With all the recent talk of CFL’s, LED’s, and other fancy-sounding efficient lighting options, we thought it fitting to resolve some of your lingering lighting and lightbulb questions for this installment of Ask Inhabitat.

Q: I want to switch my home to compact fluorescent bulbs and use them in my recently remodeled family room. However, I don’t like the spiral look of CFL’s – they’re rather ugly, and would detract from the newly designed space. Are there CFL’s that are actually attractive, or covers that I can use to hide the spiral?

-George, Kentfield, CA

A: We can all agree that the usual “ugly spiral” compact fluorescent is not exactly the most attractive design, especially for lighting fixtures with exposed bulbs. But never fear- there are a variety of more aesthetically-pleasing AND function-appropriate CFL’s available that work in exposed-bulb contexts with all the energy-efficiency of the common spiral version.

As far as screw-in bases go (the usual configuration for residential applications), your non-spiral options take the shape of candles, globes, reflectors, and covered (or “capsule”) CFL bulbs. Each has its appropriate use- candles for chandeliers, reflectors for recessed “can” lighting found in many a living room, and covered bulbs for outdoor applications. “Capsule” CFL’s are simply the basic spiral version encased in a plastic or glass globe, giving it the more common lightbulb aesthetic. Probably the best family room solution is a reflector CFL, or R-CFL, whose reflective conical shape provides a broader down light than other options. There are even dimmable options available now including flood and reflector CFL’s from both GE and Philips. Bulbs.com and Energy Federation Incorporated both have great selections of R-CFL’s in a variety of color temperatures to perfectly complemented your newly-upholstered sofa.

Types of CFLs, compact fluorescent, CFL, CFL's, R-CFL's, reflector CFL, energy-efficient lighting, energy-efficient bulbs

It’s important to understand, though, that while some of the more aesthetically-pleasing CFL’s may look more common, they use the same technology- strategically encasing the spiral to provide light diffusion, reflection, or just a barrier to hide the so-called ugliness. So, a CFL’s spiral form is primarily determined by its function- it needs the tube to work, and the spiral allows the tube to function with in a fairly compact space.

On a related note, the U.S. Department of Energy recently held a competition for the most energy-efficient R-CFL’s. The winners include models from GE, Sylvania, and Philips. All of the winning models are Energy Star qualified and have surpassed a stringent set of standards set by the Department of Energy. They are now available online here, through Energy Federation Incorporated.

Q: Like the good energy-conscious person that I am, I have been replacing my incandescent lights with CFLs, which has left me with a pile of incandescent bulbs that I don’t know what to do with. Being constructed of glass, steel, and tungsten, one would thing these would be an excellent candidate for recycling. Please help me, Inhabitat! What can I do with my pile of bulbs?

-Andrew, Waterloo, Ontario

A: While it breaks my heart a little to provide this answer, it seems there are currently no comprehensive or widely available recycling and/or disposal resources for incandescent bulbs. Despite the fact that incandescents contain hazardous amounts of lead along with recyclable clear or quartz glass, these components are not viewed as “economically-extractable.” The silver lining of all this, if you are an uber-optimist like I am, is that incandescents’ lack of recyclability is just further proof that they are exceedingly un-green, strengthening the argument to switch to CFL’s.

Incandescent Bulbs, Lightbulbs, Recycle Bulbs

Yes, all types of fluorescent bulbs, including CFL’s, contain hazardous mercury, but there are a ton of recycling and disposal services, programs, and resources available to both residential and commercial markets that make them not just energy-efficient during their lifespan, but easily recyclable and safely disposable. Some states even go so far as to require the proper recycling of all fluorescent bulbs. Bulbs.com has a great ship-and-pack recycling program for fluorescents and fluorescent ballasts, and www.lamprecycle.org has a directory of local fluorescent recyclers.

It’s worth calling your local recycling center or hazardous waste disposal service to ask them specifically about their incandescent recycling/disposal efforts- you never know! But if all else fails, your best bet is to allow your incandescents to burn out before disposing of them (thereby mitigating the effects of any remaining hazardous metals), place them in a brown bag to keep your local waste collectors’ hands safe, and bid them adieu. Or if you’re the crafty type, paint them red, wrap some wire around their base, and use them to adorn next year’s Christmas tree.


Emily Photo 2, Emily Pilloton, sustainable designer, Human Nest, Inhabitat writer

Emily Pilloton is the Managing Editor of Inhabitat, a furniture designer, and freelance design writer based in Chicago and San Francisco. Trained in architecture with degrees from UC Berkeley and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she now designs conceptual and sustainable furniture and writes for print and online publications. She has also taught design in Chicago, given lectures about green design and sustainability, and worked with Chicago-based Foresight Design Initiative, a non-profit organization that supports sustainable design and business practices.

Emily can be contacted at empilloton@gmail.com