In Defense of the CFL: A Retrospective

It really was a bright idea.

Links ‘n’ stuff!
Old videos referenced:
LED bulbs that flicker, and CFLs that almost never did

GE’s bizarre early attempt at a CFL

Technology Connextras (the second channel that stuff goes on sometimes):

Technology Connections on Twitter:

The TC Subreddit

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20 comments

  1. Maybe I’m reading the room incorrectly, but a lot of people don’t seem to appreciate these wonderful little pieces of lighting history. They certainly had flaws (one I overlooked here was that larger wattage equivalents required the lamp itself to be physically larger) but so does any stepping-stone technology.
    I want to clarify regarding the flaws fixed by their successors that LEDs can still be prone to premature failure, but it seems more often than not that happens thanks to a manufacturing defect. If you buy a whole bunch of the same lamp perhaps after a few months some will have failed, but the rest will likely stay in operation for years. Look up the bathtub curve if you’re interested in that phenomenon.
    And, somehow, I missed perhaps the most important thing about them. Compared to incandescent lamps, they used 1/4 the energy! LEDs are routinely besting that today, but being able to cut lighting costs by 75% made a big difference. And when you found a sweet-spot application for a CFL, you probably didn’t need to replace that lamp for years. So stop hatin’ on them!

  2. Those people who don’t understand much about lighting are not all that bright if you ask me…

  3. My favorite CFL wasn’t a “CFL” in the contemporary sense, but it was fluorescent, it was compact, and… it was on my bicycle – in the ’70s. It was a generator set. The taillight was a pretty standard 6v incandescent, but while the headlight had the normal (pretty lame) 6v 3w incandescent bulb – it had a little something extra – a small (about 4 inches?) fluorescent tube. It was made by Kadomax, a division of Matsushita electric (now an obscure little company named Panasonic). Matsushita made a number of interesting bike generators, but this one was especially interesting – in addition to the common 6v/3w coils – it was also wound for 100v/4w. Yep – a hundred volt bike generator. You’d start off on the incandescent bulbs, and after you got going six or seven mph, you would press a handlebar-mounted button to start the fluorescent. Gave kind of a charming bright full moon effect ahead of you. Not enough for high-speed mountain bike trail descents, but a big improvement on the street or bike path.

  4. Sorry they are terrible. Not only do they contain trace amounts of toxic materials that are released into a living environment if they are broken but they have reduced luminosity in cold conditions making them inappropriate for refrigerators and freezers for both reasons and making them unsuitable for outdoor lighting in the winter. People that are light sensitive can develop headaches from the 60 hz ripple inherent in the design especially just before they are about to fail. Incandescent lights and LEDs are far superior as they produce full spectrum lighting. This is the main reason I stocked up on incandescent light bulbs when the Obama administration was trying to do away with them. I ran out of incandescent light bulbs before there were sufficient LED bulbs available but as soon as I could I replaced all the CFLs with LEDs and I discarded the unused CFLs that I had. I even replaced the fixtures in my kitchen and work room and replaced the long flourescent fixtures with the strip light fixtures with LED bulbs that are used for vanity mirrors. The Obama administration was VERY premature in their atempt to eliminate the incandescent bulb before a suitable replacement was largely available.

  5. The only beef I have with CFLs is how, when installed in ceiling lights, bugs would crawl inside them and die. Then when you go to replace them dead bug pieces fall out all over you as they’re unscrewed.

  6. How the hell did this get .25 million views in 24 hrs? Good God. It’s a light bulb.

  7. I imagine the narrower tubes are dimmer just because there’s less gas or interior surface area to be reacted with and glow per linear inch.

  8. Oh you bet LED’s are not suitable for non ventilated fixtures! 😀 Just this month we found 40 dead LED panels in our shop. Reason? There is an insulation above the ceiling they are built in to. Not only these lights absolutely hate to be installed in a space like that, you have to be super careful not to put their power source on top of the fixture because the heat from the LED’s will kill it. Currently, as LED’s dropped in price low enough, their sensitivity to temperature is really my only problem with them… and their sensitivity to moisture… and sensitivity to vibration… and to power spikes… They’re nice light but frankly kinda garbage too. 😀 In our industrial kitchen I’ve installed double the luminosity required because I know they’ll be going to hell in that space damn quickly.

  9. If you look at the disposal side of the equation, leds are a disaster for the environment compared to incandescent.

  10. LEDs can sometimes flicker if they get old. This is because the inverter degrades. This can be sped up if the voltage varies a lot.

  11. If you actually run a spectrophotometer to see what colors are being emitted you would see that cfl’s emit an entirely different range of light then natural light and new led bulbs are a much closer match which is why instead of taking over 100 years to replace cfl’s with something new it only took 10.
    “The faster something is replaced is usually directly proportional to the hatred level it has generated.”
    This is a quote from…uumm, not someone famous, or wise, or rich, or oh wait, I came up with it…..HEY, wait a min…

  12. i think it is impressive that by the time the lifespan of a bulb is reached, new technology can replace that bulb.

  13. Surely I can’t be the only Canadian who was hoping this was actually a reasoned defence of the Canadian Football League?

  14. Our power company gave us BOXES of these bulbs like 2 years ago for free to get people to use them. These aren’t a thing anymore?

  15. Maybe it was just me but I felt like the balance in audio on this vid was heavily turned to the left channel. Really bothered me 😅

  16. I’m just going to mention that anything Tech Connections makes feels like good PBS content. These videos remind me of shows such as Fetch with Ruff Ruffman so much.

  17. Dang, I was told if you break a CFL you need to leave the room for 15 minutes and never, ever vacuum them up or you’ll aerosolize the Mercury

  18. I won’t miss the need to have to call hazmat every time one of those CFLs broke inside my house. They broke often, and contained mercury, so hazmat *had* to be called *by law.*

    They also didn’t ever work in light fixtures that were outside exposed to cold air. I went without a porch light for a long time because CFLs failed in temperatures below 40F, incandescent bulbs were no longer available and LEDs hadn’t been invented yet.