Ask the Contractor: Tips for navigating the light bulb marketplace
Halogen, Fluorescent, CFL, LED, Flood, Spot, Compact, Bright White, Cool White, Daylight, and the catalog list goes on. This was the week for e-mails and phone calls on light bulbs. I hope this column lights up your day with some interesting Q&A that came our way.
I hear that you should not throw CFLs in the trash. Why?
— Margie Prescott Valley
CFLs contain a trace amount of mercury. This amount is extremely small — no more than four milligrams (that’s about the size of the period at the end of this sentence). Most CFL manufacturers have continued to voluntarily reduce mercury in their products, and some manufacturers have even made further reductions, dropping mercury content to 1 mg per bulb. For comparison, an oral mercury thermometer contains 500 mg to 1 gram of mercury, or 100 to 200 times more than a CFL.
Where can I recycle my used CFL blubs?
— Ed, Cottonwood
A number of retailers including Lowe’s and Home Depot in Prescott, Prescott Valley, Pro Build in Sedona, Batteries Plus Bulbs in Prescott Valley and Ace in Chino Valley and Home Depot in Cottonwood accept CFLs for recycling at no charge.
Are CFLs still considered energy savers?
— Tom and Susie, Prescott
The answer is YES! CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer.
Standard CFLs typically cost $1 or less when you buy them at retailers who offer the APS discount.
Although CFLs and LEDs may seem to be more expensive to purchase initially, you save money in the long run because the annual operating cost of these bulbs are much lower. CFLs can last up to 10 times longer than a standard incandescent bulb, while an LED can last up to 25 times longer.
I want to replace my 60-watt incandescent light bulb. How do I select the best replacement bulb?
— Carol, Prescott
A watt is actually a measure of power consumption, not an indication of how bright the bulb is. When purchasing a light bulb, consider your light output or brightness, which is measured in lumens. Look for a CFL or LED with the same lumen output as the incandescent bulb you are replacing. For example, a 60-watt incandescent bulb, a 13-watt CFL and a 10-watt LED all produce about 800 lumens of light, but the CFL and LED require much less power. The Lighting Facts labels on bulb packages are much like nutrition labels on food to help you choose the right bulb. Look for lumens on the front of the package and select the bulb that produces the brightness you need. The higher the lumen number, the brighter the light.
I just purchased some CFLs and they burned out sooner than expected. Why did this happen?
— Ralph, Prescott
The typical lifetime of a CFL is about 5-to-7 years but some owners may see a diminished lifetime. This can be caused by a number of factors: The bulb is being used in a dimmable or a 3-way fixture: Using a bulb that does not specifically state that it is compatible with a 3-way or dimmer switch will shorten its lifetime.
Possibly, the bulb was incompatible with your fixture. Most electronic controls such as electronic timers, photo sensors, motion sensors, touch lamps, and remote light controls are designed to work with the simple technology of an old outdated incandescent rather than the complex circuitry of a CFL. Since CFL ballasts are designed for a specific input voltage and are not designed to handle deviations, they can cause the fixture circuitry to malfunction or not be able to effectively light the lamp or keep the current through the lamp well regulated. The result is that operating CFLs on controls can significantly shorten the lifespan of the product, though it should not pose a fire hazard.
It could be the bulb was defective. If your ENERGY STAR qualified CFL product burns out before it should because of manufacturer defect, look at the CFL base to find the manufacturer’s name. Visit the manufacturer’s web site to find the customer service contact information to inquire about a refund or replacement. Manufacturers producing ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs are required to offer at least a 2-year limited warranty for residential applications. In the future, save your receipts to document the date of purchase.
Can CFLs and LEDs be used in recessed cans, outdoor lights or track lighting?
— Hank, Chino Valley
Yes! Always read the package to be sure of its proper application, but there are a wide variety of ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs and LEDs that are designed for use in most fixtures in your home or business.
Here are some product types and where they can be used:
CFL spirals – these bulbs can be used in almost any fixture, especially table and floor lamps with harped shades.
LED A-shaped directional bulbs – these general-purpose bulbs shine light in all directions, so they can replace incandescent bulbs in ceiling lights, lamps, wall sconces and more.
CFL A-shaped bulbs – this general purpose bulb is actually a spiral shape with a glass cover, making it more aesthetically pleasing for fixtures where the bulb can been seen.
CFL and LED globes – both are good in fixtures where the bulb is exposed, such as bathroom vanity lights or pendant lamps.
CFL and LED reflectors – intended for recessed cans, track lighting and even some protected outdoor spot lights.
CFL and LED candle shapes — for use in some porch lights, in wall sconces and in some chandeliers.
Check the packaging to ensure the bulb is rated for 3-way or dimmable fixtures like chandeliers, recessed lights or track lighting. Make sure the CFL or LED bulb has the word “dimmable” on the packaging before using them with a dimmer switch.
Is it important to buy an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb?
— Martha, Prescott
ENERGY STAR qualified products have been tested to meet stringent performance criteria established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DOE). The criteria ensures that all bulbs earning the ENERGY STAR label meet minimum lifetime and efficacy requirements, and are within maximum allowed product start and warm-up times. Generally, only the top 25 percent of products in each category can earn the label.
Can I turn my CFL on and off frequently? I’ve been told I have to turn it on and leave it on all day.
— Fred, Cottonwood
Turning a CFL on and off frequently can shorten its life. To take full advantage of the energy savings and long life of ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs, it is best to use them in light fixtures you use the most and leave on for at least 15 minutes at a time.
Sandy Griffis is executive director of the Yavapai County Contractors Association. Email your questions to her at email@example.com or call 928-778-0040.