Friday, February 19, 2010

Making the most of your CFL's

We all know that swapping out old incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) is one painless way to reduce your annual power bill. (Lights account for about 5% of overall household power use). CFLs use 75 percent less energy than their incandescent counterparts and last up to 10 times longer. When you do the light bulb math each CFL bulb can prevent more than 450 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. And depending on electrical rates you could save about $80 in energy costs over the life of the bulb.

If you’re going to make this worthwhile investment (and it is an investment, considering the cost) you’ll want to ensure each bulb lasts a good long time.

A friend was complaining recently that CFL bulbs in his home weren’t lasting nearly as long as they were supposed to. We were noticing the same thing so I did some research and discovered a few tips to help extend the life of your pricey bulbs:

- In fixtures on a dimmer switch use dimmable CFLs (should be stated on the packaging). Dimmers shorten the life of regular CFLs.

- CFLs are best in areas where they’re likely to be on for 15 minutes at a time or longer. Using them in places where they’ll be turned on and off frequently (like closets and bathrooms) will shorten their life.

- For totally enclosed fixtures buy bulbs that state clearly on that packaging that they’re designed for this use.

- If the bulb has been used according to the manufacturer’s instructions and still burns out early you may be eligible for a refund or a replacement. Energy Star certified bulbs carry at least a two-year warranty (covering manufacturer defects). The catch is that you need to save your receipts and contact the manufacturer directly.

Something else you need to know about CFL bulbs is that they all contain mercury. As a result they’re considered household hazardous waste and cannot go in the regular trash. Spent bulbs can be taken to the Crane Mountain Household Hazardous Waste Facility (Saturday mornings) or to convenient drop-off boxes at Home Depot. The mercury is recycled into new bulbs.

Because of the mercury you should be careful where you use the bulbs. Basically anywhere with a higher risk of breakage is not a good spot for a CFL (ex. lamps in children’s rooms or table lamps in high traffic areas).

If you break a bulb you should open a window, leave the room and close the door, turn off the air exchange system and go looking for a glass screw top jar and a roll of duct tape. After 15 minutes you can go back in (wearing gloves), put the glass fragments in the jar and use the tape to pick up the tiny bits. Put the tape in the jar too and use a damp cloth to wipe the area. Put the cloth in the jar, screw on the lid and take it to the Household Hazardous Waste Facility.

This is the ultra-conservative clean up method suggested by Energy Star. Apparently the overall the health risk is minimal (each bulb contains just a fraction of the mercury contained in a silver filling).

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