Pros and Cons of CFLs
CFLs (and fluorescent tube lights) are lit by an electric current that is sent through a tube containing argon and a small of
amount of mercury gases. This in turn generates an invisible ultraviolet light, which then stimulates a fluorescent coating
on the inside of the tube, producing visible light.
Longevity - With an average lifespan of approximately 10,000 to 15,000 hours, a CFL bulb lasts about ten times longer
than an incandescent bulb—which means they need to be replaced less often, making them convenient for those hardto- reach light fixtures and lamps.
Efficiency - “CFLs are about four times more efficient than the equivalent wattage of incandescent bulbs,” says Naomi
Miller, the senior lighting engineer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Portland, OR. “So if you take the
wattage of the CFL and multiply it by four, that equals the incandescent bulb you would replace. So, for example, a 15W
CFL is roughly equivalent in light output to a 60W incandescent bulb.” According to the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), if every household in America replaced just one incandescent bulb with a CFL, the energy saved would be
enough to light 3 million homes and prevent greenhouse gas emissions from the equivalent of 800,000 cars.
Price - CFLs have dropped dramatically in price since they were first introduced to the market in the 1980s. They still
cost a little more than incandescents; however, they will pay for themselves after a year or two of use (see box at left).
Because they last so much longer than incandescents, you will continue to see savings on your energy bills throughout
the life of the bulb.
Mercury concerns - Many people are concerned about the mercury in CFLs, and with good cause: mercury is a
neurotoxicant. The amount in a CFL bulb, however, is smaller than the tip of a pencil. Widespread use of CFL bulbs
instead of incandescents will actually reduce the amount of mercury released into the atmosphere, since the main
source of mercury emissions are smokestacks from fossil fuel burning power plants, according to the EPA. CFLs pose
little risk to your family if they break, but proper clean- up is important (see below).
Some usage limitations - CFLs are not dimmable, and they are not efficient in recessed lighting, where they waste about
half of the energy they produce. To maximiz e their efficiency, avoid exposing them to extreme temperatures.
The Bot t om Line:
Many experts view CFLs as a placeholder for LED lights, because LEDs are even more efficient. Currently, CFLs come
in more shapes and siz es than LEDs, but with ever- improving technology, many scientists think LEDs will be competitive
within two to three years.
For the time being, CFLs are the best replacement for incandescent bulbs in most situations; just make sure they are
disposed of properly at the end of their life cycle.