A first simple step to living greener is using compact fluorescent bulbs, you hear repeatedly. After all, they last for years, saving money and energy.
But making the switch to CFLs isn’t so easy.
“Customers complain about how they forked over $10 apiece for CFLs a few years ago and then the bulbs didn’t last as long as they (the manufacturers) claimed,” says Clint Poteete, national sales director of Light Bulbs Etc., a worldwide lighting supplier based in Lenexa, Kan. “The first generation of CFLs did have major problems, but they have improved and they do last.”
Newer CFLs do work better, agrees Bob Markovich of Consumer Reports magazine, which ranked CFLs in its May issue.
“They once had a humming noise, but they don’t now,” he says. “Still, like other green solutions, they’re not perfect.”
CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, which means you can’t just toss them in the trash as you can incandescent bulbs. Some people say you can dispose of them in sealed, doubled plastic bags. But that’s not a green solution.
Recycling is the best option.
Home Depot recently launched a recycling program in its stores nationwide. Both Home Depots in the Keys are accepting bulbs at their returns desks. The Marathon store is open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The Key West store is open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
At a cost of about $1 per bulb, you can also purchase a CFL recycling kit from Waste Management’s site, thinkgreenfromhome.com. After you send in the kit, you’ll get a certificate confirming that the bulbs have been recycled properly.
If a CFL breaks, you can’t clean it up as you would an incandescent because of its mercury. According to instructions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, you should open windows and doors and walk out of the room for 15 minutes. Don’t vacuum. On hardwood floors, wear disposable rubber gloves and use cardboard or stiff paper to scoop up debris. Then clean the area with a damp paper towel. For rugs, use sticky tape to pick up any compact fluorescent bulb fragments and powder. Place the debris and cleanup materials in sealed, doubled plastic bags. Recycle if possible.
After vacuuming the spot, remove the vacuum bag and seal it. Put that bag in a plastic bag, seal it and throw it away. Wash hands.
The bluish light of some CFLs makes you feel like you’re in a science lab. For more natural lighting, choose bulbs that are 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin, says Bob Black, owner of Light Bulbs Etc. They mimic the warm, yellowish light of incandescent bulbs.
CFLs can take more than a minute to achieve full brightness.
Because of the warm-up time, CFLs are not recommended for safety applications such as stairways, or security lighting such as motion sensors.
However, CFLs are good for front porch lights that stay on all the time.
Brands matter with CFLs, Markovich says. In Consumer Reports’ recent rankings of Energy Star-qualified CFLs, the Feit Ecobulb ESL13T ($2.25) failed much earlier than others, at 3,300 to 3,900 hours. That’s much less than the average 8,000 hours it claims on the package. However, that Feit CFL still lasts three times longer than the average incandescent, saving about $13 during a 3,300-hour bulb life.
CFLs can be dimmed using special dimmable bulbs that cost three to four times more than the average CFL. Even then, they don’t dim as consistently as incandescent bulbs, Black says. And you might need to have an electrician update your dimmer system.
Not a perfect fit
Sometimes CFLs don’t fit lamps. Try a Sylvania micro-mini spiral or a harp extender. The harp is the wire device on a lamp that holds the shade. They sell for about $2 at lighting stores.
CFLs come in configurations beyond spirals, including globes and flame tips for chandeliers. Reflector CFLs are best for recessed cans. However, CFLs don’t project enough for spot lighting like halogens, which are also energy-efficient.