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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Compact Fluorescent Lights

A Closer look at some of the concerns with CFLs: Mercury, Cost, Aesthetics, and Disposal

Compact fluorescent lights (or CFLs) are touted as being an environmentalist dream: a lighting solution that lasts up to fifteen times as long as traditional incandescent lights with a similar cost and light quality. But some recent reports are making builders and homeowners think twice before replacing their lighting with CFLs.

We take a quick look at some of the benefits of drawbacks of CFLs.


—CFLs last between 8 and 15 times as long as incandescent lights.

Actual lifespan of a CFL depends on a number of factors: manufacturing quality, temperature of environment in which the light is used, voltage, length of time the light is left on, mechanical damage, frequency of times light is turned on and off. One of the largest factors in the length of life of a CFL is the length of time the light is left on once it is turned on; a light that is turned on and off for only a few minutes at a time can have 85% less lifespan than a CFL with a longer on time.

—CFLs are considerable more energy efficient than incandescent lights.

CFLs use between one third and one fifth the energy that an incandescent light uses, primarily because CFLs are so much more efficient at turning electricity into light (without creating as much heat as incandescents do).

—CFLs can save you a considerable amount of money

CFLs can offer dramatic paybacks on their low initial investment. One study estimates that with an initial investment of $90 in replacing incandescents with CFLs, the average American home can save between $440 and $1500 over a five-year period.

Many state and regional governments offer rebates and tax incentives for switching your lights to CFLs: check with EnergyStar in the United States and Canada for local details.


—CFLs can and do cost more upfront than comparable incandescent lights.

But if you shop around a bit and check with utilities, you can often find rebates that bring the cost of CFLs at or below the cost of incandescents.

—Aesthetic light quality of CFLs is different than incandescent.

The light quality of the first generation of CFLs was closer to the harsh flickering tone of the tube fluorescent lights in industrial applications. But subsequent generations of CFLs have produced a light quality that more closely resembles incandescent light.

—Presence of Mercury in CFLs.

All flurescent lights have mercury; and CFLs (when broken) emit mercury levels slightly higher than the EPA standard for mercury levels in the environment. Care should be taken when handling CFLs and when cleaning up broken lights. Although adoption of CFLs has been widespread, municipal landfills and recyclers have been slow to create separate sort options for CFLs. All efforts should be made to recycle used CFLs.


CFLs offer one of the most exciting green products to become available in the recent past. CFLs are relatively cheap, long-lasting, and reduce energy consumption dramatically. While the concerns about mercury are well-founded, with some careful measures CFLs should take a place of prominence illuminating most homes and businesses.

Posted by casey on 09/02 at 10:37 PM


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