Problems With Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

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Problems With CFL Bulbs

I am interested in the new fluorescent light bulbs. I would like to know if others are happy with them. I have not had good experiences with them after spending quite a bit of money. One by one they are coming back out of my lamps because they just do not give as much light as the package says. Is there a way to make them work?
Betty H. in Hopewell, VA

Give CFL Bulbs a Little Leniency

For me the key to switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs has been allowing a little leniency. While the savings of a CFLs in every socket is ideal, I'm not thrilled by their colder, bluish light and tendency to flicker or hesitate before turning on. So what I've done is keep just a few incandescent bulbs around. One is in my bathroom fixture with a total of four bulbs because I need instant light when stumbling to the toilet at midnight and prefer a warmer, more natural glow for looking in the mirror. I also keep an incandescent bulb in a table lamp in most rooms to augment overhead lighting and help me select colors accurately for dressing and crafts.

Pick the Right CFL Bulbs

We use compact fluorescent light bulbs in almost every fixture in our house. One of the things we found out when shopping for bulbs is that they come in different wattages just like incandescent bulbs. They also come in different color temperatures as well (you might compare this to the way flames are different colors based on the heat). For my reading lamps, I've got higher wattage, cooler colors, but in the kitchen, I've got lower wattage, warmer colors. It really made a big difference to have a lot of choices so we could pick the right bulbs for the right uses. Therefore, you will probably want to head to one of the "big box" home improvement stores where they have the largest selection. Keep in mind, most manufacturers guarantee that you'll be happy with these, so if you're not, contact the manufacturer. Check the bulb for the manufacturer's name. It should be printed on there somewhere.

A Bit of CFL Bulb Education

I can understand the difficulties Betty H. has with the bulbs, but there are a few rules about the CFLs that you need to know. It will take a bit for some of the brands of CFLs to warm up and give out the amount of light they say they will. This can take up to 10 minutes so if you want a light somewhere that has to be bright immediately either use a normal bulb or find a brand that doesn't require as much "warm up" time. Some fluorescent lights can take up to 100 burning hours to reach their stable light output.

Nowadays you can also choose the amount of brightness the bulb will emit. Maybe Betty chose the wrong brightness for the purpose of the specific lamp. Here you can see the wattage you generally need to replace a normal bulb:

CF vs. Normal









If you are not happy with the amount of light, go one wattage higher in the CF bulb. You will still save electricity. Do you know that in about 10.000 "burning hours," you can save over $50 per lamp you replace? That is with the extra cost of buying the CF.

You will not only save your own wallet this way, but you will also save the environment! For each normal light bulb you replace with a CF, you will reduce CO2 emissions from power plants by over 700 pounds over the life of the bulb! The EPA estimates that if just one room in every U.S. home were switched to CFs, we'd reduce CO2 emissions by over one trillion pounds.

So replace the normal bulbs with the right wattage amount or maybe one wattage step higher in the CF category. Watch the brand you buy. Count on warm up time and sometimes 100 hours of "tune in" time. And finally watch the different levels of brightness and/or colors the bulbs emit when you buy them. If you mastered all of that, you can fill your pockets with the money not spend on huge electricity bills!

Here's one more tip. Ask if your electric company hands out coupons for CF bulbs. Mine does this, and it saves me a bundle of money!

Visit the EPA's Energy Star website,, for a complete list of light bulb models and fixtures.
Chris H. in Montana

Don't Use CFL Bulb in Dimmer

I have used the fluorescent light bulbs for over a year, and they are great and give a lot of light. However, don't use them in dimmer light fixtures because they aren't good for this. When I tried them in the dimmer fixtures, they began to flicker, and when I asked the people at Lowes and Home Depot, they both told me to take them out as they weren't made for this type of fixture. All and all, they have saved me a lot of money.
Frank in The Villages, FL

Give CFL Bulb a Minute to Warm Up

For reading lights or other lights that tend to be left on for a while, give them a minute or two to warm up to their full brightness. A CF bulb tends to turn on in "layers," so you won't generally see the full brightness immediately.

Clean Dust from Shade and CFL Bulb

Check your lampshades and bulbs to be sure they are free of dust. Dust will definitely cut down on bulb brightness. I've heard it can cut up to 10% of light from a bulb.

A long time ago, I heard an hint that recommended spray painting the inside of that lampshade a bright shade of white. This causes more light from the bulb to reflect off into the room. If that idea won't work for you, maybe you can replace the lampshade for one which is thinner, brighter or smaller to expose more light into your room.

I hope that you find a solution that works for you because these new CF bulbs are such wonderful money- and energy-savers.

Light versus Quality Light

The new fluorescent light bulbs are real energy and money savers, but the quality of light they provide just isn't like an old fashioned light bulb. At our home, we have installed the fluorescent light bulbs in places that the quality of the light isn't quite as important as just having light. These areas include my front porch light, outdoor patio lights, driveway lights, and accent room lights. I also have a fluorescent bulb that is set on a timer that comes on every evening in my house just to provide that "lived in" look in the house. This is a secondary light for the room, and the fluorescent light is perfect and a dollar saver! So, I feel like I'm doing my part for the environment, but I still have good quality light bulbs where I need them for tasks, reading, and living.

CFL Bulb Strategies

Having used CF bulbs for a number of years, the brightness often does not seem to be comparable to incandescent bulbs of the same wattage. There are several strategies to reduce or solve this problem.

One thing to look at is the "color" of the bulb. Incandescent bulbs have a yellow cast, close in color to sunlight. CF bulbs can range in color from white to blue to near daylight. Picking daylight colored lights is helpful. Also, CF light is more diffuse and does not appear as "bright" as incandescent light.

In areas where brightness is critical (a sewing room, for example) increasing the "wattage" on the light bulb can make a substantial difference. Since a 150-watt equivalent bulb only uses about 40 watts, it supplies much more light than a 100-watt incandescent bulb and still uses less electricity.

One thing that is initially disconcerting for those who are accustomed to the instant light of incandescent lights is the momentary pause between flipping the switch and having the light go on. With a little time, this becomes "normal."

With the improved designs of CF bulbs, it is now possible and economically feasible to place CF bulbs in sites where they are frequently turned on and off. Also, CF bulbs have come down in price. Buying them in packs of three to eight substantially reduces the per unit price.

Also, some CF bulbs are made to be used oriented in only one direction (like in a table lamp, not inverted in a ceiling fixture). Failing to follow the orientation directions will substantially affect the life of the bulb. In my experience, name brand bulbs from companies like Phillips, GE, etc. seem to last longer and give better service.

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