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Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Things Your Should Know

CFL types

The following information are highlights from various guides to using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), including tips prepared by Rensselaer's Lighting Research Center, the federal government's Energy Star program, and experts from Consumer Reports magazine.
  • Look for bulbs with the Energy Star label, which indicates they meet at least minimal performance requirements.



  • Be aware that compact fluorescent light bulbs can take one to three minutes to reach full brightness.  This is not a defect.
  • The place where people are most likely to use compact fluorescents, closets, may be a poor choice.  Experts at Energy Star warn that frequently turning the bulbs on and off shortens their lives, and recommend using them in fixtures "that are used at least 15 minutes at a time or several hours per day."
  • The bulbs do not do well in hot places with little air flow, like recessed ceiling fixtures.  They are ideal for table lamps.

CFL color range

  • Not all compact fluorescent light bulbs work with dimmers or three-way sockets.  Read all labels.
  • Learning about "color temperature," which is printed on the label of high-quality bulbs, can help consumers avoid disappointment with the color of light.  The warmest-looking bulbs generally have a color temperature less than 3,000 kelvins, with the harshest bulbs usually above 5,000.
  • Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury and should not be disposed of in the trash.  Many chains, like Home Depot, offer recycling bins for the bulbs.
  • If you break a bulb, the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) recommends precautions to avoid mercury exposure:  Clear people and pets from the room and open a window for at least 15 minutes if possible.  Avoid vacuuming.  Scoop up larger pieces with stiff paper or cardboard, pick up smaller residue with sticky tape, and wipe the area with a damp cloth.  Put everything into a sealed plastic bag or sealed gas jar.  In most cases, this can be put in the trash, but the E.P.A. recommends checking local rules.
  • Keep your receipts."  Studies show that if electronics are going to fail. It is likely to happen early on."

Cincinnati Enquirer, March 30, 2009, Tom Zeller, Jr.

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