How to match and recycle new CFL and LED bulbs to incandescents

Question: How do I match a new CFL or LED bulb to my old incandescent bulb, and why is Energy Star so important? How should I recycle these new bulbs?

Answer: The previous article comparing the three lighting technologies didn't cover two important issues: how to compare incandescent light specifications to those now specified for CFls and LEDs and how to deal with the hazardous material effects of CFLs correctly.

I pointed out that the basic incandescent bulb is the standard to which all others are compared. The labeling generally only shows energy requirements in watts (60W, etc.), but it has other components not normally shown; although they can be found online. First is brightness or efficacy level in lumens per watt, and second its color rendition index (CRI) or the quality of light to render colors correctly, and finally its color temperature in degrees - Kelvin (a unit of measurement for temperature) - which describes its relative color appearance (soft white etc.). These specifications are shown on CFL and LED product information.

First let's look at a typical 60Watt incandescent bulb; we know its power use is 60Watts of electricity per hour and from that power 90 percent generates heat and only 10 percent generates light. The light generation is specified in lumens, the nominal being 15 per watt; therefore, 60 watts generates (60*15) 900 lumens of light. Different manufactures and different wattage bulbs do have varying efficacy (brightness) levels ranging from 8 to 16 lumens per watt, which makes replacing exact duplicates difficult; however, if you know the manufacturer of your bulb you can look up its specification online.

The color temperature (appearance) for incandescent bulbs is designated soft white or warm white with a color temperature of nominal 2700 Kelvin; these numbers are shown on the packaging for both CFLs and LEDs, but, again, vary slightly based on which manufacturer you choose. Additional color versions are also available; there is bright light or 3000K to 4000K and daylight 5000K and above. These provide lighting atmospheres beyond that of the standard incandescent bulb.

The color rendition or color reproduction quality index for an incandescent bulb is 100 at its color temperature of 2700 Kelvin; CFLs and LEDs are compared to this index at 2700K. CFLs come in at between 60 and 85 percent and LEDs between 80 and 95 percent. A target of 80 is a good CRI for these bulbs and in most cases 80 is the average. All these specifications can be found on the big box stores websites, and selecting your new bulb via these specifications before you go to the store can save a lot of time.

Based on feedback from my last article a number of people complained about the quality and reliability of LED bulbs. I did point out in my article that one way to guard against these issues is to use reputable manufacturers who have taken the trouble to get their products Energy Star-qualified.

All Energy Star certified lighting products are subject to thorough testing and review before they can bear the label, including verified compliance with more than 20 separate industry standards and procedures; conformance of color quality and light output; rapid cycling thousands of times to find early failures; and stress testing the products in operating environments similar to how you will use the product in your home. The result is a reliable high-quality product that comes with a minimum three-year warranty. Non-Energy Star products have none of this verifiable quality.

Below is a summary on how to select bulbs that match your obsolete incandescent bulbs; as you can see they can vary quite a bit. The two critical specifications when matching bulbs is brightness and color temperature. First match the equivalent wattage, then the color temperature (soft/warm white or between 2700K and 2900K) and then the approximate brightness level. Color rendition can vary a few points without a noticeable effect, and 80 seems the nominal level. Note that all CFL and LED wattage levels have a bright light (>3000K) and a daylights (>5000K) (only 60W shown in the accompanying table).

One other issue that has to be considered when selecting the newer CFL and LED bulbs is that of hazardous materials. Incandescent bulbs' hazardous material is its class envelope so disposal should be with care. LED bulbs don't have hazardous materials and use plastic for its lens, so little or no issues exist. The biggest problem is with a CFLs toxic mercury component. The average mercury content is 4mg, or 4 thousandths of a gram per bulb; Energy Star versions are just 1mg.

Recycling CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs allows virtually all components of the bulb to be recycled and without mercury contamination. Prescott doesn't seem to have a CFL recycling program so the only recycle option is your roadside recycling trash.

There are also concerns with CFL breakage, again based on the toxic mercury leakage. The EPA has developed a recommended procedure for clean-up.

• Before clean-up have people and pets leave the room. Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.  Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one.

• During Clean-up do not vacuum as it could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor. Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder. Place clean-up materials in a sealable container

After clean-up place all bulb debris and clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of. If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.