Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs: Some Assembly Required

Jim spotted this confusing sign at a Fry’s store in Campbell, Calif. On a display of compact fluorescent light bulbs, the store helpfully notes that some assembly is required. “Is it safe to assemble your own fluorescent light bulbs?” he wrote. “I mean with the dangerous mercury vapor and all?”

I’m all about putting things together myself, but I draw the lines somewhere near light bulbs. Maybe by “some assembly” they mean that you need to screw in the bulbs yourself. Or this is just a Target-style reality slip on the part of Fry’s.


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  1. korybing says:

    I guess by “assembly” they mean ‘You have to screw this into a socket for it to light up’?

    • SonicMan says:

      @korybing: Hard to tell from the Pic. But they may be the kind that are 2 pieces.

    • korybing says:

      @korybing: Jeeze, good reading comprehension, Kory. This comment is already up there in the freakin’ article.

      • mariospants says:

        @korybing: My question is, why did kory put “assembly” in double quotes while ‘You have to screw this into a socket for it to light up’ is in single? Maybe she knew that she was eating precious seconds holding down that shift key in a veiled attempt at proclaiming “first!”?

    • AluminumFalcon_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @korybing: Perhaps, but how many _______s would it take to screw in said light bulb?

  2. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    $1.99 for four CFLs is cheap, assembly required or not. Although I’ve found that the inexpensive Bright Effects ones I’ve gotten from Lowe’s tend to flicker, especially while they’re warming up.

    • shepd says:


      Be careful with the cheap bulbs, some of them aren’t UL/CSA approved (despite bearing a counterfeit sticker) and they have a tendency to set on fire.

      Had at least one cheapie from the dollar store melt on me. I’ll stick to the name brands from now on.

      There’s plenty more examples than just what I’ve linked to. Compact fluorescents that aren’t made properly are much more of a fire hazard than standard bulbs due to the ballast and plastic (“Regular” light bulbs, apart from the heat they generate, don’t have any flammable parts).

    • Anonymous says:


      Note the sign below it:

      Discounted price made possible by Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

      The electric company is California is trying to up adoption of CFL’s by subsidizing part of the price. I’ve personally seen prices as low as $.25 a bulb.

    • AluminumFalcon_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @segfault: IIRC, Pop Mech voted Home Depot’s brand the best, and they will also recycle the bulbs for you for free. PLUS, if the bulbs fail within the warranty period on the package, you call a 1-800 number on the bulb, and as long as it’s within time of the date code, they will send you new bulbs, and you don’t have to save the original box/receipt or anything!

  3. Jakuub says:

    How many Fry’s employees does it take to assemble a lightbulb?

    None, they make the customer do that.

  4. Snarkysnake says:

    I recently found an entire case of new CFL’s at the local flea market for $1 apiece. No story there , but I was kind of surprised at where they came from – The Los Angeles Department of Light and Water…Hmmm. A little digging and I discovered that they were/are part of a program to get LA residents to use less juice. No telling how they ended up on my side of the country. They are really well made and put out just the right amount of light. Thanks , LA !

    • vastrightwing says:

      @Snarkysnake: Here’s the scam:
      Force customers to buy energy bulbs at $2/mo.
      1) Convince your customers they need to save energy.
      2) Once step 1 has been accomplished and they all using less energy, file a rate increase request to the PUC board due to the fact you are loosing revenue due to less consumption.
      3) Profit.
      4) repeat as desired.

      • kamel5547 says:

        @vastrightwing: Only LA runs its own utility, so no profit is needed. Part of the reason they escaped problems after CA deregulated rates.

        That aside, do we really want to tell utilities that the only way to generate a greater profit is to generate more demand? In the grander scheme, I think if the overall customer bill drops due to lesser energy usuage I personally don’t begrudge them a higher margin. The key being that the total cost should fall.

  5. robdew2 says:

    Since it’s obvious the bulbs do not in fact require assembly, what is the purpose of this story? To warn us the bulbs don’t require assembly?

    To warn us Fry’s is trying to trick us into thinking the bulbs may or may not require assembly?

    Is it more likely this is a typo? Sometimes people printing signs make typos on them. I know this is a difficult concept to grasp here.

    Here is the solution to the 2009 Fry’s CFL Bulb Unknown Assembly Debacle:

    1) locate the person who thought this was interesting.
    2) Explain to them “this is a typo, not news, not consumer advocacy, and not even interesting or funny”
    3) do not publish that person’s story.
    4) Move along, move along.

    • MostlyHarmless says:

      @robdew2: Technically, its not a typo. A typo is a typing error. This one is just a mistake (through incompetence or otherwise) that ended up being unwittingly funny.

      The funny part being that trying to assemble things that have mercury vapors in them isn’t fun for the health. Dark humor, if you will.

      And I am fairly sure the OP knew it was a mistake and could not resist a temptation to make a jab at it. I am mostly harmless, and I approve of OP’s humor.

    • Hil-fish says:

      @robdew2: What do you have against laughter? We all know it was a small mistake made by some poor schmuck at Fry’s. But it is funny, as MostlyHarmless points out above. And there’s no harm in posting something that most people will read, chuckle over, and immediately forget about. It’s not like we’re going to stop shopping at Fry’s over this. (I hope.)

    • nakedscience says:

      @robdew2: Do you need to take a class on how to use your scroll bar? $50 and I’ll teach you!

  6. FrugalFreak says:

    It is Frys using hohum banner templates to sensationalize the sign to bring in customers :P

    deja vu

  7. shepd says:

    These have a plastic fake-bulb cover to go over the spiral tube. Maybe that is to be applied by the consumer?

  8. CyGuy says:

    Back in the early days of compact florescents (the 1980’s ?) when they had straight tubes, you did have to assemble them. There was a screw-in part with the ballast, and then a separate piece with 2 or 4 straight tubes. The tubes lasted about 2 years and then could be replaced while keeping the ballast.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The mercury is not vaporized until voltage is applied to the tube, so it wouldn’t be terribly unsafe to assemble them yourself. Drop in some liquid mercury, somehow produce a substantial vacuum in the tube while simultaneously sealing the tube to the metal base… difficult, but not unsafe.

  10. kraftmayo says:

    They dont just magically light themselves? WTF?

    Magical Green Energy my ass…

  11. LSonnenhimmer says:

    wow must be a slow day….
    Anyway there are some CFL’s that have an additional base so that you can install in standard or candelabra type lamps. For some this option may be too much (it is a _little_ tricky).
    They just tell you about it before you buy it, why is this consumerist worthy??

    One again consumerist….skimpy on facts, big on drama….

  12. LSonnenhimmer says:

    Also I should point out that Jim (by way of Laura Northrup) is quiet clueless as to how a CFL works.

    Its NOT a tube, pour some mercury in, cap the end and stick in the lamp, Voila, Let there be light!

    Its a bit more tricky….

  13. GenXCub says:

    I have bought these greenlites from Fry’s before (single bulbs @ $.50). The assembly part is probably just a sign error, as they’re typical screw-in-and-they-work bulbs.

    • Auto-Erotic_GitEmSteveDave-ation says:

      @GenXCub: I note these say “covered”, so I think perhaps they have a “globe” around the spiral part, for things like vanities, or people who hate that shape.

  14. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    All this free advertising for the store just by printing a meaningless line on a sign and ensuring a photo of it goes to Consumerist…

  15. DTaylor404 says:

    If there’s a lesson to take away, it’s probably this:

    If Fry’s gets this wrong, what else do they get wrong that isn’t this obvious?

  16. neilb says:

    They might just have a smaller base with a screw-in adapter to make them fit a standard socket. I have several of these. The assembly takes about 3 seconds.

  17. puppysnuff says:

    The reason this sign shows “Some Assembly Required” is the same reason there is a zero hanging above the description of the item. There was a district manager who was tired of seeing different signs in all the stores, so he wrote a spreadsheet to use as the signs. The only problem is that if the “Does item require assembly” cell in the input page has a space instead of a zero, it causes the sign to show it requires assembly. I tried to fix numerous things on that spreadsheet, but the District Manager was fired (for embezzlement I heard) and he locked it with a password.