A Closer Look At CFLs, Part 4: Take It To The Limit

Now that we know how to choose the right bulb we should next examine the best and worst places to use them. Let’s look at ways to maximize our return on our CFLs by using them correctly.

Not all areas/fixtures are ideal for CFLs. When determining which fixtures are best suited to convert to CFL think of any light that you:

Places that you frequently turn the light on and off or use for only short bursts at a time – like closets – are not ideal for CFLs. Frequent on and off cycling can reduce the life of CFLs so keep them where their benefits can be maximized – common areas, bedrooms, and perhaps the master bathroom.

I’m not saying you can’t go gung-ho and use them in any area you want – just be aware that they won’t live up to their fullest cost saving potential under these conditions.

CFLs don’t like temperature extremes. Excessive heat can damage the bulb and excessive cold can cut down on their efficiency. To best combat any heat issues remember that CFLs perform best when in open air fixtures. Avoid using high wattage CFLs in tightly enclosed fixtures where the heat generated by the bulb can get trapped. GE says this about using CFLs in enclosed light fixtures:

Compact fluorescent light bulbs may generally be used in enclosed fixtures as long as the enclosed fixture is not recessed. Totally enclosed recessed fixtures (for example, a ceiling can light with a cover over the bulb) create temperatures that are too high to allow the use of a compact fluorescent bulb.

If you are still worried about heat becoming an issue with an enclosed fixture, like a glass dome ceiling light, try using lower wattage CFLs. You can also use fewer bulbs if it accommodates several, or simply leave off the enclosure part of the fixture so it can breathe.

CFLs are known for being less efficient in cold weather which can result in lower light levels. To keep this effect to a minimum try using a CFL specially designed for outdoor use. I just changed to CFLs this spring so I haven’t seen them perform in the winter yet. I’ll be curious to see how dramatic the effect really is.

Many CFLs are not appropriate for specialty purposes. You will need to buy specially marked CFLs if you want to use them for the following fixture types:

The good news is that manufacturers are now producing CFLs that are designed to fit each of these needs.

To clarify about a few of these restrictions:

Vibrations shorten lives. Many manufacturers don’t recommend using standard CFLs in applications involving frequent vibration because it can damage the electronics in the CFL, causing them to fail quicker. This could include places like ceiling fans and garage door openers to name a few. GE makes a CFL especially designed for ceiling fans now.

Keep in mind that CFLs as a whole are very dependable and pretty hardy. After all, there is no hair strand filament to break like there is with incandescent bulbs. I am not implying that CFLs are finicky or especially fragile by giving all these tips. I am simply passing along some precautions that can keep your CFLs running at peak performance.

This concludes our 4-part series on CFLs. I hope that you will take a chance on these bulbs. If you are still unsure – go back and read Part 1. I’m sure that will do the trick.

Let’s face it; the trend is certainly indicating that the CFL is here to stay, and for good reason. In my opinion, virtually every home has at least one or two places a CFL could save them real money on their electric bill. Some countries, such as Canada and Australia, have already proposed banning incandescent lights as a way to conserve energy.

For those lingering environmental concerns – as more and more people start using CFLs there will likely be more options for recycling them safely. When their popularity spreads perhaps the technology will produce an even better model that lessens any potential impact. We will see.

For now, I will celebrate the CFL as it is: reliable, efficient, conscientious, a little peculiar, and one of the simplest changes I have made to save money.

A Closer Look at CFLs Series Index
    Part 1: Conscientiously Frugal Lighting
    Part 2: Every Rose has its Thorn
    Part 3: Lumens and Kelvins and Watts, Oh My!
    Part 4: Take it to the Limit

A Closer Look At CFLs, Part 3: Lumens And Kelvins And Watts, Oh My!

After examining the good and the bad with CFLs we are now faced with how to determine which CFLs you need by deciphering the watts, lumens, and kelvins. No worries! Let’s look at how to pick the right CFL for any occasion.

Remember that quality counts. Unfortunately, I have found not all CFLs are created equal. Some “bargain” CFLs may flicker and buzz due to inferior quality. I have had good luck with GE, Philips, Home Depot, and Sylvania CFLs so far. We recently tried an off-brand from a grocery store and found that they flickered. Although they were cheaper we weren’t thrilled with the added strobe light effect. Even if you save a few bucks initially it isn’t a good deal if you have to replace them due to annoying flickering like I had to.

If you still prefer to buy off-brand (which is perfectly fine – I’m sure there are many quality off brand CFLs out there) you can feel pretty confident in its quality if it has an energy star logo on it. Also, keep an eye out for coupons and specials to help lower costs. Check with your local electricity company too. You never know if they are offering a free CFL (as they did for us).

Decode the wattage and lumens. The wattage is the electric power required by a device. If you have a 60 watt incandescent light bulb it requires up to 60 watts for operation. The lower the wattage, the lower the amount of energy is needed for it to run.

Lumens are basically a unit of measurement for the amount of brightness a light source can produce. The higher the lumen rating, the higher the light output or brightness of that bulb. By looking at lumens we can determine how to get the same brightness that we got from a 60 watt incandescent from a lower wattage CFL.

I have noticed that there is some variation between manufacturers on what CFL is equivalent to what incandescent. To be sure you are getting what you need please check the box itself to see what kind wattage bulb the CFL is equivalent to. Here is an example from Energy Star.

CFL Comparison Chart from Energy Star

For example:

You are looking to change out a 60 watt incandescent bulb and like the level of light it provides. According to this chart, that bulb is producing a minimum of 800 lumens. To match that same brightness you will need to get a 13-15 watt CFL to replace that bulb.

You might want to go with the middle or higher wattage on the equivalent CFL wattage range, as some people feel the light can be a bit “stingy” from the lower wattages even though the lumens are the same. It’s all a matter of preference.

One thing you can do with CFLs is adjust the brightness of a room without having to change out fixtures. If a fixture is rated to only take up to 75 watts but you feel the area is still too dark with a 75 watt incandescent bulb, you can go much brighter by going with a higher lumen rated CFL. Instead of having a ceiling of just 1,100 lumens like you have with a regular bulb, you can increase the brightness all the way to 2,600 lumens with a CFL and still stay safely within the maximum wattage allowed for that fixture.

Choose the color with kelvin. Color temperature can be measured. The higher the number in kelvins, the cooler or more blue the light appears. For those sensitive to the way light appears or those looking for a specific lighting effect, this rating will be critical in finding the right CFL for you. Light color is often a make or break issue when people move to CFLs.
CFL Color Comparison - Picture taken by Quintote for Wikipedia - CC licensed - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:CFBulbs.jpg

The majority of CFLs today offer a warm or “soft white” light (2700–2900K), comparable to incandescent bulbs. This is what most people prefer in their homes as it is warmer and considered inviting.

However, if you prefer a cooler or bluer light, look for CFLs with a rating of 4000K and above. They will often be labeled as “Cool White”, “Daytime”, or “Natural”. This lighting can be good for task areas and enhances cooler colors like blues, greens, and purples.

To determine the color you are getting when looking at a particular CFL you can follow this scale from Wikipedia as a guideline.

Color Temperature Kelvin
“Warm White” or “Soft White” < 2700 K
“White”, “Bright White”, or “Medium White” 2900 – 3000 K
“Cool White” 4000 K
“Daylight” (varies w/ manuf.) > 5000 K

Now we should be equipped with the tools to choose the CFLs we want. How can we use them in a way as to maximum their life and cost saving benefits? Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of our series.

A Closer Look at CFLs Series Index
    Part 1: Conscientiously Frugal Lighting
    Part 2: Every Rose has its Thorn
    Part 3: Lumens and Kelvins and Watts, Oh My!
    Part 4: Take it to the Limit

A Closer Look At CFLs, Part 2: Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Last time we discussed great reasons to make the switch from incandescent bulbs to CFLs, but what about some of the complaints associated with CFLs? Nothing’s perfect, right? Here are some common concerns that might hold you back from trying CFLs along with ways to alleviate them.

CFLs cost more to buy than incandescent bulbs. Even though the initial outlay is higher than incandescent bulbs you will save cash money (not just pennies) in the long run due to lower electricity and replacement costs. Think long term. Let’s crunch some numbers.

At Amazon, a 4 pack of GE Soft White 60 watt bulbs costs $4.30 – or $1.08 a bulb.
At Walmart, a 6 pack of GE 13 watt CFLs costs $9.88 – or $1.65 a bulb.
Savings in purchase price to go with the Soft White bulb = $0.57

It might look like the Soft White bulb is a better deal because it is $0.57 cheaper but consider the life of the bulbs. That Soft White is rated for 1000 hours while the CFL is rated for 8000 hours. You would need 8 incandescent bulbs to match the longevity of just 1 CFL. And that’s not even looking at the cost of electricity to run them.

The following chart uses an average Kilowatt price per hour of $0.09:

Total Cost (for 8000 hours)
  CFL (13 watt) Incandescent (60 watt)
Initial Cost $1.65 $1.08
Energy Cost $9.36 $43.20
Replacement Cost $0 $7.56
TOTAL COST $11.01 $51.84

Just look at the long term savings you could realize by just spending only $0.57 more per bulb in up front costs. Wow. The CFL is the clear winner for forward-thinking frugal folks.

There are ways to make the switch all over your home without blowing your budget. To lessen the impact of the higher upfront cost we first focused on changing out the bulbs we used most often. For example, we started in the master bedroom and the living room. As we built up our supply, we expanded to other areas that were less used. Even adding just a few CFLs each month will put you on the right track and help make a difference in your bills.

CFLs aren’t as attractive in some fixtures. CFLs now come in a variety of shapes and sizes for many applications. If you hate the look of the standard spiral, manufacturers now make CFLs with a round cover to make them look more like standard incandescent bulbs. If you aren’t too keen in having the swirly style CFL in your beautiful dining room chandelier you now have a choice in decorative/vanity shapes, including the flame shaped style. They also make small round and globe shapes for bare bulb uses.

Variety of CFLs
I have seen CFLs in colored varieties like blue and green, and even blacklight style. Selection is definitely expanding and improving.

The light from a CFL looks “different”. While it’s true that CFLs don’t produce the same wide color spectrum as incandescent bulbs that doesn’t mean you won’t ever find a shade you like. Personally, I have no problem with the color but I have a good friend who is reluctant to give up the familiar glow of her soft white bulb. Many people associate fluorescent lighting with the lights that buzz overhead in office buildings. Unlike some of their larger relatives or even earlier predecessors, the newer CFLs give off a light that is pleasant and warm, much like “soft white” incandescent lighting. If you prefer a cooler light, or “daylight” style, CFLs come in those varieties as well.

If you still aren’t happy with the CFLs you have seen consider giving the globe covered CFLs a try. The globe covers made to mimic the look of incandescent bulbs on some CFLs can act as light diffusers, helping to further enhance that lovely “soft white” glow. Philips, in particular, produces these types of CFLs. Don’t give up on CFLs if you don’t find the shade you like immediately. Try different brands and styles. Also, be sure to read Part 3 tomorrow that discusses how to tell which CFLs will give what shade of light.

The light doesn’t come on immediately. This is a common complaint. CFLs don’t come up to the full light instantaneously like incandescent bulbs. I have found this is more of a problem with cheaper or older CFLs than it is with newer, high quality bulbs. In my experience, the delay is only slight, maybe a second or so. Although the light turns on quickly, it can take a few minutes for the bulb to reach the right temperature to achieve the full cost saving benefits. If it really bothers you or you experience more delay than I have seen you can always consider not using CFLs in areas where immediate lighting is more critical (e.g.: a dark stairway.)

CFLs contain mercury, a toxic metal. Yes they do, but it is only a tiny amount. On average they contain about 5 mg. By comparison, CFLs contain about 1/100th the mercury of that in many older thermometers. CFLs do not release mercury if they are intact. However, they are made of glass and can be broken. No need to panic. The mercury exposure to you or your family from a broken CFL is not likely to harm you. Even so, it is always wise to take precautions and treat it as a hazardous waste. Just follow the steps as described by Energy Star in the link below:

The latest release (August 2007) on the Mercury and CFLs from Energy Star

Some people aren’t so much worried about mercury exposure for themselves as they are with the potential exposure to the environment. To reduce the possibility for environmental impact the best way to dispose of CFLs is by recycling them or by taking them your local household hazardous waste collection site. Although the average amount of mercury used is expected to drop by the end of 2007, it looks like there will always be some level of mercury involved. Many people believe that the overall benefit in lowering energy consumption actually makes up for the amount of mercury that could wind up in landfills.

Here is an interesting quote to consider courtesy of lighterfootstep.com:

As a point of interest, CFLs can actually reduce the amount of mercury released each year into the environment. Half of the power in the United States is generated by coal-fired plants. Burning coal releases mercury into the atmosphere — about 10 milligrams over the life of an average incandescent bulb. Because of its superior efficiency, a CFL will only be responsible for about 2.5 milligrams. Even if you add the 4 milligrams contained in the typical CFL (which is fully recoverable by recycling), a CFL is actually responsible for putting less mercury into the wild than its incandescent equivalent

We need to be responsible and take precautions when disposing of CFLs. Try to find a recycling center near you even if your state allows you to throw them out with the garbage. There aren’t many convenient recycling choices for CFLs in my area but I bet that CFL recycling options will improve as more and more people adopt the technology.

Figuring out what CFL you need for your fixtures can be confusing. It doesn’t have to be as long as you know what to look for. We will pick up on this topic tomorrow.

A Closer Look at CFLs Series Index
    Part 1: Conscientiously Frugal Lighting
    Part 2: Every Rose has its Thorn
    Part 3: Lumens and Kelvins and Watts, Oh My!
    Part 4: Take it to the Limit

A Closer Look At CFLs, Part 1: Conscientiously Frugal Lighting

CFLI’m sure by now you have heard or read about how CFLs can save the world – “one bulb at a time”. Are you thinking about taking the plunge and replacing your regular old inefficient incandescent bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Lamps? The reasons to do so are compelling.

In this 4-part series dedicated to the CFL we will look at the benefits and common concerns , as well as how to choose the right CFL, and how to make them last . I hope you will come along for the ride as we get to know this household rockstar.

There are many reasons to at least try a CFL in your home – here are few big ones that directly benefit your pocketbook.

CFLs use up to 75% less energy than incandescent lighting. CFLs are more efficient than incandescent bulbs.

By switching out a regular bulb for a CFL you can slash the amount of electricity used for lighting your home (and potentially even cooling your home!). We calculated the actual savings (based on wattage alone) we had last month by replacing our standard incandescent porch light with a 14 watt CFL. According to our June 2007 bill, it cost $0.099 per kilowatt hour.

Porch light w/ CFL
14 watt CFL on 10 hours a day = .14 kWh
.14 kWh * $0.099 per kWh = $0.0138 per day
$0.0138 per day * 30 days=$0.41/month

Porch light w/ Incandescent Bulb
60 watt bulb on 10 hours a day = .6 kWh
.6 kWh * $0.099 per kWh = $0.0594 per day
$0.0594 per day * 30 days=$1.78/month

SAVINGS = $1.37 in June on one light bulb alone!
That’s $16.64 a year (assuming all things equal).

The amount you can save varies from bulb to bulb but according to a box of Energy Smart 13 watt CFLs, each bulb can save $38 in electricity over its lifetime (8000 hours). Imagine what that can add up to if you switch out multiple (or even all) bulbs in high use areas of your home!

CFL’s are considered “green”. CFLs have become the poster child for many earth awareness efforts that promote them as a simple way to “reduce your footprint”. Our electric company recently advertised about the environmental benefits of lowering electricity usage and they even offered a free CFL to every customer. Replacing an incandescent with a CFL decreases the amount of electricity the nation’s power plants must generate – and ultimately – the amount of greenhouse gases that they release into the atmosphere.

Check out this thought provoking quote on CFLs from Energy Star:

If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.

Although the actual environmental benefits of using CFLs are still under debate one thing we can agree on is that they do use less energy and will save you money on your electric bill. How about that? You can save money and potentially help the environment at the same time.

CFLs last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. You will spend less on replacing bulbs that burn out every couple of years with CFLs. This is especially useful for those frequently used lights that are hard to reach or a challenge to replace. We have “Hollywood” style bathroom light fixtures that fit 4-6 globe lights each. It felt like we constantly had to pull in that creaky step ladder to change out dead bulbs. I shudder to think how many incandescent lights we have gone through in our bathrooms alone. Now we have 2 bright CFLs in each fixture (we just leave the other 2-4 spots empty – it doesn’t have to look pretty, just save money!) and we forget about them.

You want to see numbers? Consider the following scenario:

At Amazon, a 4 pack of GE Soft White 60 watt bulbs costs $4.30 – or $1.08 a bulb.
At Walmart, a 6 pack of GE 13 watt CFLs costs $9.88 – or $1.65 a bulb.

The Soft White is rated for 1000 hours while the CFL is rated for 8000 hours. To compare apples to apples we need to level the playing field in hours. To get 8000 hours of lighting you would need:

That’s $6.99 less in replacement costs by going with the CFL.

I think you can see now that CFLs offer a powerful financial incentive to ditch the incandescent bulbs by:

Despite these positives there are complaints associated with CFLs and their sometimes quirky mannerisms. Check back tomorrow as we examine some common concerns with CFLs.

A Closer Look at CFLs Series Index
    Part 1: Conscientiously Frugal Lighting
    Part 2: Every Rose has its Thorn
    Part 3: Lumens and Kelvins and Watts, Oh My!
    Part 4: Take it to the Limit