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Badilisha to CFL Lightbulbs in Plain English

According to the Government Press release 2010, Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) imported 1.25 million Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) for free distribution at the cost of Shs.380.4 million.

Why such a huge expense for purchase of CFLs bulbs, you may ask? Heck, what are CFLs, anyway?

Though we call them light bulbs, traditional incandescent bulbs are actually small heaters that give off a little bit of light--something you know if you've ever touched a bulb that's been on for a while. These bulbs were technological wonders when they were patented in 1880, but today they are inefficient dinosaurs. They waste energy and money, and they are responsible for millions of tons of global warming pollution.

To understand in Plain English importance of CFLs, click the video below.

What solutions are there for light bulbs?

CFL's are the solution -- they use 70-75% less electricity and give off only a little bit of heat.

Here's are the benefits of CFL's:
  • Use 75% less energy than regular light bulbs.
  • Last about 10 times as long as regular light bulbs.
  • Produce similar quality light as regular light bulbs (nothing like old-style fluorescent).
  • Cost as little as $1
  • Don't generate ridiculous amounts of heat (which you would have to pay to remove with AC).
And here are the downsides:
  • Most of them can't be used with dimmer switches. (Some can; check the package.)
  • Cheap ones burn out really quickly. Buy name brands and/or bulbs with a warranty.
  • They start dim and take a minute or two to reach full brightness.
  • They contain a tiny amount of mercury, which might be an issue if you break a bulb and you're careless about how you clean it up. (more on this in a minute)
 Some of these benefits have been seconded by Statistics obtained from KPLC Demand Side Management (DSM). What they really haven't emphasized is on the issue of mercury.

Old-style bulbs are such big energy-wasters that many governments are banning them. That includes the U.S. and Australia and now Kenya. They're doing this to save energy, because saving energy reduces pollution.  (Power plants put out tons of carbon, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and more.)

How to buy CFL's

When you buy CFL bulbs the package will be labeled to show you how many watts it's equivalent to.

For example, a 15-watt CFL bulb package will say something like "60 watt equivalent". They have to say that otherwise people would look at the package and think, "15 watts? That's not nearly enough light!" But it is, because a 15-watt CFL bulb puts out as much light as a standard 60-watt bulb.

Although CFL's generally last for years longer than regular bulbs, the cheap kind can burn out quickly. I therefore recommend buying either name-brand CFL's, or at least ones that come with a 5+ year warranty. If the package says "lasts five years" that's not good enough, you want a 5+ year guarantee.

Make sure to get a color temperature you'll be happy with. The light bulbs you're replacing are probably "warm", around 2800k. Anything above around 3500k will have a bluish tint to it, and the higher the blue, the "colder" (more blue) it gets. If you want similar light to what you probably have now, go for "warm" CFL's, less than 3500k, the lower the better.

If you're in a super-cold environment, note that most CFL's run dim in very cold temperatures, and most won't run at all below 20°F. If you're using them outside as floodlights, then make sure you get the kind that are labeled for cold-weather use.

Let me review the mercury myth; each bulb contains an average of 5 milligrams of mercury, which is probably just enough to cover a ballpoint pen tip. Though it's nothing to laugh at, unless you wipe up mercury [without gloves] and then lick your hand, you're probably going to be okay.

Bluejay, Michael. “Saving Electricity“. 2007


  1. I've been reading a lot of issues about CFLs and the danger it may bring. I don't know if I already need to change my bulbs at home. All of my bulbs are CFLs. My contractor who took his Contractor Continuing Education said that LED is much better to use.


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