Energy Adviser: Shedding light on six CFL myths

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While wandering near the compact-fluorescent lamps display at your favorite big-box do-it-yourself store, you’ve probably overheard grumblings about the phase-out of incandescent light bulbs or complaints about the new CFLs. Let’s look at six of the comments you might have eavesdropped on and myth-bust each.

n We’re forced to buy CFLs: There are options. The big-box stores and others sell halogen incandescent bulbs — a 43-watt bulb runs about $8. You also can buy LED bulbs. While the cost is coming down, they are still pretty expensive. A 60-watt equivalent runs about $10, but burns more than 25,000 hours — compared to about 1,500 hours for an incandescent bulb. Once the energy savings and long life are figured in, LEDs are a viable option.

n CFLs cost too much: When they first came out, CFLs cost more. Today their cost has dropped below $2 a bulb — only slightly higher than old incandescent bulbs. Here in Clark County, many CFL bulbs are discounted at the store as part of a regional energy-saving program called Simple Steps. A list of participating retailers can be found at www.simplestepsnw.com. Then there’s the energy savings. An Energy Star certified CFL could save you about $40 in energy over its lifetime.

n CFLs don’t last as long: All CFLs aren’t created equal. The first CFLs suffered shorter lives. In part, this was true because people used them improperly. Dimmer switches reduce CFL life significantly, sometimes up to 80 percent. Recessed and enclosed fixtures generate extra heat, reducing their life by 25 percent. Motion sensors also cut their life by 30 percent or more. And, of course, poor quality CFLs have shorter lives.

The fact is, CFLs are still evolving. New ones are coming on the market and they’re significantly improved. Read the package label to determine whether the CFL works on dimmer switches. Select reflector CFLs to use for recessed lighting. Buy Energy Star-certified CFLs to make sure you get the longest life out of your bulbs.

n CFLs don’t provide the same light: There are two ways to look at visible light — intensity and color. Intensity, or brightness, is measured in lumens. Temperature, or heat, determines the color of the light. A unit of heat, the Kelvin, defines the color, or “color temperature,” of emitted light.

Lower Kelvin, or K, numbers mean the light appears more yellow, while higher K numbers mean a more blue or white light. Most Energy Star-qualified bulbs match the color of incandescent bulbs at about 2700-3000K. If you want a whiter light, look for bulbs rated at 3500-4100K. If you prefer a bluer light, buy bulbs in the 5000-6500K range. Looking at lumens will help you choose the correct amount of brightness, with comparisons to traditional incandescent wattage.

n CFLs are hard to get rid of: Burned out a CFL bulb? Because they contain mercury, you cannot toss CFL bulbs in the trash, it’s true. However, there are ways to dispose of them easily. Home Depot and Lowe’s will take burned-out CFLs for recycling. The Central and Washougal transfer stations take them. Clark Public Utilities accepts them at any of our three locations and we’ll trade you for new ones up to six per household when you bring in burned-out CFLs.

n CFLs are dangerous: You are perfectly safe using them. True, CFLs contain mercury, a neurotoxin. So does your watch battery, thermometer and even your dental fillings. Many manufacturers are working to lower the mercury in them from an average of about 4 milligrams to less than 2 milligrams. In order for mercury can cause nerve damage, you must swallow or inhale it. This is why mercury in water and fish pose a greater health risk than CFLs or watch batteries.

Broken bulbs can release their mercury and require proper cleanup. Clark County provides information about how handle a broken CFL at www.clark.wa.gov/recycle/A-Z/Materials/ComFluor.html. Handling the CFLs gently and not over-twisting them into a socket are good ways to avoid breaking one.

To sum up, CFLs have come a long way, so if you haven’t tried them in a few years, now’s a good time. Used correctly, they’ll last a long time and lower your electric bill.


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.