CFLs:  Questions, concerns and answers about those curly, energy-efficient bulbs

The incandescent light bulb has been the global standard for electric lighting for more than a century.  But those days are numbered as more efficient lighting options become available and the federally mandated “lightbulb law” phases out the sale of incandescent bulbs by 2014.

There are lots of concerns about the safety and expense of the most common alternate lighting technology- compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) – which typically last longer than equivalent incandescent bulbs and use a fraction of the energy.

Around 12 percent of home energy use is devoted to lighting and according to the U.S. Department of Energy, switching to CFLs can provide significant savings on your electric bill.

Here are some common concerns about CFLs and some facts that may allay them:

CFLs cost too much.

The price of a CFL, which sold for $9 more than a decade ago, has dropped significantly and many can be purchased for less than $4.  Although one of those curly CFLs still cost more than an incandescent bulb you need to consider the savings.  They use about 25 percent of the electricity to provide the same amount of light.  So despite paying more up front, users will save in the long run with reduced electricity costs.

CFLs don’t last as long as incandescent bulbs.

Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org) has tested an array of CFLs and found that they lasted five to ten times as long as incandescent.  The average CFL bulb should last 10,000 hours.  Many bulbs have warranties, so if one doesn’t last as long as advertised, consumers may be able to get their money back.

Putting CFLs in the trash can contaminate the environment, and recycling programs don’t exist.

Typical CFL bulbs contain approximately 4 milligrams of mercury which can escape into the environment if the bulb is improperly disposed of in the trash.  However, many retailers like The Home Depot and Lowe’s now have CFL-recycling programs.  You can also find out other disposal programs that accept CFLs in your area at www.epa.gov/cfl/cflrecycling.html.

How to clean up a broken Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb (CFL)

It’s important for consumers to take precautions if a CFL breaks since the glass tubing contains mercury; even though it is a small amount (CFLs contain 4 mg while classic thermometers contained 500 mg.)  First, close off the room and ventilate if possible.  Next, scoop up powder and glass fragments using stiff paper or cardboard and place everything in a sealable bag or jar.  Use duct tape to pick up remaining fragments or powder.  Seal the bag or jar and place in an outdoor trash container.  Finally, remember to wash your hands.

Not all recycling centers accept broken CFLS so check with your local waste authority for disposal requirements or visit http://earth911.com.

So think about it.  By replacing one light bulb, you could save $89 over the life of that bulb.  If you replace more bulbs, your savings could be even greater.  Saving money on electricity and helping the environment, it’s a win-win for everyone.