Modern*Simplicity

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Compact Fluorescent Bulbs 101

At the top of the “going green” to-do list, you will almost always find “change your lightbulbs to CFLs.” But do you really know what makes a compact fluorescent bulb so special? Here’s a little primer on CFLs.

A compact fluorescent bulb (aka CFL) is an energy-efficient light bulb that has longer rated life and uses less electricity than standard incandescent bulbs. Modern CFLs typically have a life span of between 8,000 and 15,000 hours and last approximately 8 to 15 times longer than an equivalent incandescent on average, thus requiring that fewer bulbs be purchased. For a given light output, CFLs use between one fifth and one quarter of the power of an equivalent incandescent bulb. Two things affect people’s satisfaction with CFLs: the color of the light produced by the bulb and the amount of light produced. CFLs produce varying shades of white light.

  • “Warm white” or “soft white” (2700K-3000K) provides light similar to that of an incandescent bulb, somewhat yellow in appearance.
  • “White,” “bright white” or “medium white” (3500K) bulbs produce a yellow-ish white light, whiter than an incandescecnt bulb but still on the warm side.
  • “Cool white” (4100K) bulbs emit more of a pure white tone.
  • “Daylight” (5000K-6500K) is slightly bluish-white.
  • Red, green and pink bulbs are primarily for novelty purposes.
  • Yellow is well suited for outdoor lighting because it does not attract insects.

The K measurement denotes the correlated color temperature in Kelvins. Color temperature is a quantitative measurement — the higher the number, the cooler and bluer the shade.

To convert incandescent to fluorescent: take the incandescent watts and multiply by .25 to get a comparable fluorescent replacement.
Example: 60 watt incandescent x .25 = 15 watt CFL

Disposal notes: CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury. Find out if your community recycles CFLs or collects them with other household hazardous waste. If not, place used CFLs in a sealed plastic bag and place with your regular trash. If a CFL breaks, carefully sweep up the fragments (do not use your hands) and use a paper towel to wipe up any remaining glass shards. Do not use a vacuum. Ventilate the area to disperse any vapor that might have escaped the bulb. Place fragments in a sealed plastic bag and follow normal disposal instructions for your community.

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