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Compact Fluorescent FAQ's


They should have been called light "heaters" instead of light bulbs.

Incandescent light bulbs have been around since, well, Thomas Edison’s day. They weren’t terribly efficient then and they certainly are not now. All incandescent bulbs give off a tremendous amount of heat because they put their energy into heating up a filament that gives off the light you see. In fact, those inefficient bulbs spend up to 95% of their energy in the form of heat. While in the past not much thought was given to thinking about this inefficiency, today they are one of the biggest energy (and money) wasters out there helping to contribute to the excess greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.



Are Regular incandescent bulbs going to be against the law?

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (the “Energy Bill”), signed by the President on December 18, 2007 requires all light bulbs use 30% less energy than today’s incandescent bulbs by 2012 to 2014. The phase-out will start with 100-watt bulbs in January 2012 and end with 40-watt bulbs in January 2014. By 2020, a Tier 2 would become effective which requires all bulbs to be at least 70% more efficient (effectively equal to today’s CFLs).

It’s not entirely correct to say "CFLs will be required" or “incandescents will be phased out” because the standards set by the bill are technology neutral, and by 2012, a next generation of incandescent bulbs could satisfy the 30% increased efficiency. There are also other lighting technologies, such as LED's and Halogens that will be able to meet the new requirements and are expected to both increase in performance and drop in cost over the next few years.


Lighting is approximately 20% of the average household’s energy bill. NRDC estimates this law could cut our nation’s electric bill by more than $10 billion a year.


There are many types of incandescent bulbs that are exempt from this law:

* Any kind of specialty light (ie. bulb in refrigerator)
* Reflector bulbs
* 3-way bulbs
* Candelabras
* Globes
* Shatter resistant
* Vibration service
* Rough service
* Colored bulbs (i.e. "party bulbs")
* Bug lights
* Plant lights

The law applies to the "sale" of bulbs, not the use of existing stock of bulbs.


Compact Fluorescents Lights (CFL’s) are energy efficient.

The typical CFL bulb uses 75% less electricity to produce the same amount of light as a comparable incandescent bulb. CFL’s utilize a more energy efficient method of producing light. Instead of heating up a filament an electrical charge runs between two filaments at the end of a tube and interacts with gases inside the tube. This interaction causes the phosphorescent coating on the inside of the tube to glow. Because the light produced is a chemical reaction little heat is given off in the process. Thus less energy is required to produce a comparable amount of light when compared to an incandescent bulb.
Watts verses Lumens.

With regular bulbs, if you want more light you go for a higher wattage bulb, less light a smaller wattage. CFL bulbs on the other hand have much lower wattage numbers than their incandescent cousins, but don't let that fool you. CFL’s provide much more light at a fraction of the wattage of traditional bulbs. Because of this, CFL’s are often categorized by lumens. Lumens measure the amount of light a bulb gives off, and they are a more accurate way to tell how bright the new bulbs are.


Or, you can make it simple by remembering that as a rule of thumb: CFL’s use about a quarter of the wattage to produce the same light. So to replace a traditional 60-watt bulb, buy a 15-watt CFL: 60-watt incandescent divided by 4 = 15 watts.
CFL bulbs reduce pollution.

Assuming the electricity you use is still produced by a Nuclear or fossil fueled power plant; every watt of energy you use can be translated to pollution created at its source, to generate that watt. Conversely, by every watt you reduce your power usage; you reduce those same polluting emissions -- that power is simply not needed by you anymore. Sure, we're only talking about light bulbs here but in terms of percentages, if you were to change all of your lights from incandescent bulbs to CFL's, you would reduce your energy needs for lighting by 75%. That's a significant reduction and something to be proud of. You can literally make this change in a matter of hours by changing a few light bulbs.
CFL bulbs last longer.

Higher quality CFL's can last from 8,000-10,000 hours or more. Most common incandescent bulbs last 750-1000 hours. There are long-life incandescent bulbs, but you will be spending much more on your energy use over the lifetime of that bulb than a CFL. Do you have a bulb that's a pain in the neck to change? You'll realize another benefit by switching it to a CFL. You won't need to change that bulb again for 7-10 years!
But CFL bulbs cost more.

Common screw-in CFL's include the fluorescent bulb itself and integrated ballast. This results in higher production costs but the long-term benefits far outweigh this additional expense. Also, there are now CFL specific fixtures and 2-piece CFL's available that separate the bulb from the ballast and offer the advantage of changing only the bulb itself, reducing the replacement cost. But as we have all seen, the prices are coming down.
Warm light verses cool light.

The wavelength of the light in a light bulb, whether incandescent or CFL, is measured in degrees Kelvin. You don’t really need to know the scientific particulars of this other than to understand the warm yellowish glow of an incandescent light that you are used to is about 2700-3000 degrees Kelvin (K). This information is part of the technical information listed with many CFL’s you might purchase. If you like that warmer color of light purchase CFL’s around 2700K. A new popular option of CFL is the ‘daylight’ bulb which is around 5000K. This light simulates the lighting you might see from the sun at noon. It is popular for reading and other tasks where a cooler, brighter light is needed.
Newer CFL’s are instant-on.

Well, maybe! CFL technology has been around nearly a decade. Older CFL’s required a long warm-up period of as much as a minute before they would reach their full potential brightness. The new CFL’s are being constructed with electronic ballasts that have an ‘instant-on’ capability usually reaching 60-80% of their brightness when turned on and then 100% after fully warmed. Even so, because of the inherent technology of Fluorescents, I don't it's possible to have instant light, not yet anyway.
Here's how bulbs differ.

Incandescent bulbs make light by passing electricity through a small wire, or filament. The wire glows hot and produces light. Unfortunately, as much as 90% of the energy used by an incandescent bulb is spent producing heat, not light. That's a lot of wasted energy. Compact fluorescent bulbs utilize a gas charged tube. Electricity passed through the bulb creates a chemical reaction which produces the light. The result is a cooler, more efficient light source, producing more light (lumens) with less power. Lower wattage bulbs are even cool to the touch.
Be careful choosing CFL’s for a dimmer.

There are exceptions to this rule, but the majority of CFL’s cannot be used with dimmers due to their ballasts not being designed to handle the fluctuating current of a dimmable switch, unless you have a specifically designed feature that accommodates them. E3 Living offers a number of dimmable CFL’s, but make sure that you only use CFL’s rates “for use with dimmers” if they are to be used in a dimmable application.
Check for indoor or outdoor use.

CFL’s are designed for both indoor and outdoor use. Check the packaging to make sure you get the kind you need. Make sure it can be used in ‘wet’ locations if you plan on using it outdoors as a flood light.
Disposal of Compact Fluorescent Bulbs.

CFL bulbs contain a trace amount of mercury and while the amount of mercury is miniscule they should be disposed of properly; in the same manor as other household hazardous waste products like paint, batteries and non-digital thermostats. The concern is valid and lies in concentrations of mercury accumulating in our landfills over time. While mercury is a hazardous material the amount contained inside a CFL is still smaller than the amount put into the atmosphere from the emissions of power plants used to power those inefficient incandescent bulbs. Please check out our information on proper CFL Disposal page.


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