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In a Different Light: Using CFLs to Save Time and Money

By WeatherBug Meteorologists

Looking for a simple way to save time and money? The answer may be all around your home. Replacing common incandescent bulbs with CFLs are both energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

An incandescent light bulb, the traditional, tungsten filament bulbs Thomas Edison invented in 1879, will work for an average of 1,000 hours under normal conditions. The compact fluorescent bulbs last an average of 10,000 hours. In comparison, one year is approximately 8,760 hours. With a lifetime ten times longer, the first benefit is the savings that come from buying fewer bulbs. While CFLs will cost more upfront, typically around $5 per bulb as compared to $0.75 for an incandescent bulb, that expense is recouped over time. Since it would take ten incandescent bulbs to cover the lifetime of one CFL, the total cost of incandescent bulbs would be $7.50.

Another benefit of CFLs is the amount of energy they use. CFLs` use more than one-third less energy than a comparable incandescent bulb. The direct benefit of this is the reduction in energy bills. Over the 10,000-hour lifetime of one bulb, CFLs can save $30 or more on energy costs, depending on your local electricity costs.

A secondary benefit of CFLs` reduced energy consumption is the reduction in the amount of heating and cooling costs. Since CFLs use less energy, they output up to 70 percent less heat, requiring less energy to cool your home or office.

There are a few things to keep in mind when switching to CFLs. The start-up time for a CFL is longer than for a normal incandescent bulb though strides are being made to reduce any noticeable lag. Also, it is possible for CFLs to interfere with electronic devices. Simply move the devices further apart to prevent any negative effects.

To get the most out of your switch, CFLs should be placed in fixtures that are on most frequently for long periods of time. You should also make sure to purchase the proper CFL for your fixture. Many boxes list the equivalent incandescent wattage right on the box. There are also specially made CFLs for three-way and dimmer lamps, as well as for recessed or enclosed lighting. Remember, never put a standard CFL in a dimmer or three way lamp or socket.

While many people have been concerned about the harshness of fluorescent lights, great strides have been made in the development of CFLs. Bulbs are now available in warm colors, similar to that of incandescent bulbs, as well as the conventional cooler colors. CFLs are now available to meet almost every household lightning need.

A new series of bulbs using light emitting diode (LED) technology is now entering the market. Although even more expensive than CFLs, these bulbs will offer even deeper energy savings once they become more common over the next several years.

There is a word of caution concerning CFLs though. CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury that is an essential part of the efficiency of the bulbs. While intact and in proper use, the mercury is contained and there is no danger. When bulbs are broken, however, the mercury is released. To reduce this danger, bulbs should be handled with care.

If a CFL bulb happens to break, the EPA recommends the following steps:

  • Leave the room and allow it to air out for at least 15 minutes.
  • Carefully place glass fragments in either a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealed plastic bag and use tape to pick up small fragments and powder.
  • Wipe hard surfaces with damp paper towels then place towels in jar or bag with glass fragments. If carpeted, vacuum the area then empty and wipe down canister.
  • Clothing or other fabrics that have been exposed to mercury vapors should be laundered.

To reduce the risks of mercury exposure, CFLs should be disposed of properly. The best option is to recycle these bulbs. However, many places may not accept them with normal recyclables so you may have to wait for household hazardous waste collection events at your local disposal sites. Currently, only one major retailer, IKEA, is recycling the bulbs.

If none of the above solutions are feasible for your area, CFLs can be thrown in the trash, but with precautions. Bulbs should be sealed in plastic bags to prevent mercury exposure if they should happen to break during transport.

A little bit of extra effort can go a long way in "going green". Switching to CFLs is a simple way to save money on your energy bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

You can visit www.epa.gov or www.energystar.gov for more information on CFLs.

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Story image: A compact fluorescent bulb, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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