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Cheap Enlightenment

Brighten your home with CFLs.

August 20, 2009
Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy Maui LLC
Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) have come of age within the last two years. They look good, save electricity, last longer than standard light bulbs and pay for themselves in two months. They have much less mercury, and are good for the environment. Go and get some—or continue reading for more details.

CFLs have been around since 1990 and since then, the quality has improved vastly. They are available in a wide variety of sizes, turn on almost immediately, and are as bright as you need them to be. A 2007 test by Popular Mechanics revealed that people judged the light of CFLs to be better than that of incandescents. You can choose between warm light (yellow) and daylight (blue) bulbs by checking the package.

CFLs save 75 percent of electricity. This is not a small number. The average U.S. household has 45 light bulbs—replacing that number of 75-watt incandescent bulbs with CFLs will save $880 per year, considering Maui’s high electricity costs.

The expected lifetime is seven years; however, there are often bulbs that don’t work right away or burn out fast. If you look for the ENERGY STAR symbol on the packaging, you can select better quality bulbs. Manufacturers producing ENERGY STAR-qualified CFLs are required to offer at least a two-year limited warranty for CFLs used at home.

Mercury has been a big issue for a while. A CFL contains four milligrams of mercury, just enough to cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. Should a bulb break, it is advisable to air the room, wipe it up with cardboard and a wet paper towel, and then wash your hands. Used CFLs can be recycled at Home Depot. But to keep the problem in perspective, you should know that CFLs don’t break as easily as fluorescent tubes, which contain more mercury.

The United States puts 50 tons of mercury into the air by burning coal for electricity. Switching to CFLs reduces mercury emissions by twice of what the bulb contains.

And here is the good news: In 2007, enlightened Americans reduced greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of two million cars—just by switching their lightbulbs.

Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy Maui LLC, consults with county and state governments in Hawai‘i to secure a quick transition to a clean energy future. He is also the chairman of South Maui Sustainability’s renewable energy committee.

His goal is to end oil use on Maui by 2020. He can be reached through or at 214-7678.

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Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy Maui LLC

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