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CFL Program

“Lighting the Way to a Better World”

Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition has been one of the leading proponents in the conversion to CFL lighting.  As of early 2013, we have given away or assisted with the distribution of nearly 10,000 CFL’s, saving thousands of dollars in utility bills, and reducing global warming pollution by over 6 million pounds (during the life of these CFL’s)To download our CFL Quick Facts flyer

Frequently asked CFL questions

I want to help increase the use of CFL’s. What can I do?

This is a community-wide effort. Contact Diana Christopulos or Mark McClain (phone 540-387-0930) if you would like to help. Here are some ways you might help:

  • Donate to Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition’s CFL Distribution Program – $25 will buy about one dozen bulbs and save the emission of about 4 tons of CO2; $100 will buy about 40 CFL’s and save the emission of about 14 tons of CO2. RVCCC’s bulbs are distributed with educational information about conservation. You can send a check to RVCCC at  907 Greenbrier Court, Salem VA 24153, or if you want to contribute by credit card, click below (Payments are processed by PayPal, the most popular on-line payment service):

Other things you can do:

  • Distribute the bulbs through your local church or club. Give CFL’s as gifts to family and friends.
  • Host a showing of the movie Kilowatt Ours or one of our other available presentations in your home or another setting.  We’ll take care of all the logistics and we’ll give CFL’s to some or all of the audience.  Click here for more information about our presentations.

Why start with light bulbs?

Our challenge is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we add to the air. Every molecule we release today will stay in the atmosphere for about 100 years.

Most of the CO2 we generate comes from burning fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas. Of these, coal burned for electricity generates by far the most CO2 per ton of fuel. In Southwestern Virginia, about 83 percent of our electricity currently comes from coal-fired plants. In addition to emitting CO2, these plants also emit large amounts of mercury, fine particles and sulfur dioxide. They are the dirtiest source of energy.

Lighting accounts for about 9 percent of the electricity use in our homes – about the same amount of energy used for heating water. Efficient light bulbs can have a significant impact on both energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

How are compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL’s) better than incandescent light bulbs?

Incandescent light Compact fluorescent light (60-watt equivalent bulb)
5% light, 95% heat (invented 1879)

  • A single CFL will save you $40 or more over the life of the bulb . . .
  • Using 3 CFL’s will reduce global warming pollution by over a ton . . .
  • That’s the equivalent of the pollution from burning about 100 gallons of gas . . .
  • Using 8 CFL’s will eliminate the need to mine and burn over a ton of coal!*

*The actual cost savings and emissions reduction from the use of CFL’s is dependent on many variables and may be higher or lower depending on the type of bulb, how it is used, the cost of electricity, the fuel mix used to generate electricity, and other factors.  These estimates are based on supportable assumptions that are specific to the Roanoke area using a typical 60W equivalent CFL.

If every household in American bought and used just ONE 60-watt equivalent CFL, the energy saved would be

  • enough to power a city of 1.5 million people, or
  • enough to power all the homes in Delaware and Rhode Island, or
  • equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads, or
  • enough electricity saved to turn off two entire power plants–or skip building the next two (source: Fast Company, September 2006)

How much do CFLs cost?

Packages of 4-10 60-watt equivalent CFL’s often cost about $2 per bulb at major discount stores and home centers.   Other brightness and many special use bulbs are available, and prices range from less than $2 to $10 or more. All pay for themselves many times over in energy savings.

Where can I find CFLs, especially for use with dimmers, recessed ceiling fixtures and outdoor use?

Local stores now carry a variety of CFL styles including large and small decorative globes, candelabra (small and large base), dimmable, 3-way, and spot/flood lights.  They are available in “equivalent” brightness of 40-, 60-, 75-, 100-, and 150-watt.  The larger stores tend to carry the best selection, and if your favorite store doesn’t carry these, we hope you’ll tell the manager you’d like to buy them.

Does it take more current to start a bulb than to leave it burning?

Starting the lamp uses about 5 seconds worth of energy in less than a second. The manufacturers’ rating of 5-6 years on the bulb is based on an assumption that you turn it on once a day and leave it on for 3 to 4 hours.

Should we leave bulbs burning all the time?

No, because the primary point is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. You will still save lots of money, even if the bulb burns out in 5 years instead of 6. Turn bulbs off if you will be gone for more than 15 or 20 minutes.

I hear there is mercury in the bulbs. Is this true? If so, how do I dispose of the bulbs?

The bulbs have about 4 mg of mercury – it is the source of the light. This compares to about 500 mg of mercury in a thermometer and 3,000 in an old thermostat. The mercury is safe as long as the CFL is not broken, in which case it should be cleaned up with a wet paper towel and placed in a zip-lock bag for disposal . In southwestern Virginia, we release much more mercury into the air by using an incandescent bulb than we do even if we break a CFL.

Unbroken, burned-out CFL’s can be recycled.  They can be turned in at the customer service (returns) desk at any Home Depot store.  The are also accepted at the household hazardous waste days held several times a year. These are held the first Sunday in May, August and November for Roanoke County, Roanoke City, Vinton and Botetourt County.

We are talking with local governments and businesses about making disposal more convenient.

Is there a better lighting solution than CFL’s?

Light-emitting diodes (LED bulbs) may be the successors to CFL’s. Current uses include flashlights, stop lights and exit signs and, increasingly, regular household applications. They are very bright dots that use about the same amount of energy as CFL’s, last much longer, and use phosphorus instead of mercury for the light source. Today’s LED’s have a number drawbacks for regular household use:

– They are still expensive relative to other bulbs, though this is changing fairly quickly
– They are not available for all applications.

There is a lot of research going on, and it is clear that demand will grow as people get tuned in to the issue. To keep up with innovations, visit  This is a lighting fixture design competition sponsored by DOE and a lot of others and is a good way to see what is coming.

Stay tuned for updates on this issue!

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