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Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs – Are They Really Worth the Switch?


By now, you’ve probably heard or read about how much money and energy you can save by switching from traditional incandescent light bulbs to newer compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. If you have yet to make the switch, you’re probably wondering, “Is there really that much of a  difference? How much money can I actually save?” To answer your questions in short, yes, and a lot!

In contrast to incandescent light bulbs, which consist of a tungsten filament inside a glass bulb, CFL bulbs consist of a glass tube filled with argon gas and trace amounts of mercury. When the bulb is turned on, an electric current flows through the tube, and the mercury molecules become excited and give off ultraviolet light. CFL bulbs are coated with a fluorescent substance; this substance absorbs some of the ultraviolet light and begins to glow, giving off visible light.

While CFL bulbs do cost 3-10 times more than regular bulbs and require a bit more energy when they’re first turned on, they save both energy and money in the long run. In fact, they use about 75% less energy than an incandescent light bulb, and last 6-10 times longer or more. That means you can buy CFL bulbs in lower wattages than you normally would and still get the same amount of light. The table below shows the wattage equivalents for incandescent and CFL bulbs.

Incandescent     CFL
40W                       10W
60W                       13-15W
75W                       20W
100W                     26-29W
150W                     38-42W
250-300W              55W

CFL bulbs take a few minutes to warm up, become fully lit, and reach peak operating efficiency. For this reason, it’s best to keep them on for at least 15 minutes when in use. It’s also a good idea to avoid using them near electronics such as TVs, radios, wireless phones, and remotes, due to the slight possibility of interference.

CFL bulbs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including spirals, globes, tubes, and candles. You can also find bulbs marked for use with dimmer switches and 3-way sockets, as well as ones that can be used outside. No matter what kind you use, it’s important to handle them carefully and avoid breakage due to the mercury they contain. If you do happen to break one, make sure to follow the directions on the EPA website for proper cleanup. Proper disposal is essential, as well; the EPA website also has information on CFL recycling and disposal.

Overall, the advantages of using CFL bulbs far outweigh the disadvantages. They’re an easy, effective, and simple way you can start saving both money and energy right away. According to one report from Consumer Reports, by simply switching one 60W incandescent bulb to its 13W CFL, the average American household will save $57 in energy costs over the life of the bulb. So the next time you need to replace a regular bulb, use a CFL bulb if you can, and do your part to make a difference and save some cash!