Stock up on compact fluorescent lighting

Compact fluorescent (CF) bulbs are on sale at Kmart this week. I bought a bunch.

I’ve been gradually replacing the light bulbs in my house with CFs as they burn out. CFs cost enough that I wasn’t comfortable throwing out 30 perfectly good bulbs and buying all CFs in one hit, especially not at 2002 prices.

I’m glad I took that strategy, because today’s CFs are better and they’re cheaper.Here’s the idea with CFs: a 23-watt CF gives off about as much light as a 100-watt traditional incandescent bulb. But it consumes 77 watts less power. So the 23-watt CF will save you, theoretically, about $40 in energy costs over its lifetime. Plus CFs generally last about 7 years in regular use, so you save the cost of replacing bulbs too. So that $6 light bulb could end up saving you almost 50 bucks.

With energy costs escalating, that savings estimate might actually be a bit low. Also, it doesn’t factor in the heat. If you have 15 100-watt bulbs going in your house, it’s like running a space heater in the summer time. Your air conditioner has to make up the difference. So 15 23-watt CFs generate 77% less heat.

The other thing I’ve noticed now that I’m not living alone anymore is that light bulbs burn out a lot more often. Particularly those vanity globe lights in the bathroom. CF vanity globes last almost three times as long, use less power, and they only cost 50 cents more. My bathrooms had 25-watt bulbs in them All I can find are 11-watt CFs, which are roughly equivalent to 40W. So I’ve been using half as many bulbs, leaving burned-out bulbs in place so the fixtures don’t look funny. The light from eight of those CFs might be blinding.

New CFs light up more quickly than the ones I was buying in 2002, and I think they give off more light now too. The equivalence on the package used to be pretty optimistic; an old 23-watt CF didn’t give off quite as much light as a 100-watt bulb. Today’s bulbs seem to give off comparable light, or sometimes even a bit more.

The light from a CF is still noticeably more blue than incandescent light. My mother in law likes it better. I’m not sure if I like it better or not. But I’ve been mixing CFs with traditional bulbs to tone it down, so I still get quite a bit of savings without dealing with weird light.

And while that 7-year lifespan claim may seem optimistic, I can say this: I’ve been buying CFs for 3 1/2 years now, and I haven’t had to replace one yet. Last year, during those lean times when money was short and I couldn’t really think about the long term, I was buying regular light bulbs again, and some of those have burned out already.

The biggest problem with them is that the dimmer switches in a couple of the rooms make CFs sing. I need to take the dimmer switches out and replace them with regular light switches if I want to use CFs in those rooms.

CFs aren’t the future: I believe the future is LED light bulbs. You can’t buy those at your local Kmart just yet. But white LEDs aren’t cheap enough yet that I would consider them practical. A 2.5W LED bulb gives out comparable light to a 40W incandescent and has a life expectancy of about 17 years, but it costs $30. The equivalent of 60 watts costs about $60. For $10, I’d consider the 2.5W for some applications, but not for $30.

Maybe the technology will be ready when my CFs start burning out. I hope so.

One thought on “Stock up on compact fluorescent lighting

  • April 6, 2006 at 8:13 am

    I find CF bulbs a lot more palatable now that they come in "warm light" versions that aren’t so blue-ish looking. Basically, a warm light CF is any bulb with a color temp of 3000 degrees Kelvin or below. e.g. the Philips Warm White bulbs have a color temp of 2700K and the light looks a lot more like a std incandescent than older CFs do.

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