CFL bulbs, or compact fluorescent lights have developed quite a stigma over the last few years. Between their (very real) shortcomings and apprehension over the upcoming change in bulb efficiency standards, CFL bulbs haven’t exactly been warmly embraced.
But right now, they are the best tool to effectively reduce lighting electrical use as long as you’re aware of their limitations.
What are CFL bulbs?
Ten years ago this would have been a good question. Today many folks could probably recite this better than the Wikipedia page. Compact Fluorescent Lights or CFL bulbs are fluorescent lamps designed for use in standard light sockets. The glass tubing have been twisted about in a design often referred to as a ‘pig tail.’ When electric current is run through, the mercury vapor in the tube becomes excited, emitting visible light.
CFL Bulbs – Advantages
It isn’t for no reason that CFL bulbs have been advanced as the primary alternate to incandescent lights. There are many tangible advantages but some drawbacks.
Efficiency: CFL bulbs produce 3 to 4 times more light per watt than incandescents. They use far less electricity to produce the same light.
Temperature: CFL bulbs have a much lower operating temperature than incandescent bulbs, reducing the risk of fire. The tungsten filament of incandescents can get over 2000 degrees F, compared to 170 – 180 F for CFL bulbs.
Price: Once a real Achilles heel, price has become a selling point for CFL bulbs. Their per bulb cost has dropped to around $1.00.
Lifetime: Another biggie is that CFL bulbs last a long long time. Where an incandescent may last 1000 hours, CFL bulbs can last 10 to 15 times that.
CFL Bulbs – Disadvantages
The resistance to CFL bulbs hasn’t been baseless, as there are shortcomings which have made folks reluctant to adopt them.
Chemicals: One of the most commonly voiced concerns with CFL bulbs is that of their mercury content. CFL bulbs contain 3-5 miligrams of mercury as mercury vapor per bulb. Here’s a link to the EPA’s page on CFL bulbs and handling broken bulbs.
Light Quality: Anyone who has worked a day in an office setting knows that fluorescents produce a pretty harsh white light. This light suffers in comparison to the warmer amber of incandescent bulbs.
Dimming: Many fixtures, and I’m thinking of anything my step-father installed in the 80’s (he was obsessed with dimmers), have dimmers or some way of varying light levels. Standard CFL bulbs cannot be dimmed and attempting to do so can shorten bulb life. Hybrid dimmable bulbs do exist.
Start Time:CFL bulbs can take a longer period to reach full luminescence. This was dramatically noticeable in early CFL bulbs.
All of these shortcomings are part of why CFL bulbs haven’t taken the world by storm. And there are several more advantages and disadvantages not discussed (like their affect on heating bills by replacing which defacto mini-electric heaters).
The light manufacturers have moved to address all these concerns. But taken together you have a clear idea why CFL bulbs may only remain King of the Energy Efficient Light Mountain for so long. Other superior alternatives like LED bulbs are maturing and may supplant CFL bulbs.