In a nod towards helping the environment, I recently purchased some compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) to replace the incandescent indoor floodlight bulbs that burned out in my kitchen and basement ceilings.
From what I read, not only do CFLs last far longer than regular incandescent bulbs, they also are more energy efficient and give off less heat, which means a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Sounds like a real win/win, right?
I installed the first one in my kitchen ceiling, which operates on a dimmer switch. I turned up the dimmer switch to maximum and the bulb shone very brightly. I slid the dimmer switch down to reduce the brightness and the bulb starting flickering wildly. I unscrewed the bulb and noticed the small print near the grooved part of the bulb with the words "Not for use with dimmers." I looked on the packaging for the bulbs and saw the same language there, but it was not particularly conspicuous, being in small print at the bottom of the package.
"That's just great!" I thought to myself. I spent a lot of money for the batch of CFLs and they were practically useless to me, as my basement floods are on dimmer switches too.
And I couldn't just throw them in the trash either. As I read in the October 2007 issue of Scientific American, CFLs contain mercury and cannot be thrown out with ordinary trash. While the amount of mercury in each CFL is small, "about equal to the amount of ink on the tip of a ballpoint pen", as Scientific American describes it, when you toss them all into a landfill, the mercury combined from all of them can leach out into the water supply and become a health hazard.
On the positive side, I will be able to use the CFLs to replace the incandescents in our bathroom. The lights in there operate on a dimmer switch too, but a couple of months after we got our bathroom remodelled, the dimmer stopped working and the bulbs shine at maximum brightness no matter what the setting on the switch.
Still, I will have to check to see where I can drop my CFLs off locally for recycling when the time comes to replace them.