CFL Light Bulbs. The Facts
With the new light bulb standards in the USA, many people are aware of CFLs but are unsure if they’re the right choice. Here’s what you need to know – without the hype. Just the facts.
What are CFL light bulbs?
CFLs are simply curly versions of the long tube fluorescent lights you may already have in your kitchen or garage. But they’re a lot more energy efficient, and they save you money too. (See the light bulbs types review).
“OK Clare. Your friends call you the Green Goddess. So tell me, why should I spend more money on CFLs or LEDs? They’re supposed to be the best light bulbs types and the right thing to do, but times are tough! And anyway, I know someone who says the colour is horrible and they don’t dim and they don’t last”.
Let’s look at the different aspects.
Are CFLs More Expensive?
Overall, no. In fact, the US Department of Energy showed the savings over the lifetime of a CFL to be $105!
When you’re buying stuff for home, it’s often difficult to consider long-term instead of short-term benefit with your grocery shopping! The costs benefits only kick in after a few months, when you start to benefit from not having to replace the bulbs as often, as well as the reduction in electricity costs.
It takes an incandescent bulb 60 watts of energy (electricity) to produce the same amount of light that would take a CFL bulb only 15 watts to produce (General Electric).
Plus, because CFL light bulbs generate less heat, you’ll save on air conditioning cooling costs too!
Tip: I simply bought one new CFL with each big monthly shop, so that I didn’t really feel the impact on my budget, and gradually replaced all the bulbs in my home. Replacing every lamp at once might be a bit hairy on the pocket!
View it as a money-saving investment rather than a light bulb purchase.
Tip: to see exactly how much you would save in the USA by switching from incandescents to CFLs or LEDs, use this free online calculator (just change the figures to suit your own circumstances). If you run a business, you can use this calculator for it too. The figures are really interesting!
Fluorescent light is horrible!
The light from traditional fluorescent tubes is very bright and sharp, and they were often used in kitchens, garages and offices for this reason. But it’s not the best light for a lounge or a bedroom.
The first CFL light bulbs were only available with that same bright light, so people – rightly – didn’t want them.
But now, CFLs are available in a range of light colours from white to yellow tones, “warm white” or “daylight” for example. (And they also come in bright colours for parties, or orange CFLs for Halloween, for example).
I’ve also got an article (coming soon) on which type of CFL to use in different areas of your home.
Can I dim CFLs?
Yes you can – but only if you buy the right type – check the packaging. Again, when they first came out, no dimming was available, but this has changed.
Be aware, however, that the lights with dimming feature will not always last as long as those without dim.
How long do CFLs last, really?
The packaging is required to tell you how long your CFL should last.
“A 800,000kW nuclear power plant could be scrapped if 10 million conventional 100W light bulbs were replaced with 21W … lamps” (www.megaman.cc). Editor’s Note: 10 million incandescents sounds like a lot, but there are 4 billion light sockets in the USA alone!
Do they last as long as that?
I don’t know, to be perfectly honest. Once they’re in, I tend to forget when I installed them.
But I can tell you that two factors affect the lifespan of CFL light bulbs:
- The power supply. Power sags, brown-outs and other non ‘clean’ power conditions can shorten the lifespan.
- The manufacturing quality. If you buy a really cheap t-shirt and the hems unravel or it goes out of shape after 2 washes, you know it’s because it’s not good quality. The same applies with CFLs, just like most other products. Choose a reputable manufacturer / brand – often, you get what you pay for.
They look funny!
Now, some CFLs come encased in a cover so they look more like incandescents. (The ones I use for my spotlights are like this).
I remember a delightful period drama on TV where a dowager was most upset with her beloved son for bringing ‘this new-fangled electricity thing’ into her home. The electric lights were ‘far too bright, and ugly too’ without the softness of the flickering gas lamps, she believed.
So I suppose CFLs are like any other change – they take a bit of getting used to.
They don’t switch on instantly
That’s true. You switch them on, they give off a dim light for about 2 seconds, then they come up to full brightness. They used to take longer to switch on fully, now it’s about 2 seconds (longer in extreme cold). I know we live in an age of instant gratification, but I certainly don’t have an issue with 2 seconds!
But some newer models are now “Instant On CFL” if you prefer.
What about the mercury?
Less than 4 milligrams (mg).
That doesn’t mean much to me (it’s small, but how small?), so here’s a comparison. Thermometers used to have about 500mg. So it takes over 100 CFLs to equal one old thermometer.
Newer bulbs now have just 1mg of mercury!
CFLs are safe as long as they are unbroken.
Should I recycle CFLs?
You do need to recycle them once they die, because it’s not good to have mercury in landfills. Plus, almost all parts of CFLs can be recycled, so it makes sense.
Also some countries, and some US states, require you to recycle them i.e. you are not allowed to put them in the normal trash. (In the US, visit Earth911 to find out).
Luckily, recycling is easy!
- Local retailers, your local kerbside pickup and mail-back services are all options.
- In the USA, Lowes, Home Depot, and IKEA stores offer free collection points for CFLs.
- In Europe, southern Africa and Australia, most big supermarkets as well as hardware stores have collection boxes for used CFLs.
What if I break a CFL?
- If you have central heating or air conditioning, switch it off.
- Get children and pets out of the room (so they don’t spread the mess or tread on broken glass).
- Do NOT vacuum.
- Collect broken glass and visible powder with stiff paper and sticky tape, or damp paper towels and wet wipes for hard surfaces.
- Place them in a sealable plastic bag and dispose of properly.
- Switch the heating / cooling back on.
So, are CFLs worth it?
To me, CFL lights bulbs are a no-brainer. Yes, they cost more up front, but swapping over gradually made it easier on the pocket, and now I no longer have to replace bulbs as often, plus I’m saving money – and the planet.
That’s a win-win!
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