CFLs save money and last longer

Looking to save money on your electric bill? Try using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) instead of incandescent bulbs.

According to ENERGY STAR, a program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, CFLs use 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, and they last about 10 times longer. They also use 75 percent less heat, so they are safer to operate.

ENERGY STAR estimates that one CFL saves about $6 a year in electricity costs and more than $30 throughout its lifetime.

In fact, if each U.S. household replaced just one incandescent bulb with an energy-efficient CFL, the country would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year. Each year, that would save about $600 million in energy costs.

“When lighting represents 20 percent of a home’s electric bill, it’s easy to see how switching to CFLs can have a big impact,” said Mike Allmand, Ripley Power and Light Company President and CEO.

What should you do when CFLs burn out?

CFLs can save households hundreds of dollars on electricity, and they are better for the environment than incandescent bulbs.

However, it’s important to understand how CFLs work and the proper way to dispose of them, especially as more people for the first time encounter CFLs at the end of their life cycle, Allmand said. “You shouldn’t just throw them in the trash.”

Instead of producing light by heating a filament with an electric current, CFLs rely on gasses. Electricity runs through a tube containing argon and a small amount of mercury vapor. The reaction generates invisible ultraviolet light that excites a fluorescent phosphor coating on the inside of the tube, which then emits visible light.

If a bulb breaks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends first airing out the room for five to 10 minutes to disperse any mercury vapor that is released. Make sure people and pets are out of the room, and shut off your air conditioning unit so the vapor isn’t circulated through your house.

If on a hard surface, scoop up the glass fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard, and use sticky tape to collect any remaining debris. Only use a vacuum if the first two steps don’t complete the job. Wipe the area clean with a damp towel or wet wipes.

Place the mess – including the towel and vacuum bag – in a glass jar with metal lid or a sealable plastic bag, and put it in a garbage can outdoors. Wash your hands with soap and water, and leave the windows or doors open so the room can air out for a few hours.

If the bulb breaks on carpet, use a vacuum. Make sure you air out the room, shut off the air conditioning and properly dispose of the vacuum bag in a sealed container. You should continue to do this each time you vacuum for the next several times when you clean the area in question.

The mercury released is a very small amount – less than 1 percent of the amount in a mercury thermometer – but the EPA still recommends taking precautions. Also, no mercury is released when a CFL is intact or in use.

When a CFL bulb finally burns out, it can be recycled. Some retail stores, such as Lowe’s, Home Depot and Ace Hardware, offer CFL-collection programs for recycling. Some bulb manufacturers also provide mail-back kits that allow users to send old CFLs to recycling centers.

As long as the bulbs are intact, it’s safe to store them in a box until you can make the trip to a city with a store that offers recycling, such as Covington, Dyersburg, Jackson or Memphis. Call ahead to make sure the store recycles.

If you can’t recycle, simply place the old bulb in a zip-lock bag and drop it into your outside trash can for normal collection. This step will minimize any mercury released if the bulb is crushed in your garbage.

CFLs require special handling because they have small amounts of mercury inside them, Allmand said. “However, they are better for the environment. And, CFLs actually help reduce overall mercury emissions in the United States because the amount of electricity they save reduces demand on mercury-emitting power plants.”