What Are CFL Light Bulbs?

Home & Family, Living Green
on November 6, 2011

The modern light bulb had seen few changes since its inception in the late 1800s. While the ligh tbulb has illuminated our way through countless dark days and nights, its energy efficiency is lacking. Fortunately for our planet, a newer, greener source of light has been developed in the form of the compact fluorescent lamp, or CFL.

What is a CFL? A compact fluorescent lamp, also called a compact fluorescent light bulb, is an electric light source evolved from the fluorescent lights that have been used in businesses and industrial buildings for more than 50 years. Unlike the traditional light bulb, which has a wire filament, the CFL has a tube "containing argon and a small amount of mercury vapor. This generates invisible ultraviolet light that excites a fluorescent coating on the inside of the tube, which then emits visible light," states EnergyStar.gov.

Energy efficient. According to How Stuff Works, CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy than incandescent light bulbs. For maximum energy savings, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests selecting high quality CFLs with an Energy Star rating. This means the product will have met the EPA’s and U.S. Department of Energy’s guidelines for energy efficiency. Qualified Energy Star-rated CFLs are required to take less energy to run than incandescent bulbs.

Your savings. Swapping your old incandescent bulbs for CFLs can save you money. One Energy Star-qualified CFL can save you $30 in electricity throughout its lifetime compared with the electricity cost of an incandescent bulb. In addition, all Energy Star CFLs have a manufacturer's warranty. Because CFLs last longer than incandescent bulbs, you don't have to replace them as often, saving additional money.

Better for our environment? According to the EPA, if every American home swapped one incandescent light bulb with an Energy Star CFL, it would prevent greenhouse gases equal to the emissions of 800,000 cars.

Downsides are few. CFLs cost a bit more than incandescent bulbs, but because they last significantly longer, about 8,000 hours per bulb, your initial cost will be recouped within six months. CFLs also take about 30 to 120 seconds longer to become fully lit, but the newest Energy Star bulbs no longer buzz when lit. CFLs will not work with motion sensors or electric timers.

Tips for CFL usage. CFLs work best when left on for at least 15 minutes. Switching them off and on can reduce their life span. They are sensitive to extreme temperatures, so they'll need to be in enclosed fixtures when used in outdoor lighting. Be sure to read the product labeling for temperature guidelines, both indoors and outdoors. When installing a CFL always handle it by its base, never the glass tubing.