As I have stated elsewhere, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs for short), those spiral tubes that have become familiar, energy efficient substitutes for standard incandescent bulbs, represent a valuable, but transitory, step on the road to a cleaner, greener future.
CFLs will be around for years to come and, for many, offer substantial energy cost savings with quick payback periods. I still recommend them. But with a word of caution. CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, which means they must be recycled properly at the end of their useful life. But I have a hard time imagining that the majority of CFLs will actually find their way to appropriate recycling facilities, and worry that when large numbers of them start turning up in landfills mercury seeping into the ground will cause a major environmental headache.
The good news is that there is something better on the horizon. And that horizon is getting closer. Light emitting diodes, LEDs for short, are being used to produce a wide variety of lighting devices that many believe will come to dominate the lighting industry.
LEDs are more energy efficient that CFLs, contain no mercury, and last five times longer. They are also significantly more expensive. But even at current prices they offer a reasonable return on investment when you consider the energy cost savings and add up the number of standard replacement bulbs you would have had to buy over the course of an LED's 25,000 hour life span. (A typical incandescent bulb lasts about 1,000 hours; CFLs last 3 - 5,000 hours.)
Later this month, Home Depot will start selling the EcoSmart line of LED bulbs made by Lighting Science Group Corporation. The line includes devices designed to replace standard incandescent bulbs, as well as reflector floods - the type of bulb generally used in recessed lighting, and MR-16s - the tiny halogen bulbs used in many low-voltage lighting fixtures.
LEDs are an investment. If you are renting, or plan to move within two or three years, you are probably better off going with CFLs, which will pay for themselves in a matter of months. But if you plan to stay put for a while, LEDs have many advantages that may make the up front investment a wise choice.