The Benefits of Switching to Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Did you know that, according to the Earth Policy Institute, if the United States shifted entirely from incandescent to compact fluorescent light bulbs, we could shut down 80 coal-fired (500 MW) power plants? And that if these changes were adopted worldwide, we’d be able to shut down 270 coal-fired power plants?

Here’s another interesting statistic: Over the life of the bulb, the gasoline equivalent of the energy saved by replacing a 100W incandescent bulb with a 24W CFL is enough to drive a Toyota Prius from New York to San Francisco. Replace two bulbs and you can get back home again. 😉

We did our part last year when we completely changed over to compact fluorescent lightbulbs in our new house (we had previously made the switch in our old house, as well), and I encourage to do the same thing. Not only does swapping your bulbs save a lot of energy, but it can save you a ton of money, as well.

(This post was inspired in part by Blog Action Day’s focus on the environment.)

Photo Credit: gehat

19 Responses to “The Benefits of Switching to Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs”

  1. Anonymous

    2905miles/50mpg = 58.1 gallons.

    58.1 gallons * 135,000 BTU/gallon = 7.84 million BTU = 8.28 billion joules.
    76WattsSaved*8hour/day*10years = 7.99 billion joules.

    Wow! Closer than I thought. Of course the 10 year assumption could be way off.

  2. Nicole, that’s kind of a knee-jerk response, isn’t it? They are a ton of different brands out there, and performance (and light quality) varies. I’ve had great luck with the store brand multi-packs from Lowes and Home Depot. They come on instantly (no flicker), achieve full intensity almost immediately, and the light quality is quite good. Thus, while some CFLs suck, there are others that perform quite well.

  3. Anonymous

    Monika: What I’ve done with my “extra” incandescents is save them and use the to replace burnt out bulbs in closets & unused (or infrequently used) bedrooms/bathrooms, where it doesn’t make as much sense to use CFLs anyway. Barring that, perhaps you could take them to your local Habit for Humanity office/location for reuse elsewhere. (?)

    Patty: There ARE CFL based bulbs designed for outdoor use, for example just Google “GE 14W Comp Out Lamp”. I picked up some of these from a Home Depot or Lowes (can’t remember which).

    Lin: The ARE timers that can be used with CFLs. I did a lot of research on this when retrofitting our house with fluorescent lighting. You need to look for a timer that supports inductive loads like motors. These timers should require a 3 wire connection in the wall. For example, I’ve been using the Aube TI035 timer with 2 of the GE 14W post lamps mentioned above with no problems. Here’s an FAQ on the Aube site that mentions this:

  4. A few things…

    Yes, incandescent lights put out heat, but it’s hardly an efficient means for heating a home. You’d still come out ahead with a CFL and an efficient furnace.

    Also, that heat needs to be offset during cooling season, and it’s inaccurate to say that “the majority of this country’s population lives in areas where the climate requires homes to be heated most of the time through most of the year.”

    Finally, we use CFL with a timer all the time and have no problems. While I can see a potential problem with a dimmer, a timer is effectively flipping the switch on and off for you, so it should be no different than ‘regular’ use.

  5. Anonymous

    It would be nice if the CFL makers offered bulbs that can be used in lamps that are connected to timers. That seems to be a big no-no. Recently, I had to call a CFL maker to get a replacement bulb (it burned out way before the 2-year guarantee expired). The first question they asked was: “Was it used with a timer or dimmer switch?”

  6. Anonymous

    As a resident of Minnesota where our homes are heated 8 months of the year, I agree with John’s comments about incandescents helping to heat the home. I want to add though, that there is a flip side in that the same bulbs add to the air conditioning load in the summer time.

    The other concern I have with the CFL’s is that according to my experience they don’t seem to last nearly as long as advertised. I have a large coffee can full of burned out compact CFL’s of different brands. They were all installed and used properly according to the included instructions. None of them lasted as long as the incandescents previously installed in the same fixtures.

  7. Anonymous

    Incandescents are only in one sense “inefficient.” The electricity that doesn’t become light becomes heat. The majority of this country’s population lives in areas where the climate requires homes to be heated most of the time through most of the year. Though not their main purpose, incandescents help to heat these homes.

    When people switch to CFL, they will have to use their furnaces more often, perhaps not much, but measureable and cumulative. Has there been any assessment at all what the cost of this impact would be, especially now that natural gas is nearly or more expensive than electricity?

    And CFL’s are, compared to the lowly incandescents, absolutely stinking with environmentally hazardous materials like mercury and bismuth. True, these do not leach out unless the bulb is broken… which never happens, right?

    Finally, where are most CFLs made? Not in America. Try the environmentally sensitive worker’s paradises in China and India. How confident are we that these things are being made in a clean, happy-big-eyed-animals-bounding-through-green-fields manner?

    I’m not convinced. There are always tradeoffs, and most people (me included) really have no good idea what those tradeoffs are or what they mean. But it feels good to “save the planet,” so there you go.

  8. Patty, we use CF bulbs outside, but we live in a relatively warm climate. Even so, in the winter it comes on fairly dim and takes a bit to warm up.

    As for your globe bulbs, this isn’t uncommon. While our regular bulbs come at on full intensity (or nearly so) straightaway, we have some bulbs for our recessed lighting that come on dim and take a little while to warm up. It’s a bit annoying, but not that big of a deal for us because of how we use them. But in a bathroom I could see this being annoying — you really don’t want to hang around waiting for the lights to brighten up.

  9. Anonymous

    I’ve replaced about 90% of the bulbs in my house. I save the working fine edison bulbs for my front porch light. I haven’t seen any cfl bulb that can be used outdoors.
    Just replaced one globe type bulb in bathroom. DK if it is defective or is supposed to act as it does. When u turn on the light it is very low, which is fine a lot of the time, but the longer it stays on it gets very bright. Is this normal? This does not happen with the more conventional cfl’s in lamps, etc.

  10. Anonymous

    CFL is the best invention since I can actually have brighter lights without thinking that I’m wasting energy. It’s not really the absolute $$$ that I’m saving since we are talking about $5-$10 a month for us but it is the piece of mind!

  11. Anonymous

    While CFL is great in saving electricity, I am not sure of what to do with the existing working bulbs. There are at least 50 bulbs in my house and I have replaced about 15 so far. However, I am not sure of what to do with the working fine Edison bulbs, throwing them is also a waste (not so worried about cost), that I am not prepared to make – any suggestions? Electricity cost is a trivial expense for my household, environment cost is my consideration

  12. Anonymous

    My power company (pacificorp) estimates that the average consumer pays about $8 per month in light bulb electricity. currently CFL bulbs cost about $2.50 each. If I replace the approximately 25 light bulbs in my home, that would cost about $62.50. if they burn 1/4th the power, I save $6 per month. approximately 10% immediate return on my investment. Pays for itself within a year just on the power consumption saved. this doesnt include what I save on conventional bulb replacement within that year. not bad. does my math sound correct?

  13. Anonymous

    Remember that it’s illegal to throw them in the trash (just like batteries) because the mercury in them makes them hazardous waste.

    If you throw them in the trash, it’s only a matter of time before the mercury ends up in your food chain and/or water supplies.

    Don’t make your kids and grandkids deal with that because you’re lazy and cheap.

  14. Anonymous

    I agree with Paul D about frugality and ecology. I see it as a place where two good groups and collide and hopefully do great things together.

    Solutions like CFLs are good. But frugal people emphasize lowering consumption while still having good quality of life, which is very important to the environmental message.

  15. Anonymous

    I am skeptical about the claim that a flourescent bulb saves sufficient energy to drive a Prius across the nation. I would like to see the math on that.
    I have switched to flourescent bulbs throughout my house to save money. I think many frugal households tend to live “green” lifestyles as a byproduct of efforts to save money. I know that my carbon footprint is much lower than Al Gore’s and many of the hollywood types who lecture us on the environment. Of course, that is a very low bar to jump.

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