Letters: May/June 2008

May/June 2008
A version of this article appears in the May/June 2008 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more letters.

Solving the CFL Quandary

Thanks for bringing up the quandary over recycling CFLs (“The Afterlife of CFLs,” Jan/Feb ’08, p. 2). The CFL is a potentially beneficial product, so much so that some countries, provinces, and localities want to ban the sale of incandescent lamps and mandate their replacement with more efficient light sources like CFLs. Ireland and Australia begin an incandescent ban in 2009; the Nunavut Canadian province begins their ban in 2010; and the Ontario, Canada, ban on incandescents begins in 2012. But banning incandescents in the United States will only make sense if we put a convenient recycling path in place, and we take care of the mercury hazard by properly recycling these CFL bulbs at the end of their lives.

EPA estimates that 200 million CFLs were sold in the United States in 2007, and with the new attention to CFLs in the media and the entry of mass marketers such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco, that number will no doubt increase in 2008. Those 200 million CFLs will have to be recycled at some point, 5, 6, or 12 years down the road. Two hundred million CFLs sounds like a large enough number to justify putting a nationwide collection and recycling system in place.
European manufacturers, wholesalers, suppliers, installers, retailers, and mass-marketers have already put collection and recycling systems in place that function cost-effectively and are affordable under the European Union (EU) directive known as Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).

Each EU country has chosen its own specific solution, depending on their culture, customs, and what fits their economy best. In Ireland, the responsible party is called WEEE Ireland; this is an organization through which all market supply entities work together and set a removal fee for WEEE-covered items, like 50 Eurocents per fluorescent light bulb, irrespective of size. Every time a shipment of WEEE-covered items leaves a manufacturer or importer’s warehouse en route to the distributors and retailers, the item charge becomes due and is subtracted from the manufacturer’s WEEE account. For items not covered by a per item fee, parties pay a removal fee in relation to their market share for that particular product. (See an example of various item charges in www.weeeireland.ie/downloads/Categorylisting4.0.pdf.)
In the Netherlands, my former homeland, the nonprofit collection and recycling provider is called Light Rec. Their charge for fluorescent bulbs is 14.28 Eurocents.

In Germany, a nonprofit organization channels the overall financing and allows suppliers to enter into recycle contracts directly with recyclers. For that reason there are no official, countrywide, publicized price lists. Supply house Internet price lists quote a recycling contribution of 22 Eurocents per fluorescent bulb.

At one time Europe modeled its environmental laws on those of the United States. Now it seems that Europe, with its WEEE electronic waste take-back regulations and rules banning toxic metals in consumer and other products, can be a model for the United States.

Jan E. Gravemaker
Seattle, Washington

Insulating Value of Snow

I recently read your article “Unventing Attics in Cold Climates” online (Nov/Dec ’99, p. 27). I was curious in your discussion of thermal modeling the roofs if you considered the insulating effects of the snow layer?

The reason I ask is that vented roofs are the primary method of construction in the northern climates, where it’s not unusual to have a lot of snow on the roof.  I know of a few recently built houses where the builders tried to use an unvented roof with R-values up to 50, and snow dams were terrible in all cases. I did the heat transfer calculation, and it demonstrates that without venting, it would be very difficult to insulate the roof enough to keep the interface between the snow and roof below freezing temperature. There seems to be a growing interest in unvented roofs, and in climates with little to no snow they are appropriate. The snow belt climates are a different story.

Jeffrey Hoffman, PhD, P.E.
Marquette, Michigan

Author Joe Lstiburek replies:
No, we did not consider the insulating value of snow in our thermal model.  But we considered the reflective effects of the snow layer.  A thin layer of snow makes the roof deck colder.  However, a thick layer of snow increases the temperature.  Snow has a thermal resistance of about R-1 per inch of thickness.  This is a big deal for ice dams, but not a big deal for unvented roofs.

Determining Real Energy Savings

Building scientists must be careful when informing the public regarding electricity savings and CO2 emissions reductions. Saving electricity does not always result in reduced CO2 or other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. When a person installs a CFL in his/her residence, they will save kWh, but there will not be a similar reduction in CO2/GHG, because the fossil-fueled power plant is still producing the same amount of electricity. Unless enough electricity is saved by a large amount of homes or other buildings for the electric generator to reduce its output, the amount of CO2/GHG produced by the electric generator remains the same. This fact is never discussed, and most people do not realize this—even some of the professionals who write articles in Home Energy.

CO2 and GHG savings can only be measured and verified by the output of the fossil-fueled electric generating plant. It cannot be measured or verified by the kWh savings on an individual basis. Some may calculate the kWh savings for a regionwide energy efficiency program and estimate the CO2/GHG savings based on known calculations. But are these estimates and calculations corroborated by the reduced output of the local electric company?

Savings for reduction in gas usage can only be measured and verified accurately on an individual and cumulative basis based on pre– and post–utility bill analysis. If improvements are completed on a large enough scale, then the gas supplier can easily measure and verify reductions in gas usage for a region. I have not ever heard of a program on this scale accurately verifying gas savings. But we need to do this.

Jim Tenhundfeld, CEM
Cincinnati, Ohio

Lighting History Lessons

On a recent trip to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Virginia, I saw that one founding father was pretty smart when it came to home performance. Monticello’s high ceilings and ornate dining room are apt for entertaining the guests of a burgeoning America.  But if the guests couldn’t see one another or stay very long in the humid heat of a Virginia summer, who knows—we might still be British.

The solution came from smart home design. The lighting and ventilation problems of the dining room were approached without having to burn candles during the day. In Monticello, the octagonal ceiling of the dining room is lined with mirrored glass louvers to reflect light down into the dining room and personal bedchamber. This use of solar lighting produces natural illumination that is much more effective and less dangerous than light from a number of candles.The louvers also help provide cooling on hot and humid summer days. The louvers can be opened when the weather is warm and sticky and closed when it’s cold and raining. Monticello’s mountaintop location enhances the effect of natural ventilation. The eight-sided ceiling allows cross ventilation so that even the slightest mountaintop winds provide some relief, regardless of the wind’s direction.

The architectural ideas of Thomas Jefferson are still relevant for today’s home energy designs, and the spirit of that enlightened innovation is alive and well in the home energy community!

John Gorman
Berkeley, California


In the “Climate Solutions” special issue, the article “Moving Toward Carbon Neutrality” runs from p. 20 to p. 21, and is continued on p. 24. Due to a proofreading error, the instructions in the magazine are incorrect. We apologize for any confusion this has caused.

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