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Advantages and Disadvantages of Using CFLs

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While CFLs are gaining in popularity there are both advantages and disadvantages to their use. Decide if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and whether CFLs are right for you.

What are CFLs? CFLs are simply smaller versions of full-sized fluorescent lighting. The only difference other than size is that the quality of light is much better now than it used to be some time ago. Remember the ghastly white office lighting that drained everything of color? Today’s fluorescent lighting is much different and hard to tell apart from incandescent bulbs.

Advantages of CFLs

You hear about how great CFLs are, but do you know why? To me the most compelling reason to use them is energy efficiency.

  • CFLs are up to four times more efficient than incandescent bulbs. You can replace a 100 watt incandescent bulb with a 22 watt CFL for the same amount of light as CFLs use 50 - 80% less energy than incandescent lights.
  • While initially they may cost more, CFLs are less expensive in the long run as they last much longer than incandescent bulbs. And since CFLs use 1/3 the electricity and last up to 10 times as long as incandescent bulbs, they are much less expensive to operate. You will see a noticeable change in your electricity bills once you change over to CFLs.
  • You can do your part in reducing carbon emissions by changing over to CFLs. Just one bulb can reduce a half-ton of CO2 out of the atmosphere over the life of the bulb.
  • CFLs are highly versatile and can be used in any setting that you would normally use incandescent bulbs. They come in enough shapes and sizes that you can use them for recessed fixtures, table lamps, track lighting, or ceiling lighting. 3-way CFLs and CFLs that work with dimmers are also now available.

Disadvantages of CFLs

Unfortunately, CFLs have their share of disadvantages and limitations. Most of them stem from the fact that not every bulb is suitable for every job, so it is more a matter of finding the right match. The only real disadvantage as far as I can see is the mercury content.

  • While CFLs are supposed to last about 10,000 hours, turning them on and off too frequently can reduce that lifetime substantially. They are unsuitable for places where you would turn on the light only briefly. These bulbs should be used only where they will be left on for a while without being turned on and off frequently.
  • While you can buy CFLs for use with dimmer switches, be aware that not all CFLs can be used with them. Check the package before using. A regular CFL not meant to be used with a dimmer switch can burn out quickly. The same applies to using CFLs with timers.
  • CFLs when used outdoors need to be covered and protected from the elements. They are also sensitive to temperature, and low temperatures can cause lower light levels. Check the package for suitability for outdoor use.
  • CFLs are not suitable for focused or spot lights or where narrow beams of light are required. They are meant only for ambient light.
  • Maybe the most alarming thing for environmentally conscious consumers is the presence of mercury in CFLs. Mercury is a toxic metal, and while it doesn't pose any danger when the bulb is being used, it may be released if the bulb is broken, or if disposed incorrectly. These bulbs need to be disposed off very carefully. See here for instructions on how to dispose of CFLs responsibly.

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