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The dos and don'ts of CFL bulbs

from February 2014 Issue

The dos and don'ts of CFL bulbs

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use less energy than classic incandescent bulbs. They're great for energy savings—but they're not right for every situation. The technology inside CFL bulbs makes them much more sensitive to extreme heat, extreme cold, and vibration than incandescent bulbs.

The two kinds of bulbs produce light in entirely different ways. An incandescent bulb is very simple—electricity makes the wire filament glow. The exterior and what's inside a CFL bulb are much more complicated—and delicate. Instead of heating a filament until white-hot to produce light, a CFL contains a gas that produces invisible ultraviolet light when excited by electricity. It's the white coating inside the bulb that results in visible light.

Handle CFL bulbs with care. Never forcefully twist the CFL into a light socket by the glass tubes. Instead, grasp it as low to the base as possible when installing or removing from the socket.

The extreme heat inside an oven—400 degrees and higher—would melt a CFL. The extreme cold conditions inside a refrigerator/freezer would interfere with a CFL's ability to produce light. So 40-watt appliance bulbs are exempt from federal lighting efficiency standards. Specialty incandescent appliance light bulbs, found at The Home Depot, Lowe's, Ace Hardware, and other retailers, are designed for these extreme conditions—and they're here to stay.

CFLs work best if they are left on for more than 15 minutes each time they are turned on. Frequently switching them on and off shortens bulb life. Older CFL bulbs can take 30 seconds to three minutes to reach efficient operation. Newer CFLs feature an "instant on" capability. Look for that on the lighting label if you expect frequent flipping.

Unsure if a CFL is the right choice for a particular location? These tips will help you decide:

• CFLs need air access
CFLs may be used in freestanding enclosed fixtures, but don't put them in totally enclosed recessed situations

• CFLs need a steady base
Don't use CFLs where they will vibrate, such as in a ceiling fan or garage door opener

• CFLs need full power
Ordinary CFLs don't function correctly with dimmer switches, but you can buy specially designed dimmer-switch compatible CFLs

• CFLs need weather protection
Before using a CFL outdoors check the package label for temperature restrictions

To learn more about using and recycling CFLs, visit www.epa.gov/cfl.