light coloring you want—a white light, a cool light. The light quality is the same as incandescent, and you save money while doing it.”

New state legislation, AB 178, if signed as expected, would effectively phase out incandescent light bulbs beginning next January by requiring manufacturers to meet a lumens-per-watt standard that the current incandescent does not measure up to. So even if residents are not sold on the idea of CFLs, they’ll likely be buying them.