Perhaps you tried compact fluorescents years ago when they first came out, but after a few days of being bathed in their harsh blue light that made your family resemble extras from Night of the Living Dead, you banished them to the attic or basement where they’re probably still burning brightly today. CFLs have come a long way since those early days and are now available in a wide range of styles that are suitable for many different applications. Even better, their formerly ghoulish glow has been replaced by warmer shades that effectively mimic traditional incandescent bulbs.
First a few facts to get you motivated. According to the federal government’s website, Energystar.gov, compact fluorescent bulbs:
- Use 1/4 the electricity of regular light bulbs to produce the same amount of light.
- Give off 3/4 less heat than incandescent bulbs, which result in additional energy savings on air conditioning during the hot summer months.
- Last up to 10 times longer than regular light bulbs.
But what about the big picture? Could changing a light bulb really make much of a difference to the environment? According to government statistics, if every household in the United States replaced just one incandescent bulb with a CFL, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be equal to taking over 800,000 cars off the road and would save more than $600 million a year in energy costs.
I know what you’re thinking, how much difference can one light bulb really make? Depending on the size of the bulb, it is estimated that each CFL will save from $30 to over $100 in energy costs over their lifespan. Multiply that by the dozens of bulbs found in the average home and the savings can really add up. Even though it might seem wasteful to replace perfectly good existing bulbs with compact fluorescents, the savings in electricity for most bulbs will make up the difference in a matter of months.
The spiral shape and larger size of many CFLs can make them hard to fit into some fixtures. For lamps with clip-on shades, traditional “A” shaped bulbs are available, as are flood lights for recessed fixtures and torpedo bulbs for chandeliers, though these are not as efficient as their spiral shaped cousins. While harder to find and more expensive, three-way and dimmable CFLs do exist and are available online.
Since they use less electricity and produce far less heat than traditional bulbs, you can use a brighter CFL in a fixture than the incandescent bulb it is replacing as long as the actual wattage being used by the compact fluorescent is less than the maximum rating for the fixture. That means you can use a CFL that produces as much light as a 150 watt incandescent bulb in a fixture rated for 60 watts, since the fluorescent actually only uses 40 watts of electricity.
Finally, be sure the compact fluorescents you choose carry the ENERGY STAR label which assures that they meet federal government standards for energy efficiency and performance.
Should a bulb break, the government recommends opening a window and leaving the room for 15 minutes. Clean up the fragments with a piece of stiff paper then wipe up any residue with paper towels. Double seal the fragments and used towels in plastic bags before properly disposing of them. Avoid using a vacuum cleaner or broom during clean up and wear disposable gloves. More information about mercury and CFLs can be found in the ENERGY STAR's CFL Mercury Fact Sheet.
Now that you’ve seen how easy and economical going green can be, maybe it’s time to consider taking the next step, such as replacing that old water guzzling toilet or installing extra insulation in the attic. Who knows, you might just find a tree in the backyard in need of a hug.