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How (And Why) To Buy Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

To celebrate Earth Week, I am going to take a little break from my ranting about airlines, Weasel executives, poor service, bad money management, incarcerated action stars, and all of life’s other annoyances, to talk about something much more positive – CFL light bulbs.

Much to my friends and family’s dismay I am a bit of a fanatic about these wonderful energy efficient light bulbs. (Ah – does the fact that I am fanatical about light bulbs indicate a deeper problem in my life?)  They cut energy consumption by 75%, last five to ten times longer than a traditional light bulb, and are a great example of one of the little things we could all do that would add up to a big thing in the battle against global warming. 

I’ve been buying and experimenting with CFLs for a few years now, and am pleased to report that the quality and variety of available models has increased, and the price has come down.  You can now get dimmable CFLs, 3 Way, floods of every variety, specialty sizes, and with the new cold cathode technologies you can have CFLs that come on instantly, so they don’t have to warm up like older models.  Best of all, though they still cost two to three times more than normal bulbs, over the lifetime of the bulb you will save $35 to $75 PER BULB. And one CFL can result in a decrease of almost a half ton of C02 into the atmosphere!  Count the bulbs in your house – multiply by $50.00 – and the savings can be pretty enormous!  Here are a few shopping hints –

Pick the right color.  Light bulbs put off light of different colors – measured in kelvins.  Most people initially did not like CFLs because they were too white – making every room look like a hospital.  A bulb with a lower kelvin rating – typically around 2700 – provides a warmer light – much more pleasing in most rooms – and more like your standard bulbs.  Bulbs with higher kelvin ratings – 4000 to 5000 – burn very white and bright – which is more appropriate for more industrial and outdoor settings.  A CFL bulb usually comes in two or three kelvin ratings – so make sure you buy the kind of light you like.

Don’t put non-dimmable rated bulbs on dimmers.  Until just a few months ago, dimmable CFLs were very limited in availability and very expensive, and sometimes people would put non-dimmable models on dimmers and damage the bulbs.  Now, there is a wide variety of dimmable CFLs available.  Home Depot carries basic models, and online you can find all kinds of varieties.

Shop around.  While prices have been falling, some retailers are still charging the high prices of a year ago, so look around.  As covered above, Home Depot carries a good selection of the basics, and I even see sales on basic models in Rite Aid, Ace Hardware, and other chain stores at really good prices.  Amazon carries a reasonable selection, and I have done a few great deals on dimmable bulbs on Ebay.  Ikea carries a pretty good selection.  For specialty bulbs and a broad selection of dimmables I particularly like a site called www.1000bulbs.com (and right now until April 29th they are offering 10% off on CFLs to celebrate Earth Week).  www.Bulbs.com also has a good selection – though their prices are a bit high on some models in comparison, but they carry some good quality bulbs and interesting specialty bulbs.  There are definite differences in quality.  The big names in light bulbs like Sylvania and Philips make good CFLs.  I also like brands like Litetronics, TCP, and Microbrite – they cost a little more but are very good quality.  But there are many no-name brands that might be cheap but don’t hold up.

Save your receipt – and dispose of properly.  Many CFLs have a two year warranty, so make sure you save the receipt in case you have to send it back.  And when they do wear out – don’t throw them in the garbage.  CFLs contain a little bit of mercury, so you need to dispose of them properly.  I keep a box in my garage for old batteries and CFLs – and then periodically get rid of them through a sponsored “recycle day”.  Ikea has a recycling program, and 1000bulbs.com sells a “recycling kit” for CFLs and batteries.

Quality, price, and features continue to advance on an almost daily basis.  There is no reason that most of our homes shouldn’t be CFL-equipped.  Do yourself an economic service, and help the earth out a bit by installing a few.


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4 Responses to How (And Why) To Buy Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

  1. Rudy says:

    As someone who sells light bulbs for a living, I am less enthusiastic than most about compact fluorescent bulbs. This is due to the fact that the ones currently available contain significant amounts of mercury. If one of these bulbs should break inside of a person’s home, it could cause a challenging disposal situation. It is my belief that the technology should progress to a point at which the mercury levels are low or nonexistent before people changeover their entire homes. Another consideration is that as these bulbs burn out, they will most likely be thrown away as though they are normal rubbish and landfills will have incredibly high levels of mercury in their soil as a result.

  2. Dave says:

    One worry about the widespread use of Compact Fluorescents is that they contain small amounts of mercury but becauseCFLs use less energy than their incandescent counterparts, compact fluorescents are responsible for less mercury contamination than the incandescent bulbs they replaced, What do you mean you ask? I’m glad you asked. The highest source of mercury in America’s air and water results from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, from utilities that supply electricity; incandescents burn way more energy, so, on a macro level, require much more energy to be produced. When that energy comes from fossil fuels, like coal it causes more mercury to be emitted

  3. Kristina Richardson says:

    Most CFLs today on the market contain less than 5mgs of mercury and there are CFL options out there that contain as little as 1.5mgs of mercury- which can hardly be called a “significant amounts of mercury” considering that many item in your home contain 100s of times more of mercury including your computer. Mercury levels in CFLs can never be “nonexistent” since mercury is a necessary component of a CFL and there is no other known element that is capable of replacing it. But CFLs actually prevent more mercury from entering the environment. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, “a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a CFL of the same light output”.

  4. Bizzy Life Author Avatar Tim says:

    There have been very low mercury CFLs introduced in just the last few months that go a long way towards reducing this concern. Choosing the right CFL, and disposing of it properly when it burns out is still a much better option than the alternative.

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