Guide to Green Living

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Feature: Compact Fluorescent Lights

Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are one of the most effective ways you can reduce the energy you use from lighting. As their name implies, they are simply a smaller version of the fluorescent lights with long tubes we're used to. However, they're designed specifically to fit into the sockets of normal (incandescent) light bulbs, and give off the same quality light.

With incandescent light bulbs, a lot of energy is wasted as the bulb heats up. Compact fluorescent bulbs use at least 66% less energy than (or about one third the electricity of) incandescent bulbs. In fact, replacing a 75-watt incandescent bulb with an 18-watt CFL bulb will save 570-kWh over the lifetime of the bulb, while providing the same amount of light. They also last around 10 times longer than regular bulbs, thus saving you money both on energy bills and on replacement bulbs.

Although some potential buyers may be turned off at the higher initial cost of CFLs, they will more than pay for themselves over their lifespan. Here's a typical example of the costs associated with the different types: A 60-watt incandescent at $0.25, lasting 800 hours; and a 16-watt compact fluorescent at $5, lasting 8000 hours. If you wanted to light an area for 8000 hours, at $0.10 / kWh, you would pay $48 for the electricity, and $2.50 for the 10 incandescent bulbs needed, for a total of $50.50. Or, you could use a CFL, and pay $12.80 for the electricity and $5 for a single bulb, for a total of $17.80, a savings of $32.70. Now, multiply that by every bulb in your house, and the savings are quite susbstantial.

Because CFLs are more energy efficient, you can use a lower wattage CFL than you would an incandescent in the same socket, and still get the same amount of light. Wattage is a measure of energy used per unit time. Because CFLs don't work by heating up a filament, as incandescents do, more electricity can be converted into light, as none is wasted on heat. The amount of light a bulb gives off is measured in lumens. Here is a chart to help you replace your incandescents with CFLs, to still give the same result in lumens:

Incandescent bulb (watts)Typical light output (lumens)Replacement CFL (watts)

Many people question the versatility of CFLs. Not all CFLs can be used with dimmers and some cannot be used outside since they have a minimum temperature at which they will work. Also, compact fluorescents are sensitive to on/off cycles. This means that using them in light fixtures that are repeatedly turned on and off may reduce the lifespan of the bulb. However, CFLs are still a fairly new technology in making your home more energy efficient. As the technology improves, so does the versatility. In fact, there are already some makes of CFLs that allow them to be used with dimmers and outside if they’re covered or shaded.

There exist many other benefits to using compact fluorescents that might not be as obvious as the energy they save. In contrast to the fluorescent lights in hospitals and schools that you may be used to, CFLs don’t flicker, hum or buzz. They can also be used with timers, motion and occupancy detectors, and photocells. CFLs are also much safer than other bulbs since they are cool to the touch. Halogen bulbs in particular are dangerous because they can cause burns and fires due to how hot they get.

So, the next time you need to replace a light bulb, do the environment (and your wallet) a favour and buy a compact fluorescent light bulb.


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