Everybody's heard that using compact fluorescent light bulbs can decrease your electric bill. It's very simple: a 60 watt incandescent bulb can be replaced with a 15 watt CFL. That's 1/4 the energy usage.
Well, I never actually tried this until recently, when I bought a house and I needed to explore new ways to save money. I don't like the look of fluorescent lights, so I've been resisting the switch. But I've still found a way to integrate these bulbs into my life in some areas and reduce light usage in other areas.
First, I've discovered that not all CFL bulbs produce the same quality of light. Some put off a yellow cast that is similar to a regular incandescent bulb. Some put off a blueish cast. I haven't found any of them to be green, like a typical fluorescent light that you might find in a public restroom. And unfortunately, you can't really tell what the color of the light will be until you buy the bulb, remove it from its blister pack, and screw it in. You may have to buy a few bulbs to find one you like.
Some brands make multiple colors (like "bright white" and "soothing white") while others just make one. Experiment, and use the ones you don't care for as much in the garage or somewhere else that doesn't matter.
Still, the kind of light I really like is the neutral color produced by GE Reveal bulbs (they are supposed to mimic daylight), and unfortunately they haven't made a compact fluorescent bulb yet. Some people might not even notice these differences, but I am a photographer so I probably notice light quality more than the average person.
Here's where I've found it acceptable to forgo my usual, expensive lighting to cut down my electric bill.
-Hallway and bathrooms: I use nightlights in these rooms. The bulbs are only 4 watts, but they provide enough light that I can see my way around after dark without having to use overhead lights for the most part. One of my bathroom light fixtures uses 6 bulbs at 60 watts each, so that's a huge difference.
-Desk lamp: I use a compact fluorescent that produces a blueish cast in my desk lamp. I find the color soothing late at night. And since the walls of the room I use it in are painted blue, the cast is less noticeable. (However, using a yellowish light in my yellow-painted room just looks garish.)
-Outdoor motion detector lights: The quality of my outdoor lighting doesn't affect me at all--it's just there for security. So why not use compact fluorescents? They even make CFL floodlights. Those cost $9 a bulb but are supposed to last 6 years. I have been writing the date on some of my bulbs when I put them into use because I want to see if they really do last that long.
-Hallway: When I do turn on the overhead hallway light, it's a CFL. It makes the hallway look a little yellow, but I use it for such short periods of time that it doesn't really matter.
CFLs are also a great choice for light fixtures that are difficult to change because you won't have to deal with them nearly as often.
They are not a good candidate for light fixtures where you can see the bulb, like some ceiling fans and bathroom fixtures. Another limitation of the bulbs is that they don't fit in all light fixtures. For example, they are too long to fit beneath the light bulb covers in some of my fans. It might be possible to buy new covers, though, and some covers are pretty cheap (around $10, I believe).
These bulbs are often expensive compared to incandescent bulbs, but they are supposed to more than compensate for their upfront cost over the bulb's life. However, I did find them available for 99 cents each at the 99-cent store. The local electric company subsidizes the cost of bulbs if you know where to shop for them (try stores targeted at lower-income consumers). You can also sometimes get them on sale at a regular store. Before my encounter at the 99-cent store, I thought I got a steal when I paid $2 a bulb at Lowe's.
Photo by kimberlyfaye
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