The Gillespie clan has been using incandescent light bulbs to light our various hovels since Thomas Edison invented them in 1879. Before that, we used oil from the rendered fat of our vanquished enemies, so family legend goes.

But the tectonic plates in home lighting started shifting when compact fluorescent lights started showing up on shelves, and my kids started bringing home coloring pages from school on Earth Day (or is it now Week? Month?) showing smiling, eco-conscious parents in sensible shoes and slacks screwing those twisty CFLs into their ceiling lights. And the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which I didn’t read, set new efficiency standards for light bulbs, which I didn’t understand but were reportedly designed to phase out incandescent bulbs by this year.

So, under crushing internal and external pressures, I started buying CFLs, stopping to rob local banks on the way to Home Depot because, man, CFLs don’t come cheap, and I never knew we had so many lights in this house.

But the pain was mitigated by the fact that I didn’t really think I had a choice, legally and socially, and that CFLs last so long that my children will inherit them, and my children’s children, and use them in their various mansions, chateaus and villas, maybe even take a couple to work to light the corner offices at their hedge funds.

So I really doubled down: I went out and got the longest-lasting and eco-friendlicious CFL bulbs on the market, made out of free range, 100% post-consumer materials that would stay lit until the end of time. I loaded up on 25-watt, 40-watt, 60-watt standard and flood lights (ask me to buy household staples and I’ll always go big) and backed the truck up to the house, making sure to be as conspicuous as possible with the boxes with big “Go Green” stickers on them, in case the neighbors were watching.

I was a bit smug about being ahead of the pack, at least in the United States. I was running with the big eco-dogs now: Cuba banned the sale and import of incandescent bulbs in 2005; the European Union is well on its way to eliminating this particular scourge. The Philippines, India, China … everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon, not only to increase lighting efficiency but reduce greenhouse gases.  

Problem is, the technology just hasn’t worked out for me. Yet.

The first problems I noticed were that the CFL floods take forever to turn on, and they don’t respond to a dimmer switch. Then, the light, and lack thereof. The CFLs don’t emit as much light as incandescent bulbs, and the light they do give off is a soulless, oft-flickering bluish haze, akin to the atmosphere you see in insane asylums and morgues in low-budget horror movies. My daughter thinks it’s, in her words, “creepy light” and doesn’t want CFL bulbs in her room now. She says they’re downright unfriendly.

Finally, half my CFL bulbs have already gone out, about seven years short of the least-optimistic estimates of their staying power. I started spending half my work-day on a step ladder tapping on them, screwing them back in, changing bulbs from one spot to another. As a result, my work productivity plummeted and has yet to recover, precious hours of quality time that my company will never get back (I guarantee you that).

The newest versions of CFLs tout faster light times, less flickering, longer lives and warmer light. Unfortunately, I thought the technology was mature as the experts said it was when I robbed all those banks to buy what turned out to be practice-generation, or preseason, CFLs.

In summation … I bought a new technology I didn’t really want, but I thought I had to have. The industry research convinced me that it would make me more energy efficient and reduce my level of dangerous emissions. I paid through the nose for it, with the idea that spending now would save me money later. To upgrade my light bulbs is going to cost me another small fortune, maybe a kidney this time around. And that initially tough federal legislation has been shredded with loopholes so wide you could drive a truck through them.

So yeah, I think my heart and mind were in the right place, and my wallet maybe was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is all going to work out in the end. But the fact that a supposedly game-changing technology didn’t really deliver the first time around still leaves a bitter aftertaste--which is usually the price tag of progress.


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