Limitations of CFL Light Bulbs

Published: 02nd February 2012
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Although CFLs are an excellent source of energy-efficient lighting, they are not always the best choice for all lighting applications. Here are a few limitations to consider:
- On/Off cycling: CFLs are sensitive to frequent on/off cycling. Their rated lifetimes of 10,000 hours are reduced in applications where the light is switched on and off very often. Closets and other places where lights are needed for brief illumination should use incandescent or LED bulbs.
- Dimmers: Dimmable CFLs are available for lights using a dimmer switch, but check the package; not all CFLs can be used on dimmer switches. Using a regular CFL with a dimmer can shorten the bulb life span.
- Outdoors: CFLs can be used outdoors, but should be covered or shaded from the elements. Low temperatures may reduce light levels - check the package label to see if the bulb is suited for outdoor use.
- Retail lighting: CFLs are not spot lights. Retail store display lighting usually requires narrow focus beams for stronger spot lighting. CFLs are better for area lighting.
- Mercury content: CFLs contain small amounts of mercury which is a toxic metal. This metal may be released if the bulb is broken, or during disposal. For more information about mercury and CFLs, see below.
The principle reason for reduced lifespan of CFLs is heat. CFLs exhibit shorter life spans in light fixtures and sockets where there is low air-flow and heat build-up such as recessed lighting. For these types of sockets it is recommended to use specially designed CFLs for recessed lighting or LEDs. Another main reason for reduced lifespan of CFLs is too-frequent on/off cycling. These bulbs should be used where they will be left on for steady periods without being flicked on and off.
Mercury and CFLs
Mercury is a toxic metal associated with contamination of water, fish, and food supplies, and can lead to adverse health affects. A CFL bulb generally contains an average of 5 mg of mercury (about one-fifth of that found in the average watch battery, and less than 1/100th of the mercury found in an amalgam dental filling). A power plant will emit 10mg of mercury to produce the electricity to run an incandescent bulb compared to only 2.4mg of mercury to run a CFL for the same time. The net benefit of using the more energy efficient lamp is positive, and this is especially true if the mercury in the fluorescent lamp is kept out of the waste stream when the lamp expires.
Handling and Disposal of CFLs
The mercury in compact fluorescent bulbs poses no threat while in the bulb, but if you break one:
- open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more
- use a wet rag to clean it up and put all of the pieces, and the rag, into a plastic bag
- place all materials in a second sealed plastic bag
- call your local recycling center to see if they accept this material, otherwise put it in your local trash. Wash your hands afterward.

Burned out CFLs can be dropped off at Home Depot and Ikea stores. Another solution is to save spent CFLs for a community household hazardous waste collection, which would then send the bulbs to facilities capable of treating, recovering or recycling them. For more information on CFL disposal or recycling, you can contact your local municipality.
A certified Houston Electrician in the area will be beneficial in ensuring all electrical installations are done correctly. An Electrician in Houston should be trained in all aspects of home lighting and should be able to assist you at the drop of a dime.

Logo Electrical Services is an award winning Houston Electrician, but more importantly we are certified Electricians in Houston too.

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