05 December 2007

Compact Fluorescent Lamps -- The Shape of Things to Come

Compact Fluorescent Lights Make a Difference

One of the easiest ways to save energy, save money, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to use compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) instead of old-fashioned incandescent bulbs.

Compact fluorescent bulbs use between a fifth and a quarter as much electricity to produce the same amount of light. They also last six times as long or more. (For hard-to-reach bulbs this is a real advantage. Take it from someone who has to climb a ladder and stand on the top step to reach some of the fixtures in my home.)

True, CFLs look a little different from traditional bulbs. But I am sure that when they were first introduced light bulbs looked weird to people who were used to gas jets. And you can get CFLs that have a globe around them and look more like a bulb.

Here are some of the pros and cons of CFLs:
  • They cost more than incandescent bulbs. (But sometimes utilities or others give them away or sell them at a discount.)
  • Most of them don't work on a dimmer. Some of the new ones have overcome this problem, but check the packaging carefully if you want to use it on a dimmer switch.
  • Some of them give light of a slightly different color than incandescent bulbs do, usually a little less yellow. Newer models are overcoming this problem. They come in both "cool" and "warm" types.
  • Most CFLs don't produce their full light output immediately when you turn them on. They may seem dimmer than they should be for the first minute or two. This is why it makes sense to use CFLs mainly where you usually leave the light on for at least 15 minutes at a time.
  • Since they contain tiny amounts of mercury (like all fluorescent lights) it is better not to just throw them in the trash. Most places have suggestions for safely disposing of CFLs. Check your local options through this EPA site. Some stores (like IKEA) have a place to drop them off.
  • CFLs produce a lot less heat than equivalent incandescent bulbs. You can put your hand on a lighted CFL and not burn yourself. That's good if you are using air conditioning, but not as good if you are heating the house in winter. In most residential situations this shouldn't make much difference. You will notice that lamps are much cooler to the touch. (My desk lamp here is hardly even warm.) This is great for lights you need close to your work.
  • They come in most of the same sizes and types as incandescent bulbs. You can even get them for "3-way" lamps.
  • Since they take a lot less electricity, if you have a fixture that says "60 Watt Max." and you want more light out of it, you can get it. A 14-Watt CFL gives as much light as a 60-Watt incandescent bulb. A 20-Watt CFL is as bright as a 75-Watt regular bulb.
  • They save money on electricity. (According to the calculator on the One Billion Bulbs site I am saving more than $100 per year.)
  • They last much, much longer.
  • Since they need less electricity, they reduce the greenhouse gas emissions you cause. (I am cutting my emissions by half a ton per year.)
  • They show you care, yet they are much cheaper than a Prius.
So next time you have to replace a light bulb, consider using a compact fluorescent. You'll be saving money and helping the environment. That's green living.

(For more information about CFLs try the Energy Star site. If you want to join others in making the switch, check out the One Billion Bulbs project.)

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