jonathan hayward/canadian press


Stuart Hickox, the Ottawa-based executive director of Project Porchlight, holds a compact fluorescent lightbulb. The bulbs can cut your energy bill in half and can last up to 10 years.


When Darven Smet­aniuk and his family moved into their home 13 years ago, they put a compact fluorescent lightbulb in the kitchen as a nightlight so the house wouldn’t be pitch-dark for the kids.

“I finally replaced it two years ago,” said Smetaniuk, the customer-production manager at Custom Lighting Ltd. in Edmonton, which specializes in energy saving lights.

Smetaniuk got more than a decade of use from that one bulb and has been promoting the energy efficiency of compact fluorescents for years, but many Canadians are just beginning to realize the switch from incandescents is inevitable.

Nova Scotia’s energy minister says the province plans to give retailers four or five years to prepare for a ban on incandescent light bulbs, and Ontario is considering phasing them out as well.

Project Porchlight, a campaign organized by the not-for-profit energy conservation group One Change, is working to deliver one CFL bulb to every household in Canada. The bulbs are even being distributed by dogsled in the Yukon, said executive director Stuart Hickox.

“We feel we have a really good concept,” he said. “If you can get someone to change one light bulb, the person is instantly engaged in taking action on climate change.” A quarter of a million bulbs were distributed in Ottawa last year, and 10,000 have just been handed out in Guelph, Ont.

The use of CFLs by homeowners has been slowed by several factors. The bulbs “never used to be able to fit into regular lamps,” said Marrick Engel of Toronto-based Engelite lighting, one of the country’s oldest manufacturers of lighting fixtures. “But now they’re short enough that they can get in with the harp — that’s what holds the shade onto the lamp,” said Engel.

These days, there is a “humongous surge” in demand, especially for the screw-in type compact fluorescents, says Howard Bernstein, vice-president of ArtCraft Lighting (Electric Ltd.) in Brampton, north of Toronto.

The beauty of the screw-in PL (Pro-Light ) bulbs is they can be used in any fixture made for incandescent bulbs, he said. “There’s nothing much for you to do other than to spend the $2 to $3 that the bulb will cost you.”

And the PL bulbs, also called CFLs, have a longer life and will save the buyer money. “The PL lasts 15,000 hours and an incandescent lasts just 1,500 hours,” said Bernstein. They use the same technology as linear fluorescent lamps. CFLs are also environmentally friendly because less energy is used.

The Ottawa lightbulb campaign, for instance, could mean as much as $10 million in energy savings for the people of Ottawa over five years, said Hickox, taking some pressure off the need to build more costly electricity generating stations.

There are some downsides, though, to the CFL bulbs. They contain small amounts of mercury, a toxic silvery-white heavy liquid metallic element. Many people also complain that the light is “too cool.”

Hickox says older CFLs, such as T3s, contain about five to seven milligrams of mercury. But later models, such as the T2 13 watt bulb, which Porchlight volunteers are handing out, have between two and three milligrams, he said.

Gary Taylor, president of the Toronto-based Living Lighting retail chain, says some suppliers are moving to mercury-free bulbs. “They’ve found a way to produce these CFLs without it.”

Retailers and industry have used fluorescent lighting for years and have recycling programs to take away burned out bulbs to recapture the mercury. But not much is available for homeowners.

“We are now dealing with a scenario where we’re replacing millions of incandescent light bulbs in homes with these little CFLs and they’re eventually going to find their way into landfill sites,” said Taylor.

Another concern involves the quality of the light itself.

While Engel’s company makes fixtures that are CFL friendly, he’s not a fan of the bulbs. They’re “too cool,” he says. “It’s not a nice warm light like the old incandescent.”

Bernstein’s company is working to solve the “cool” problem by modifying the shades. “If you marry the PL or put it inside a glass shade that is coloured or decorated — white, cream or amber — it actually looks very nice,” said Bernstein.

“The glass diffuses the coolness of the bulb and transforms it,” he adds.