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Compact Florescent Lighting (CFL) – Lighting Savior or Satan

Compact Fluorescent Lighting (CFL) is a growing trend in the environmentally conscious arena today.  With energy costs going up people are looking for any means to save money, even if it’s pennies at a time.  Since their creation, fluorescent bulbs have been well known for using less energy; reportedly, depending on their use, a person could save hundreds of dollars over the life of the bulbs.  Utilizing less energy also means less coal being used, and less harm done to the environment.  CFLs sound like an answer to people’s environmental prayers.  However, one aspect not considered at first thought is that CFLs contain a small amount of mercury.  Mercury being a hazardous material requires special disposal to avoid damaging the environment, thus they can’t just be thrown in the trash. Most people do not know this.

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CFLs Save money CFL bulbs cost more than a normal incandescent bulb because they are basically like a neon light, needing a gas filled tube and ballast to heat the minerals in the gas.  Thus, CFL bulbs have more components than a bulb with a simple wire filament inside.  These extra components cause the bulbs to cost up to 10 times more than an incandescent light.  With bulbs lasting about 5 years, this can become expensive to keep your house lit.  To help lessen building costs, some companies have created new light sockets that contain the ballast.  Then it is only the bulb that needs to be replaced, helping to save money down the road.

CFLs Save power The energy savings from using CFL bulbs can amount to as much as 12% of an electricity bill.  If every household in a subdivision changed to these bulbs that would create an incredible impact on the power plants, and thus help reduce the gas emissions from those plants.  The method used to produce light is the reason why there is a huge difference in energy use between these types of bulbs.  An incandescent bulb basically uses a short between wires to heat up a filament, making it glow white hot.  This glowing white wire actually produces a physical heat that can be felt in a room.  In a warm climate, incandescent bulbs can cause more energy usage as air conditioners work harder to overcome this heat that is produced.  CFL bulbs use a ballast to heat up and agitate gas in a tube.  Heating the gas uses a much smaller amount of energy than heating up the wire filament.

CFLs Last longer CFL bulbs are said to last up to 5 years, much longer than an incandescent bulb.  However, if not handled properly a CFL bulb’s lifetime can be lessened to that of an incandescent.  First and foremost is installation.  When installing the CFL bulb, do not grip it by the tubes.  Grip it by the base of the bulb, where the ballast is, and twist it into the socket.  Holding and twisting the bulb into a socket by the glass tubing can not only cause it to snap immediately, but can also cause minor cracks in the glass.  The cracks may not be large enough to see, but are sufficient to cause the efficiency of the bulb to drop.  Since ballast needs to warm up to be efficient, using your CFL bulbs for a short time can decrease their lifetime.  Basically, if you only turn your lights on to go into a room, find something, and then come out, then you will be reducing the life of your bulbs.

Bulb Disposal Since CFL bulbs contain mercury, they are considered a hazardous material and cannot simply be thrown out in the trash.  To dispose of them safely you need to contact the local waste management company and find out if and when CFL bulbs are accepted. Even though the waste company will take CFL bulbs, they are often limited to a certain number per month per family.  Mercury is hazardous in even small amounts, however, a single bulb is not enough to cause a human harm.  The EPA does have an explicit list of instructions for how to dispose of a broken bulb.

The Debate between CFL and Incandescent Yes, CFL bulbs seem to have both negatives and postives. They save energy and last longer but these bulbs cost more and need to be disposed of properly. Whether savior or Satan, deciding between CFLs and incandescent is up in the end to the user.



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