Normal incandescent bulbs use electricity to heat a tungsten filament until it glows white hot, producing a lot of waste heat. Energy-efficient bulbs, also called compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs, work by electrifying a gas to produce ultraviolet radiation, which is then converted into visible light by the bulb's coating (see References 1). According to Energy Star, CFLs use 75 percent less electricity, produce 75 percent less heat, last 10 times as long and can save around $40 in energy costs compared to conventional bulbs over their lifetime (see References 2). Making the switch to CFLs can save you money and reduce your ecological footprint.
Decide how much light you want. General Electric provides a chart comparing the wattages of CFLs and incandescent bulbs of equal brightness. A 15-watt CFL, for example, is as bright as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. You can purchase CFLs to match the brightness of your current bulbs, or you can get something brighter and still save energy.
Replace your old incandescent bulbs immediately to start saving energy now -- don't wait for them to burn out. Switch off the lights and wait for the bulbs to cool down. Unscrew them and replace them with CFLs.
Keep your old incandescent bulbs on ceiling fans and other places that experience a lot of vibration. Excessive vibration can damage the electronics inside a CFL, so they're not recommended for certain conditions. Do not use CFLs outdoors unless the box specifically states that they are rated for outdoor use (see References 1), especially in colder climates. CFLs do not work well at low temperatures.
Keep fluorescent lights on for at least 15 minutes. If you're going to leave the room for less than 15 minutes, don't turn the light off. It takes a few minutes for a CFL to warm up. Turning the light on and off too often reduces efficiency and shortens the lifespan of the bulb. If you leave a room for more than 15 minutes, turn the lights off to save energy.
Continue using incandescent bulbs during the winter if your home's electricity comes from renewable sources and you use natural gas to heat your home. Incandescent bulbs produce a lot of heat and can help heat your home. Switching to fluorescent lighting means more gas or heating oil must be burned to maintain the same temperature. If your electricity is relatively cheap compared to gas or heating oil, CFLs could actually cost you money. According to a study by the Canadian National Research Council, switching to CFLs could potentially increase greenhouse gas emissions rather than reduce them (see References 3). This is only true in cold climates where coal is not the primary fuel for producing electricity.
- All compact fluorescent lamps contain mercury, a toxic metal. Putting them in the regular trash can endanger sanitation workers, cause air and groundwater pollution, and may be illegal in your state (see References 4 and 5). If you accidentally break one, follow the Environmental Protection Agency's instructions for safe cleanup. When the bulbs burn out, follow the EPA's recycling instructions.
Eric Moll began writing professionally in 2006. He wrote an opinion column for the "Arizona Daily Wildcat" and worked as an editor for "Persona Literary Magazine." He has a Bachelor of Science in environmental science and creative writing from the University of Arizona.
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