Are you ready for the switch?
It’s time to think about a simple change
It’s inevitable: American households will need to switch over from traditional incandescent bulbs to more efficient products. Today, that product is the compact fluorescent lamp (or CFL). The changes are being mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and will be phased in over a number of years. The 100-watt bulb will have increased efficiency standards starting in 2012, followed by lower-watt bulbs in subsequent years. It’s possible that incandescent bulb manufacturers will “see the light” and be able to increase efficiencies for their products, but for now, the best option is a CFL.
Many people have already seen the benefits and made the change. Compact fluorescents use 75 to 80% less energy than incandescents, which means your electric bill will go down. How much? That depends on the number of bulbs in your home – and you may be surprised if you count them. The average home has 50 bulbs! Replacing one incandescent bulb with a CFL saves an average of $30 per bulb over its lifetime in energy costs. Multiply that by 50 – well, you do the math.
Good for the environment
Added to household energy savings is the environmental advantage of CFLs: saving electricity reduces carbon dioxide emissions, keeping an estimated half-ton of emissions out of the air over each bulb’s lifetime. How does this work? A lower demand on power plants, many of which burn coal, means less air pollution. The single greatest source of greenhouse gases in the United States is power plants (yes, more than your SUV!). Lower electrical demand also applies to nuclear-powered plants. Finally, CFLs are more efficient, so you will be buying fewer bulbs. That means less waste.
You may be surprised at how much the design of CFLs has improved in the last few years. If your only experience with early versions was the flat white CFL light in a hotel room on a business trip, you will be pleased to learn that new CFLs are much more comparable to traditional bulbs. There are the familiar “twists” – the ice cream spiral bulbs – but now there are mini twists, decoratives, candelabras, colored CFLs and even an A-shaped bulb that looks like an incandescent.
How do I choose?
How do you choose the right type of bulb? That depends on the type of lamp or fixture and the type of light you prefer. The higher the lumens number, the brighter the light. Many CFLs now have a equivalency listed on the packaging: equal to 60W incandescent, for instance. You can also choose a cooler white light or a warmer light for ambience.
There are CFL bulbs for all types of lighting needs: task lighting, 3-way lamps, recessed lights, outdoor lighting and even dimmers. Just check the packaging for the correct use. In general, it’s better to use CFLs when that light will be turned on for at least 15 minutes at a time. It’s fine if that’s not the case, but it will shorten the life of the bulb if it’s turned on and off more frequently. Other than that, there are few limitations.
Are they safe?
Some people are concerned that CFLs contain mercury – in fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, one household CFL bulb contains one hundred times less mercury than in a single dental filling (amalgam). If a CFL bulb breaks, leave the room for 15 minutes to allow the vapor to clear. Don’t vacuum it up, just sweep it into a double bag to be recycled with your household batteries. The EPA lists the steps required for clean-up and disposal of CFLs. And more communities are setting up disposal or recycling for CFLs – find a local center here.
It’s so simple
Changing out your old incandescent bulbs with CFLS is just a simple way to help the environment – and save money. Who wouldn’t want to do both?
Links to learn more