Are Compact Fluorescents for You?

If you want to save money and help the environment, consider CFs!

By Gary Foreman


As more people shift to compact fluorescent (CF) bulbs, they save money and the environment. Not bad for such a simple adjustment.


Generally, a compact fluorescent bulb consumes only one third as much juice as a regular incandescent bulb.


According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a 100-watt incandescent bulb can be replaced by a 27-watt compact fluorescent bulb. After four and a half years the CF will have saved nearly $63 when compared to the cost of burning and replacing incandescent bulbs.


According to the Energy Star program, if everyone in the U.S. replaced one regular light bulb with a compact fluorescent, it would have the same effect as taking one million cars off the road.


So why are so many of us reluctant to buy compact fluorescent bulbs?  


Cost and Function


CFs cost more to buy and not everyone likes the light they emit. If you are put off by the price tag, remember that CF bulbs last up to ten times as long as regular bulbs. When you compare prices, include the cost of replacing many regular bulbs.


As far as the light they shed, if you don't like a CF for reading or gracing your living room, consider using the bulbs in hallways, kitchens, and family rooms. After a few days, you won't notice a difference.


Other Benefits of CF Bulbs


Compact fluorescents operate at a cooler temperature than incandescent bulbs -- less than 100 degree F. in most applications. This means the bulb doesn't create heat that needs to be removed by an air conditioner.


Fluorescent lights work a little differently from the incandescent bulb that Thomas Edison invented. Tom's bulb glows because electricity heats up a filament. Once heated the filament produces light.


A fluorescent light consists of a ballast and a gas filled tube. The glass tube is also coated with phosphor. The ballast sends electricity through the tube. When the gas in the tube is "excited," it causes the phosphor coating to emit light.


All fluorescent lights take about a half a second to start and up to two minutes to reach their full brightness. It is commonly believed that they use more electricity in "starting up" than they do while the lamp is burning. That is not true.


Turning a CF on and off frequently will reduce it's energy effectiveness, but even if you do cycle it often, it will still be more energy efficient than a regular incandescent bulb.


The Energy Star website recommends that you use CF bulbs in places where they can operate for several hours at a time.   


In nearly every situation, CFs are a win-win choice for anyone who cares about saving money and saving the environment.

Gary Foreman is a former purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website