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The Best Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Over the last decade there has been much discussion concerning the need to replace the familiar tear dropped shaped incandescent bulb with the spiral-tube shaped compact fluorescent light (CFL). CFLs use less than one-third of the energy required of an incandescent and can last up to nine years. When the CFLs were first widely distributed, consumers hated them. Compared to the warmth of the incandescent, the light emitted by the CFL was considered dim and antiseptic. In addition, the CFLs were too big for many fixtures and they were expensive - up to $25 per bulb. However, today the CFL is much improved. The new bulbs are smaller, cheaper (about $5), and they provide comparable brightness.

In May of 2007, Popular Mechanics performed a test comparing a 75-watt incandescent against seven common CFLs. Could the quality of light compare with the incandescent? The results were surprising. The test comparison bulbs included the following:

1. Incandescent: Sylvania Double Life Soft White

2. CFL: N:Vision Soft White (Good Overall)
3. CFL: Westinghouse Natural Light (Best Overall)
4. CFL: Phillips Marathon (Average)
5. CFL: MaxLite MicroMax (Average)
6. CFL: Sylvania Daylight Extra (Average)
7. CFL: Westinghouse Soft White (Lower Average)
8. CFL: GE Soft White (Lower Average)

The general range of the scores are shown to the right above. Overall, the incandescent bulb measured slightly higher in brightness, but not dramatically so. In overall light quality, all the CFLs scored higher - requiring less energy and providing better light. The N:Vision Soft White and the Westinghouse Natural Light scored the best and the Westinghouse Soft White and the GE Soft White scored the lowest in this test.

Watts and Efficiency: CFLs use about 70% less electricity than incandescents. If you consider that the average US household has 45 incandescent bulbs, replacing 75-watt bulbs with CFLs would save approximately $180 per year in electricity. Even accounting for the cost of the bulbs, the CFL is cheaper to run. CFLs will last longer when not tuned on and off frequently as is typically the case for bathrooms and kitchens

Mercury: According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CFLs contain an average of 5 milligrams (.005) of mercury which is used to increase the bulbs energy. This is approximately enough to cover the point of a ballpoint pen. Mercury is not emitted when in use or being handled. However, the CFL should not be thrown in the trash can, but rather properly recycled. Contact your local recycling center or Energy Star 911 for disposal instructions.

About 50% of the electricity produces in the US come from coal fired powered plants. When coal is fired, mercury is one of the gases emitted. Although the CFL contains a small amount of mercury, it requires less energy to operate than an incandescent and therefore produces a smaller energy demand on the mercury emitting power plants. Even if the mercury from a CFL were directly released into the atmosphere, the amount of mercury emitted over the lifetime of a CFL would be lower than that of an incandescent bulb.

Beyond the Fluorescent : The LED (Light Emitting Diodes) is a tiny yet powerful light source. It is more energy efficient that the CFL. A 60 watt bulb is expensive and one bulb can cost as much as $75. However, on the positive side, some LED models can last up to 30-35 years, energy consumption is reduced by about 87%, the light quality is good, and there is no mercury. In addition, no special ballast or dimmers are needed to dim them. If you move, you may want to take the bulbs. In addition to the LEDs, there are other forms of light sources that may become more popular and affordable in the future.

According to the EPA, if each US home replaced one incandescent bulb with a CFL, the electricity saved could light 3 million homes and prevent the creation of greenhouse gases equal to that of 800,000 cars. While there are more efficient light sources available in terms of energy consumption, the CFL is certainly an affordable alternative to consider. Overall, CFLs require less energy and provide better light.

Author's Note: The information contained in the this article was obtained from an article written by Popular Mechanics in May 2007. For more information go to: www.popularmechanics.com/home_journal/home_improvement/4215199.html

Holly Price is the President and founder of www.finehomelamps.com which offers an extensive collection of lighting for the home including home lamps, table lamps, and accent lamps in contemporary, modern, and traditional styles from Wildwood Lamps, Candice Olson Lighting, and AF Lighting. For more information visit: www.finehomelamps.com/

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