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Switching To Energy Efficient Lighting

Aug 9, 2008
Incandescent light bulbs produce light through heat: an electric current passes through a thin filament, heating it up. The heat makes the filament white-hot, producing the light that you see. 90% of the energy used to create the heat that lights an incandescent bulb is wasted.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs use a different technology: they contain a gas that produces invisible ultraviolet light (UV) when the gas is put in the presence of electricity. The UV light hits the white coating inside the fluorescent bulb and the coating changes it into light you can see. Because fluorescent bulbs don't use heat to create light, they are far more energy-efficient than regular incandescent bulbs.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if every household in the United States replaced just ONE regular incandescent light bulb with an Energy Star approved compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) we'd save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.

Such a savings is possible because a fluorescent bulb creates light using an entirely different method that is far more energy-efficient, in fact, 4-6 times more efficient. This means that you can buy a 15-watt compact fluorescent bulb that produces the same amount of light as a 60-watt regular incandescent bulb.

ENERGY STAR qualified lighting provides bright, warm light but uses about 75% less energy than standard lighting, produce 75 percent less heat (cutting energy costs associated with home cooling), and lasts up to 10 times longer. They save about $30 or more in electricity costs over each bulb's lifetime, and are available in different sizes and shapes to fit in almost any fixture, for indoors and outdoors.

As for drawbacks, CFLs don't operate well in frigid conditions, limiting their use for exterior lighting in cold areas. But the biggest problem with them is their mercury content. It's recommended to recycle CFL bulbs, since breaking or incinerating them releases mercury into the air. The poisonous metal can then find its way into soil, water, fish and fish-eating humans.

The mercury problem can be avoided through proper handling and recycling of the bulbs. Other than that, considering that lighting accounts for roughly 7% of the average lighting bill (compact fluorescents will reduce that by over half), CFLs make sense for just about everybody, both financially and environmentally.
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