Busting Common CFL Myths

Page updated on Jul 27, 2012 at 9:22 AM

CFL imageBusting Common CFL Myths

An average of 25% to 40% of energy use in commercial building is used for lighting. One of the easiest, low-cost ways to reduce electricity costs for your business is to replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact florescent lamps (CFL) bulbs. According to ENERGY STAR, CFLs use about 75% less energy than a standard incandescent bulb that puts out the same amount of light. Not only do they use less electricity, but CFLs last for years and years - up to 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb. 

In the past, CFLs have received some bad press. This article aims bust some myths that have been lingering as a result of misperceptions and old information.

Myth: CFLs produce a harsh blue light.
Truth: CFLs nowadays are engineered specifically for consumers expecting “soft white” light that mimics the warm light of incandescent bulbs. CFLs with a value of 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin (K) have a warmer, yellower color; higher K values will emit a bluer or whiter light. Energy Star rated CFLs will have their Kelvin value listed on the packaging.

Myth: CFLs flicker when they first light.
Truth: That happened in earlier CFLs with magnetic ballasts. New ones use electronic ballasts, which do not flicker.

Myth: CFLs need time to turn on.
Truth: Turn-on is now nearly instant. But most CFLs tested took about 30 seconds to reach 80 percent of their brightness.

Myth: CFLs can't be dimmed or used in 3-way fixtures.
Truth: Early CFLs did not have dimming capabilities. The technology has evolved, however, to suit a number a lighting needs. Look carefully at the packaging for those made specifically to work with dimmers or 3-way fixtures.

Myth: CFLs are expensive and won’t save money.
Truth: CFLs do cost more to purchase, but their energy efficiency and longevity more than make up for the cost differential. A CFL uses about 75% less energy than a standard incandescent and can last up to 10 times longer, saving more than $30 over its lifetime.

Myth: CFLs will actually harm the environment because they use so much energy to make and ship.
Truth: The amount of energy required to manufacture, transport, and dispose of a CFL is about 4% of the bulb's total energy use. Scientists found that it takes about 1-2kWh of energy to make and ship a CFL (even from China). However each CFL save at least 200kWh of energy over its lifetime.

Myth: CFLs are a safety hazard because they contain mercury.
Truth: Yes, CFLs contain tiny amounts of mercury, but only 2-4mg per bulb. In comparison, a typical household thermometer contains 3,000mg. If you break a CFL, use common sense to clean it up (open windows, clean up, and remove debris). Your exposure to mercury will be minimal - the equivalent of taking a tiny nibble of tuna, according to a staff scientist at Berkeley Lab.

Myth: Finding a recycler is hard.
Truth: You shouldn't throw used CFLs out with the trash. Check with your local waste management agency or visit www.earth911.org for disposal options. Also, many large retailers such as IKEA and Home Depot will accept used CFLs.

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