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.

The right light bulbs can save you money

Nearly 11 percent of your home’s electricity bill is attributed to lighting. Changing your old incandescent bulbs to new ENERGY STAR®-certified compact fluorescent lighting (CFL) and/or light-emitting diodes (LED) is a simple step you can take to make your home more energy efficient.

If every household in the United States replaced its five most frequently used incandescent bulbs with ENERGY STAR-certified bulbs, we would save about $8 billion in annual electricity costs.

Saving money

ENERGY STAR-certified lighting saves you money because it meets strict performance requirements that are third­-party-certified to provide the following benefits:            

  • Less Energy: ENERGY STAR-certified bulbs use about 75 percent less energy than your old incandescent bulbs while producing the same amount of light. Each ENERGY STAR-certified bulb will save about $6 per year in electricity costs, or more than $40 over the lifetime of the bulb, which pays for itself in about six months. For the greatest savings, install ENERGY STAR-certified bulbs in the fixtures that you leave on the longest.
  • Less Heat: ENERGY STAR-certified bulbs produce about 75 percent less heat than incandescent bulbs, which makes them safer to operate and reduces the amount of energy needed to cool your home in the summer.
  • Long Life: ENERGY STAR-certified bulbs last six to 25 times longer than incandescent light bulbs and are backed by manufacturer warranties. Since these bulbs need to be replaced less often, they’re also convenient for those hard-to-­reach fixtures.

Choosing the right replacement bulb

The light from a bulb is described in two ways …

  • Brightness: The amount of light produced by a light bulb is measured in lumens, not watts. The more lumens, the brighter the bulb. However, since most consumers are familiar with the amount of light produced by incandescent bulbs, most light bulb manufacturers conveniently indicate on the packaging the equivalent incandescent wattage as a point of reference.
  • Color Shade: The color of light produced by a light bulb is measured in Kelvins (K). A higher number means that the light is whiter (3000K) or bluer (4100K). A lower number means that the light is more yellow (2700K). Most ENERGY STAR bulbs produce light that matches the color of incandescent bulbs in the range of 2,700K to 3,000K, but other varieties are available.

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.”