After reading that fluorescent light bulbs have now been mandated in Australia, and hearing on the radio that they are now being used exclusively in US government buildings (despite the current resident’s reluctance to acknowledge global warming), we felt had to make the switch.

We started the switch to fluorescents a couple of months earlier, by purchasing a few of them and putting them in various places around the house, so we could see how we liked them. We even returned a couple of them and exchanged them for more “daylight” versions, that give out more natural light. The rooms with the fluorescent bulbs seemed dimmer for awhile, but then we got used to it. We also found that we needed to trade UP in wattage when we replaced incandescent bulbs with fluorescents,ie. replace a 40 with a 60. Also, they get brighter as they “warm up” and have been turned on for awhile.

A reader wrote to warn us that, “a little-discussed problem with fluorescent fixture bulbs is that they are laced with mercury. The presence of mercury renders such bulbs toxic and it isn’t legal to throw them away with normal trash. In fact, proper disposal requires such bulbs be taken to a toxic substances recycling location.”

They have to be purchased in a special lighting store, so when we went there, I asked the clerk if they had an non- mercury fluorescent bulbs, but he said they all have mercury in them. He admitted they have to be taken to a special place to be disposed of (there is one in our town and probably is in yours too). Since they last much longer than incandescents, I hope we won’t have to do this often.

As fluorescent bulbs become more popular (or perhaps even mandated in places here in the US too), I’m sure that more special disposal areas will be set up for them. Eventually, there may even be places where the mercury is removed from the bulbs and re-used. These days, we recycle our printing cartridges and automobile batteries, so there’s no reason we can’t do the same thing with bulbs.

The real pain of all this was in the wallet, since these bulbs cost about $10 each. When we were done, however, we had spent the equivalent of a nice dinner out plus a pair of new earrings (for me: Although I like earrings on men, I can’t persuade Whitley to wear one). But I’m happy eating at home and don’t need any more jewelry. And the feeling of satisfaction we got is priceless.

UPDATE: A reader writes, “Mercury is in every fluorescent tube as it creates ultra-violet rays that strike the phosphor coating (white powder) on the inside of the tube that causes said coating to fluoresce [glow]. There is research ongoing to decrease the amount of mercury needed.

“Flickering is caused by old technology ballasts (item that powers lamps) running at sixty cycles per second. New technology electronic ballast run closer to twenty thousand cycles per second to eliminate flicker and hum. Insure that any light fixtures you purchase come equipped with electronic ballasts. Compact fluorescent lamps already have electronic ballasts built-in.

“Regarding color shift and eye strain: the aforementioned phosphor coating will yield different color wavelengths based on the composition of the coating. Color in fluorescent lamps is measured in degrees of Kelvin. Three thousand (3000K) is similar to incandescent light, while five thousand (5000K) is similar to noonday sunlight. Inexpensive, mass market fluorescent lamps typically come in ‘cool-white’ (5500- 6000K). Most people find thirty five hundred (3500K) a good compromise and aesthetically pleasing (also called warm- white).

“Another component of fluorescent color is ‘color rendering index.’ A scale from one to one hundred with noonday sunlight being one hundred. Most inexpensive fluorescent lamps have a CRI around sixty and will make colors appear dull and skew to gray. Ideally consumers should be looking for fluorescent lamps with a CRI between eighty to ninety three (80-93) in the color of their choice.”

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