Compact fluorescent lights really aren't “new” any
more. Ed Hammer, a GE engineer, invented the
modern CFL in the 1970s in response to that
decade's energy crisis. Thirty years later, CFLs have become
mainstream, although some consumers, especially those
who had bad experiences with the early versions, have been
slow to jump on board. Many of the earlier CFLs took a while
to reach full brightness, and once they did, the light had a
cold, bluish quality that many people found unappealing.
Advances in design and manufacturing—specifically, new
electronic ballasts—have reduced the time it takes for CFLs
to reach full brightness. Electronic ballasts have also helped
eliminate annoying flicker and hum. Plus, you can now buy
bulbs that emit a “warm” light, if that's what you prefer.
And the energy savings are real. Choose a CFL with the
Energy Star label and you can save $30 or more in electricity
costs over the life of the bulb (compared with the costs of
using an incandescent bulb for the same amount of time).
CFL and incandescent light output
Choosing the right brightness
Light output is measured in lumens. Use this simple
chart to compare the brightness of an incandescent
bulb with that of a CFL. Buy a CFL with a light output
(lumen) number equivalent to, or better yet,
slightly higher than that of the incandescent bulb
you're replacing. CFLs can dim over time, so choosing
a higher light output number is a good idea.
Also, because CFLs don't generate heat as incandescents
do, you can use bulbs with higher light
output without the danger of overheating.
Disposing of broken and spent bulbs
All CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, which can be
harmful to people, pets and the environment. If you break a
CFL bulb, have people and pets leave the room. Open a window
for at least 15 minutes so no one breathes in any fine
mercury dust. Then return and scoop up the debris with a
piece of cardboard. (Small
particles can be wiped up
with a damp paper towel.)
Place the cardboard, paper
towel and broken bulb
into a plastic bag. Dispose of the plastic bag with your normal
trash if it is allowed where you live. If not, find a local
recycling center that will accept broken and spent CFLs.
Sweeping and vacuuming are not recommended for
cleanup on hard surfaces.
On soft surfaces like carpeting, put on gloves and pick up
as many pieces as you can by hand or with the help of
sticky tape and put everything into a plastic bag. If you have
to vacuum, remove the bag and place it in a plastic bag or wipe out the canister if the vacuum
Proper disposal of spent CFLs
depends on where you live. Some
communities allow disposal with the
normal trash. If this isn't the case
where you live, check online or with your trash hauler to
find recycling centers near you.
Some retail stores that sell CFLs also accept
spent CFLs for recycling.
Choosing the right color
CFL lightbulbs described as “warm” or “soft” give
off light that is comparable to that of an incandescent
bulb and are well suited for residential use.
CFLs described as “cool,” “bright white,” “natural” or
“daylight” have a bluish-white light, which some
people prefer for reading and other detail work.
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Choosing the right bulb for the fixture
Refer to the following photos to help you select the best CFLs for your fixtures. CFLs fit into all screw-in fixtures, but consider looks as well as light. Twist-style
bulbs light faster, but more traditional-looking A-lines and globes are a better
choice when the bulb will be visible.
Where not to use a CFL
There are several places where you
shouldn't use a CFL lightbulb:
- Fixtures that are turned on and
- Areas that are subject to vibration,
such as stairs and the garage.
- Fixtures that are subject to
extreme heat, cold or humidity. Buy
“weatherproof” bulbs for fixtures
that are exposed to the elements.
For anything other than a standard
light fixture, such as a fixture with a
dimmer switch, a three-way lamp
switch, a remote, a photo or motion
sensor or an electronic or digital
timer, read the packaging to be sure
the bulb is suitable. Also read the
packaging if you want to use a CFL
outdoors or in an enclosed fixture.