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August 2010
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Ask the Expert
Compact Fluorescent Bulb Do's and Don'ts

Expert Advice on Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Why should I change to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)? My electrician told me not to use them in my ceiling fixtures. Why?


Use CFLs to Save Energy
If every household in the U.S. replaced just ONE incandescent light bulb with an energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, about $700 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year — the equivalent of the emissions created by one million cars.  And that's only one bulb per household! Most homes have 15-30 bulbs.

Compact Fluorescents (CFL's) provide more light with less power. Incandescent bulbs make light by passing electricity through a small wire, or filament. The wire glows hot and produces light. Unfortunately, as much as 90% of the energy used by an incandescent bulb is spent producing heat, not light. That's a lot of wasted energy. The typical CFL bulb uses 66-75% less electricity to produce the same amount of light as a comparable incandescent bulb.

Higher quality CFL's can last from 8,000-10,000 hours or more. You'll be lucky to get 1000 hours out of your common incandescent bulb. Do you have a bulb that's a pain in the neck to change? You'll realize another benefit by switching it to a CFL. You won't need to change that bulb again for 5-7 years!

Recycle CFLs Don't Throw them in the Garbage
Because CFL’s contain trace amounts of mercury, proper disposal is important. For bulb/lamp recycling and collection in your area, check the EPA website.

CFL’s are also recyclable at every Home Depot store: customers can simply bring in any expired, unbroken CFL bulbs, and locate the recycling display near the returns desk. The bulbs will then be managed responsibly by an environmental management company who will coordinate CFL packaging, transportation and recycling to maximize safety and ensure environmental compliance.

Don't Use CFLs for the following:

Dimmers. However, there are CFLs designed specifically for dimmers. Generally speaking though, CFL light bulbs cannot be dimmed as they can only operate at one level. Those designed for dimmers are actually 3 or 4 CFLs combined into one unit. The dimming is achieved as units adjust to turn on or off to the desired level. 

Recessed or enclosed fixtures. It is not recommended that you use CFLs in an enclosed indoor ceiling fixture unless they are designed for that purpose. Because these fixtures don't have any airflow, the temperature of the light bulb gets very warm, and the life of the average CFL is shortened. However, there are CFLs specifically made for recessed ceilings fixtures and track lighting referred to as flood lamps that should last the full five years. As far as enclosed fixtures, again, the temperatures usually result in a short bulb life. 

Freezing Temperatures. Many currently available CFL products are rated to start at zero degrees farenheit but may not be suited for high wind chill areas. Temperature affects how efficiently a CFL will light. At low temperatures, it is more difficult for the ballast that is driving the lamp to create and maintain the gas arc necessary to produce illumination.

Consider whether the potential for a few days without CFL lights is acceptable when the temperature dips below zero for a day or weeks at a time. Note also that at freezing temperatures, CFLs may provide 50% less light. If the specific amount of light output is critical to your installation during cold temperatures, it may be necessary to install higher wattage CFLs or additional lamps to cover cold periods. As in enclosed fixtures, CFLs exposed to tempertures below zero usually result in a shorter bulb life.

Old and Outdated Electrical Fixtures. Some fixtures within older homes may not support the use of CFL’S. Old fixtures with pull chain sockets, old sockets, or turn switches cannot provide the warm up time necessary for a CFL. Considering the energy effectiveness of new fixtures, the solution would be to update the lighting fixtures as well as the bulbs.

Find out more. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment has some excellent and comprehenisive information about CFLs.


Some nice green grass
Some nice green grass

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