Updated on 06.08.16

Five Reasons To Try Out A CFL Today

Trent Hamm

bulbies!I continually mention using CFLs for home lighting, but I haven’t laid out the entire case for CFLs in one place before. It’s time to change that. Here are five huge reasons why you should switch your home light bulbs to CFLs today. (Even if you already use CFLs, you may want to read this list… there’s something on it for you, too.)

For this exercise, I’m going to refer to a six pack of GE 26 watt CFLs, which you can get at Wal-Mart for $15.16, giving them a cost of $2.53 a bulb. These bulbs claim 100 watt equivalence, but I actually find their brightness to be between a 75 watt and 100 watt bulb, so we’ll compare them to 75 watt bulbs. For comparison’s sake, a four pack of GE’s 75 watt incandescents at Amazon is $4.11, or $1.03 a bulb.

1. The bulbs themselves are cheaper. If you compare the lifespan of the bulbs on the package, the incandescent bulbs work for 750 hours, while the CFL has a rated life of 8,000 hours. Just using that number, that means that the cost of regular incandescents over 8,000 hours is $10.99, while the single CFL over 8,000 hours costs only $2.53 for the bulb, a total savings of $8.46. Even if you don’t believe that the lifespan is really that long, even half that long for the CFL, the long term cost is still cheaper for the CFL. From my experience, I have yet to have a single CFL burn out after more than a year of using GE CFLs.

2. The per-hour cost of energy for CFLs is cheaper. The CFL uses 26 watts; the incandescent bulb uses 75 watts. That’s a difference of 49 watts per hour of usage in favor of the CFL. Let’s say you use a bulb for 4 hours a day, and your energy cost is $0.10 per kilowatt hour. With those rates, one 26 watt CFL in a socket instead of a 75 watt incandescent saves you $7.16 over the course of a year. Let’s say there are twenty bulbs in your home. That’s $150 right there.

3. The time involved is less. Let’s say it takes two minutes to change a light bulb, including the time involved buying it, fishing it out of storage, unscrewing the old one, screwing in the new one, and disposing of the old one. Let’s also assume 8,000 hours of usage, which at a rate of 4 hours a day is 2,000 days of usage, or about four and a half years. Over that time, you’ll invest two minutes in changing CFL bulbs versus twenty one minutes changing incandescent bulbs. Multiply that by a theoretical twenty bulbs in your house and you’re talking about six and a half hours of time lost changing incandescent bulbs. That number seems preposterous, but check the math yourself.

4. They cut carbon emissions. Based on this table, on average in the United States, 1.35 pounds of carbon is emitted per kilowatt hour. Over twenty one hours of usage, a 26 watt CFL bulb reduces your energy consumption by one kilowatt hour over a 75 watt incandescent bulb – at four hours a day, that happens for each bulb every five and a quarter days. Thus, for twenty bulbs in your home, over the course of a year you’ll eliminate nearly a ton of carbon dioxide emissions (1,877 pounds, to be precise). If you’re concerned about disposal of CFL bulbs, most municipal areas have a recycling center that will take CFLs and properly dispose of them – here’s a locator – so that the gases in them won’t wind up in a landfill (and neither will the glass).

5. You can save $1 on a GE CFL during July 2007. If you’re still held back by the cost, GE is offering a $1 off coupon for any package of GE Energy Smart CFL bulbs – even the single bulb package. This trims the above-described package of a six pack of 26 watt bulbs down to $14.16, or $2.36 a bulb, which actually makes the calculations above even better for CFLs.

There’s really no excuse not to switch – or at least try them out – at this point. If you’re concerned about lighting, use the coupon to buy a small quantity of CFLs (remember to get one of a higher equivalent wattage than what you use) and try them out. Even if you don’t like them for primary lighting, there are out-of-the-way places in every home where they can be used – closets and so forth.

CFLs are one of the simplest frugal choices you can make – give them a shot this month.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Jamie says:

    One thing that I’ve always thought about is whether or not it’s a good idea to replace a working incandescent with a CFL, or if you should just wait until each incandescent quits and then replace it at that time. Item 2 in your list indicates that you quickly make your $1.03 back if you replace the incandescent before it actually goes dead. But, it’s something to consider in the calculation if you want to account for all the costs associated with the replacement.

    Also, just to be a nitpicker, it might be worth mentioning that consumers should really be comparing the “lumens” that a bulb is rated for when looking for an equivalent brightness. That is the unit of measurement corresponding to “quantifying the amount of light emitted from a light source”. “One lumen is equal to the amount of light emitted by one candle that falls on one square foot of surface located one foot away from one candle.” Thank you Google and Mr. G, my high school physics teacher.

  2. Chris says:

    We use CFL’s pretty much everywhere in our home at this point. We don’t, however, have any dimmer switches which probably made it easier for us. The color of the light looks great and I’d say the brightness upon turn on is 80% of max and warms up to full brightness within 3 minutes or so anyway. I think they’re great. Have yet to take a significant look at electric bills though…

  3. Justin says:

    I love CFLs. Don’t forget that they’re also much sturdier than incandescents, since there’s no hair-thin filament to snap. Knock over an incandescent lamp and you get the nova flash of death; do the same with a CFL and all is well.

    Australia is banning incandescents for normal use. The whole world should follow suit.

  4. x-er says:

    The club stores are selling them for even less. I got a six pack of the hundred watt replacements at BJ’s for 9.99 and they had a $2 mail in rebate. They weren’t GE though, I think they were Sylvania.

    They give us less heat too. You can put your hand on them when the are on. They are warm put they don’t burn you. During the summer that’ll help on the AC bill too.

  5. Justin says:

    @Jamie: I struggled with this myself. The conservationist in me doesn’t want to unplug perfectly usable bulbs. But realistically, I’m doing more environmental (and economical) harm by keeping the incandescents around than I am by replacing them.

    My solution is to replace them all, then donate the working ones to a loved one, perhaps a college student whose utilities are paid for. You aren’t cutting global energy waste, but at least you aren’t tossing perfectly good bulbs.

  6. Amber Yount says:

    I was thinking of replacing them as they went out, but I could’ve SWORN that I saw ONE CFL at wlamart for $8, I just cant justify that cost, but you said a big pack is only $15, maybe I should look again.

  7. Justin says:

    @Amber: Shop around, that’s definitely not normal. (It may have been a specialty bulb?) Wal-Mart has plenty of affordable CFLs. They’re behind CFLs in a big way, even replacing all their in-store lights.

  8. Michael says:

    I used CFLs everywhere in my home and love them.

    I bought mine at Home Depot or Lowes for 2-2.50/bulb depending if they were on special or not.

    I found that the contractor packs were better because they came in a very easy to open box while the 4 packs came in finger slicing bubble packs. The price per bulb was the same either way. I know its silly but opening several of those bubble packs without breaking the bulbs is a pain. For the same price, save yourself the trouble and get the box.

  9. Jamie E. says:

    I just finished replacing the bulbs in my house with CFLs. I live in Southern California and here, CFLs are subsidized by the power company. Yet another reason to buy bulbs.

    Oh, and by the way, for those of you who also live in California: Don’t buy the bulbs straight from the shelf. Go to an end-cap in a major home renovation store (like Home Depot). I bought my 40w replacement bulbs for $2 there thanks to the Southern California Edison subsidy.

    On a separate note, why are GE and Phillips so slow to join this game? I’m really disappointed with their CFL selection. Does anyone share that?

  10. Adam says:

    WE have dimmers in a lot of our lights, so sadly can’t use CFL’s. Where we can, we are switching to them, although the quality of the light on really cheap cfl’s are awful. It’s worth paying a larger price for better one’s– WE got ours at Home Depot, 6 pack for $11 and they worked out great. Avoid the Trisonic brand!

    Any idea about CFL’s for dimmers– will they ever come out? I’d love to get them for our recessed lights.

  11. Beth says:

    I’m in northern CA and I also got the crazy-cheap deal on the subsidized CFL bulbs at my local Ace Hardware. They were right up by the register and I saw several get purchased while I stood there reading up on them. One woman had never used them before, but as she said, “For two bucks, why not try them?” Well said!

    I’m waiting to replace my regular bulbs after they are burned out (my electric bills are ~11.00/month so I’m not doing this for the savings). Here’s a question: my kitchen ceiling fixture holds 2 bulbs. Can I have an incandescent and a CFL side by side?? I assume I can but if I’m tempting fate & apartment fire, please speak up.

  12. Hannah says:

    I know that CFL’s don’t work on dimmer switches, but are there any other situations where they shouldn’t be used?

  13. right side of the river says:

    nice post Trent. i live with two housemates and we’ve all started replacing incandescents with CFLs in our apartment.

    one problem, though, is that not all light fixtures are designed to accommodate CFLs so in some cases they don’t fit properly.

  14. David says:

    I really love the CFL option. It’s more expensive initially (a lot of outlay to replace all bulbs), but saves real money over the years, a lot of effort, is environmentally friendlier, sturdier, etc. For me, the savings comes in through A/C. In hot Atlanta where I like to keep it around 72 degrees inside, I’ve been able to handle around 75 degrees since I replaced the bulb in my lamp, since it doesn’t give off heat like the incandescents. That A/C cost savings will double the value I’m getting from using CFLs.

  15. David says:

    Also, re: dimmer switches, you can always replace your dimmer switches with those that have the word “digital” on them. Those should work just fine with CFLs.

  16. sunny says:

    with CFLs, I have found that at least one bulb in the pack (like a 6 pack) will go out WAY before the others. It’s a good idea to keep the warranty information.

    I have replaced our most frequenly used lights with CFL’s. I wish they would come out with a full spectrum CFL, the light is really yellow. I usually switch about 1/2 the bulbs for full spectrum incandescents in the winter to fight off some of the seasonal depression. I live at about 48 deg North, so winter is long and dark. At least it’s not alaska though.

  17. paidtwice says:

    Thanks for the coupon link Trent! I’ve been replacing all the bulbs in our new house at a rate of two to four a week depending on sales (I can only afford the outlay of cash spread over time) and I still have 6 left. Now I can get more CFLs cheaper! Hurrah!

  18. Brad says:

    Trent, you should note that the normal lights work well in ceiling fans. I tried s special brand marked as “ceiling fans” (from WalMart) which were very dim to me. I have since picked up several 8 packs of lights from Sams Club (~$12 for 8) that have decent light at 60 watt equivalent. They do take a bit to warm up, but they look fine fairly quickly.

    Now I just have to decide what to do with all the regular bulbs. I have a feeling we will use the “special” ceiling fan ones for a few fans that say regular (such as the dining room one my wife still wants on a dimmer) and try to find a good use for the others.


  19. Gavin says:

    I’m pretty sure they have dimmable CFLs over at Amazon.com. Has anybody tried these out? What sort of life-expectancy do these bulbs have compared to the regular CFLs?

  20. Andy says:

    I have been replacing regular bulbs with CFLs for the last few years and I am probably up to about 15 now. In general I am happy with their performance. I haven’t had one die on me yet.

    One application that I am disappointed with is in the pantry. When I turn on the bulb, it is more like 60% at first. When I am going in to quickly grab something from the pantry, I can barely see what I need with 60% light. I would normally be out of there in 10 seconds and don’t want to 3 minutes for it to warm up. For now, I actually leave that light on continuosly, defeating the purpose…

  21. silver says:

    A few things to note about CFLs

    * They should not be used in lights controlled by dimmer switches.
    * They should not be used in lights controlled by electronic timers.
    * They should not be used on photocell devices or fixtures (motion or light sensors).
    * While they can be used in enclosed OR recessed fixtures, they should NOT be used in fixtures that are BOTH enclosed AND recessed.
    * Compact fluorescent light bulbs work best if they are left on for over 15 minutes each time they are turned on. Warm-up will probably not be noticeable from a user stand point, but the lamp needs to warm-up in order to reach the point of most efficient operation. Frequently switching them on and off will shorten the life of the product. If the life of the lamp is shortened significantly, you will not reap the financial benefits (includes energy and life of lamp), that are common to CFL lamps. Thus, applications such as a closet, pantry, bathroom, laundry room, etc., are not optimal. Incandescent and halogen lamps are still most efficient for these environments.
    * Applications where there is vibration present (such as a ceiling fan or garage door opener) can
    damage the electronics in the ballasts of non-specialty CFLs. The ceiling fan CFL should not be used on a garage door opener, which offers much greater vibration than a ceiling fan.
    * Because CFLs contain a small amount of mercury they should be disposed of properly.

    All of the above is from GE when I wrote to them about a CFL burning out after two months.

  22. kath says:

    I’m glad you addressed this topic. We use CFL’s and, aside from being a bit dimmer than regular bulbs, they have been great, especialy in the recessed lights that are a pain to reach.
    Since I started replacing my bulbs with CFLs three different people have told me that the bulbs are dangerous because of the mercury in them and they all seem to have heard a story about a person who broke one and had to had a hazmat team come in to clean it up. There is a fact sheet on Energystar.gov that gives information about CFLs, how to dispose of them and what to do if a bulb breaks. This is very important information that everyone should know.

  23. Kevin says:

    I don’t know where all of you are getting your info….

    There ARE dimmable CFL’s. I’m an electrician and install them all the time. You can get almost any type of bulb in a dimmable CFL except R20 lamps for 4 inch recessed cans.


    they are a bit harder to find and you will probably have to order them online or through your local electrical supply house but they do exist.

    Also your other option if you are installing new lighting they make several types of flourescent lighting including recessed cans with dimmable ballasts.

  24. vh says:

    Well, I sure wish I’d had a fact sheet on what to do if a CFL bulb breaks. Pulling one of those nasty bubble-packs, previously box-cuttered open, off the top shelf of a closet, I had two of them slip out and explode all over the closet, the hall, and the bedroom floors. What a mess! They shatter far more dramatically than an incandescent bulb…and I expect half the house is now contaminated w/ mercury.

    HD sells one that’s supposed to be “sunlight”–dunno if that qualifies as “full-spectrum.” The effect is bluish–I didn’t like it at all. But then what delayed me from trying them is that I really, really hate the blue-looking flickery light from regular flourescent tubes. The yellowy CFL light is more like “real” light bulbs and doesn’t make one’s contact lenses hurt.

  25. Rob in Madrid says:

    I have a friend who has a CFL in his bathroom and I hate it, by the time the bulb gets bright I’ve finished my business and am gone. No Virginia there won’t be any CFLs in my house.

    On the other hand our unit had a short floresant light bulb 15 watts and is instant on and bright. Cheaper than a CFL (about 2.20€ vs 5€ or so for a CFL)

    On the other hand if you have lights that are left on all day than they are a good deal.

    As noted above CFLs need to be recycled properly. Throwing them in the trash is a good way to pollute the ground water. Unfortuanatly that is unlikly to happen and what we’ll find in 15 years is a major crisis as millions of bulbs get tossed out.

  26. Jason says:

    Here is the state of Maine’s account of that story:

    Here is the fact sheet for clean up and other info

  27. Rosie says:

    Have been gradually converting to CFLs for 7 or more years now. IKEA sells them cheap, and often on promotional sale. Signs in the stores encourage recycling and say they will accept them back for recycling. This is good, since my major city just this summer FINALLY started accepting them with hazardous and electronic waste. I’ve had two burn out so far.

    My change over has been gradual because of the cost, size and wattage issues. The first ones were two tall to fit some of my lamps and recepticles. As different sizes, shapes and wattages have come out, I’m finding more to fit. Even replaced my candleabra bulbs with similar shaped CFLs.

    Pay attention to the style of the bulb. A bulb marked “bright white” and a bulb marked “soft white” look very different in effect, and under your lampshade.

    Early on, I read that CFLs will not perform best in recepticals that hang the bulb upside down. This proved true (at least with those early ones), so I had my new light over the inside basement steps installed on the wall above the door, upright, to accept a CFL. (It is the hardest bulb in the house to change, and hasn’t burned out yet.) I’m now using them in my bathroom recepticals, which are sideways over the mirror, and they seem to work fine sideways.

  28. Cheryl says:

    I made the switch when I found them on the clearance shelf at my local Target! I paid less than a dollar a bulb!

  29. Mike says:

    You forgot one other significant benefit of CFLs: less heat generation. It becomes much more noticeable in a small space like a closet. But considering how hot incandescents get (try touching a 150 watt bulb that has been burning for an hour), imagine how much heat they are generating inside your house, making your A/C run more frequently. And don’t forget about fire hazards: I seriously doubt a CFL would accidentally ignite a stray piece of fabric.

  30. Louise says:

    The only CFLs I have bought have been from Aldi stores and I have never noticed a dimness or had to wait for them to become bright. I’ve also never needed to replace one, but I’ve only been using them for about a year.

  31. pam says:

    Check out snopes regarding the incident in Maine:


    While true, even the officials in Maine downplay the cleanup requirements. However, I will keep CFL’s out of my children’s rooms.

  32. Bill K says:

    I love my CFL’s. So far my favorite brand is NVision, which is sold at Home Depot. I’ve been less impressed with GE and Phillips, but they’ve all worked well so far.

    I’ve also installed a programmable thermostat, and use it M-F to let the house go above 77 (my normal setting here in Tallahassee’s summers). Between the CFL’s and my thermostat, the difference was 1093 kilowatt hours in June ’06 vs. 727 in June ’07. Pretty great if you ask me!

  33. Brian says:

    A bit much pro CFL here for my liking…

    I’ll install CFLs regularly when I can
    *consistently buy ones that have warm up times of under a minute
    * consistently find models that don’t whine after only a year.
    * consistently get CFLs in various small form factors like desk lights
    * and when I can purchase ones that don’t flicker

    Proponents of CFLs tell me that they I can find lights that meet all of those requirements. The couple of times I have found acceptable brands, the brand becomes no longer available or the brand changes it’s design and becomes not acceptable. I do not find fun or entertaining the prospect of buying a bunch of different brands at different stores (and attempting to go about returning the ones I don’t like) until I find a brand I am willing to live with.

    Until that point, I’ll use high quality electric ballast regular fluorescents, and nice high quality incandescents everywhere else.

  34. Carl says:

    CFLs have lots of good things going for them, but there is one issue that is largely overlooked in all the discussions that I have seen: Many CFLs produce light of a gastly color that makes your room look like a tomb and your face look like a zombie. Your girlfriend will find reasons not to stay at your apartment after she sees that. The makers need to do a much better job of producing CFLs that produce light in a friendly color.

  35. Matt says:

    I just started using them in our home and I have a couple of questions/observations:

    Many of our lights rely on the round bulb shape to hold the lampshade. I haven’t tried a CFL in these lights. Any suggestions?

    The ballast, just above the screw, widens out too quickly for two of our lights. Any creative solution such as an extender?

    Other than those concerns, the color of the light looks great. Very pleased. GE brand, haven’ tried any of the others yet.

  36. Marilyn G says:

    I have an enclosed fixture that says it will accept no more than a 60 watt bulb. Would it be acceptable to put in a larger CFL bulb?

  37. umopapisdn says:

    You can get 60 watt equivalent CFLs for $1.39 at this site:


    This is the regular price, not just a temporary sale price.

  38. Vaughn MacKenzie says:

    After switching to CFLs nearly as soon as they began to come out, I am finding they DO NOT LAST anywhere near as long as they’re touted to. I write the dates on them when installed and am finding they last an average of 1-1.5 years, or about 50% longer than incandescents.

    Then I had a scary experience where one shorted out and nearly caught on fire before I discovered it. It was rolling out smoke and fortunately I was home when it happened. It was in a lamp shade (you’re supposed to use them only in ventilated fixtures). I posted this experience on a blog and had several others report similar incidents of CFLs shorting out and smoking.

  39. David P. says:

    CFLs are made to burn a little at the base when they burn out. This disipates the heat without causing a fire. Thus this smoke is a sign that the bulb is working as it is supposed to. Do not use CFLs in recessed and covered lighting as the heat can cause melting of the receptacle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *