Little did Thomas Edison know that when he invented the incandescent light bulb in 1879, he was creating a technology that would remain relatively unchanged for over one hundred and twenty years. His invention has turned our nights into day, enabled us to increase our work productivity, provided us with a warm glow to calm our nighttime fears, made it possible to pull "all-nighters" in our studies, and so much more. But the recent passage of a new energy bill by the government has numbered the days for the iconic bulb, paving the way for more energy-efficient fluorescent lighting. Although we have become attached to the warm, familiar glow of an incandescent bulb, the mandatory change will be beneficial not only for the environment but also for your household budget.
A provision in the energy bill, approved by Congress late in 2007, sets the stage for the phasing out of incandescent bulbs over the next decade to make room for a new generation of high-efficiency fluorescent bulbs. The energy bill calls for all light bulbs to use 25-30% less energy than those available today by 2014. The process begins with 100-watt bulbs in January 2012 and ends with 40-watt bulbs in 2014. By the year 2020, bulbs will be required to be 70% more efficient.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy's "Energy Star" program, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) that meet Energy Star qualifications use 75% less energy than the standard incandescent bulbs we have used for years. In addition, those CFLs will last up to 10 times longer than conventional bulbs—up to five years instead of a few months. In simplified terms, each CFL installed in your home will save $30 or more in electricity costs over the lifetime of the bulb. Multiply that figure by thirty or forty bulbs in a household and the savings per household becomes significant. CFLs also produce about 75% less heat than incandescent bulbs, making them safer to use. Less heat generated also means the added energy savings associated with reduced home cooling in the warmer months.
Aside from their increased lifespan and efficiency, there are a few points about CFLs consumers should know. The Energy Star program notes that in order for CFLs to provide their greatest possible savings, they should be used in fixtures that are on for a substantial amount of time each day—from at least 15 minutes to several hours. Locations such as living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, and outdoor lighting will be best able to take advantage of the optimum efficiency of CFLs. Technological advances in design now mean that instead of the long, tube-shaped fluorescent bulbs we know from office lighting and workshop lighting, CFLs are now available in a wide variety of sizes and shapes to fit almost any indoor or outdoor lighting fixture. Some of the CFL shapes available include: bare, mini-spirals, spirals, double, triple, and quadruple tubes, circle-line, covered A-line, covered globe, and covered bullet or torpedo.
CFLs carrying the Energy Star designation are required to carry at least a 2-year limited warranty (covering manufacturer defects) for residential lighting applications. When buying CFLs, choose those that are Energy Star compliant and save your receipts in case your CFLs burn out prematurely and you need to contact the manufacturer for a refund.
Many people find the white light of previous fluorescent lighting harsh and unappealing. Today's new breed of CFLs are available in a variety of shades of white (from warm or soft white light for the home environment to cooler, brighter white for task lighting) so choose accordingly. The shade of white light is referred to as the "color temperature" and will be stated on the CFL packaging. For a warmer light for use in your living space choose a color temperature of 2,700-3,000 K. Cooler, white light—best for work lighting—falls in the 4,500-6,000 K color temperature range.
Many homes today have dimmable lighting fixtures to create "mood lighting." If a light fixture in your home is connected to a dimmer or three-way socket fixture, you will need to choose a CFL designed specifically for use in such applications. The CFL packaging will state that the bulb is for use with dimmers or three-way fixtures. In addition, many contemporary homes feature recessed lighting and in such applications, Energy Star recommends using a "reflector CFL" which will evenly distribute light down to the task area.
CFLs are an ideal solution for fixtures that are in hard to reach locations such as loft ceiling fixtures, ceiling fans, and high-mounted outdoor fixtures. With their long lifespan, you'll enjoy the convenience of buying and changing bulbs less frequently than before. When CFLs do finally burn out, care must be taken to dispose of them properly since they do contain small amounts of mercury. Energy Star recommends visiting www.earth911.org or calling 1-877-EARTH-911 for local disposal and recycling options.
So the familiar light bulb we have all depended upon is about to say goodbye. In its place we'll soon find an alternative that not only lasts significantly longer but also uses far less energy—definite benefits for both the environment and your household budget!
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