A New Generation of Light Bulbs

Thinking of trading in your regular light bulbs for some of those curly compact fluorescent ones? They save energy, and they don't buzz and flicker like old-school fluorescents. A lighting expert talks about CFLs and LEDs and whether they are better for the environment.

Russell Leslie, professor; associate director, Lighting Research Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Why Use a CFL?

According to the federal government, if every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star approved compact fluorescent bulb (CFL), the United States would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars.

Energy Star is a joint project with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy that promotes energy efficient – and thus climate-friendly – products.

But not all CFLs are created equal. Here, some tips from Energy Star about what to look for and where to use a CFL:

The Benefits

— Energy Star qualified CFLs use at least two-thirds less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer (average lifespan of a CFL is five years).

— CFLs save $30 or more in energy costs over each bulb's lifetime.

— CFLs generate 70 percent less heat, making them safer to operate.

Where to Use

— To get the most energy savings, replace bulbs where lights are on the most, such as the family and living rooms, kitchen, dining room and porch.

— Install them in hard to reach fixtures, like ceiling fans.

— Make sure the CFL matches the right fixture by reading any restrictions on the package. Some CFLs work with dimmers, others are specially made for recessed or enclosed fixtures.

Myths

— CFLs have a harsh, cold light quality. Increasingly, this is less of an issue. Over the past few years, manufacturers have worked to provide a warmer color. Some people say they still notice a difference, but the gap is narrowing. For a warmer, white light, look for a color temperature of 2,700–3,000K on the package.

— CFLs aren't for bathrooms. Not necessarily. CFLs can work in bathrooms, but humidity may shorten the bulb's life.

— CFLs can't be used in older houses. In fact, CFLs may work better than incandescent bulbs in houses with older wiring; CFLs generate less heat and draw less electrical current.

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