CFLs: A Guide To Energy Efficient Light Bulbs

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Haven't you heard? Saving energy and money is all the rage on the home lighting front. So, how many guys does it take to unscrew and re-screw all the light bulbs in your home? Well, first you need to know what to buy and how it helps you and the environment.

The Origins Of CFLs

There are several options for energy efficient light bulbs on the market today. The most common variety is compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). Created by a General Electric engineer in 1976, the earliest form of CFL was shelved due to high implantation costs.

Unlike traditional bulbs, CFLs have two main components: a burner and a ballast. These components work together to filter and convert electric currents into light. CFLs actually produce more light than traditional, incandescent light bulbs. They have an average life of that is up to eight times longer than that of a traditional bulb.

What To Buy

There are several shapes and models of CFLs on the market, but they all fall within one of six of the following categories.

  • Twin tube lamps
  • Quad tube lamps
  • Triple biax lamps
  • Spiral lamps
  • F lamps
  • Circular lamps
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Twin tube lamps consist of two parallel tubes, and are design to fit into thinner lamps or wall lights. Quad tube lamps are double the size of their twin counterparts, and have similar uses. Triple lamps are short, and used in a lot of instances you would have formerly used a traditional bulb. Spiral lamps are the most popular form of CFL and also fit in most traditional bulb spaces. F lamps have two top and bottom tubes and are often used for recessed lights. Circular tubes give off soft, white light that is commonly found in traditional fluorescents.

What Is Energy Star?

Energy Star approved bulbs have been tested to meet the U.S. Department of Energy's standards for energy efficiency. According to Energy Star, "if every American home replaced just one light bulb that's earned the Energy-Star, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars."

Light bulbs that are marked with the Energy Star logo are guaranteed a minimum two-year warranty. They are also guaranteed to use less wattage than traditional incandescent bulbs. Energy Star maintains that their approved bulbs, when used properly, will hold true to all Energy Star standards. They do disclose, however, that additions to light bulb use, like lamp timers and dimmers, will decrease the longevity of an Energy Star bulb's life.

CFL Interference

Recently, consumers brought to light that CFLs can begin to interfere with electronic equipment (televisions, radios, cell phones, etc...) According to Energy Star, lights that have met their requirements will be effected less by this type of electrical interference. Energy Star recommends that for optimal performance, you place CFLs away from any high-powered, electronic device.

How You'll Save On Electrical Costs

Depending on how much electricity you use, CFLs can save you money on your electric bill. Unfortunately, once you factor in their high price tag compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, it's easy to wonder whether or not the "cost-saving" aspect of the great light bulb swap is worth the effort. CFLs cost roughly triple the price of the average non-energy-efficient household light bulb, however they last ten times as long. Those statistics alone are enough to convince even the harshest critics that over time, CFLs will not only use less energy, but cost less as well. The best bet is to purchase Energy-Star-qualified bulbs.

How You'll Save The Environment

Conserving energy is huge. Consumers are urged to do whatever they can to help conserve energy. Hybrid cars, solar-panels, and yes, CFLs, have become commonplace in most U.S. homes. But do they really help? The short answer is yes.

Concerns With CFLs

Critics maintain that the high mercury content of CFLs counteracts any electricity-saving benefits. Each CFL is said to contain up to 5 milligrams of mercury. Once disposed of, this chemical can sink into soil and water and negatively impact plant and animal life. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) has capped the amount of Mercury used in CFLs. Be smart when disposing of CFLs and make sure that they're taken to a recycling center that handles the mercury content with care- don't throw them in the trash!

It's a great idea to start replacing the traditional, incandescent bulbs in your home with more environmentally friendly CFLs. It's a simple process that just takes a little bit of effort. Although the overhead cost will be a bit higher, you will reap the benefits in the end.

Last Updated: July 23, 2012
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About Chanti Burnette Chanti was a freelance writer for

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