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Not Your Father's CFLs

Since the spirally lightbulbs called Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) appeared more than a decade ago, they’ve come a long way. Everyone knows CFLs are much more energy-efficient than conventional bulbs, and last longer. Yet many people still remember unfortunate experiences they had with early CFLs -- a multi-second delay from switch-on to lighting-up, undesirable lighting color, flickering -- and so have been slow to take advantage of modern CFLs with their much higher performance levels. Here’s our attempt to demystify the modern CFL so that you feel confident in putting them to use in your home.

Old CFLs produced an ugly, bluish light, but today’s CFLs come in a variety of light colors

With technology having evolved, you can now get CFLs that produce a range of different light colors (these are technically called color temperature) to meet different needs in different rooms, for example “soft white,” “bright white,” and “daylight.” For more detail, check out this reference page from the ENERGY STAR ® program.

Old CFLs would start up slow, but today’s CFLs light up instantaneously

This used to be the most frustrating thing about using CFLs. When you flip the light switch on, you want your light to come on immediately, right? Of course you do.

Today’s CFLs light up and can reach full illumination immediately. No longer any problem here, for most CFLs. A caveat is that covered CFLs may take a matter of seconds to reach full illumination, though they’ll be partially illuminated at switch-on. What are these covers all about? See the next item.

Old CFLs were only available as spirals, but today’s CFLs are available in a range of shapes

The reason for the iconic spiral is that CFL technology requires a longish tube, and in order to make the tube fit into the space afforded in conventional fixtures, it has to be wound around into a spiral (or folded over into parallel tube shapes). Today’s CFLs are still essentially long and tubular, but manufacturers now sometimes add round or flat decorative covers that hide the tubes, making the CFLs look like conventional incandescent bulbs.

Usually if a covered CFL has a lag time to light up, it is minor. See this interactive site to learn about the range of CFL shapes and colors.

Old CFLs would flicker perceptibly, but today’s CFLs do not

As with the slow start-up issue, flickering has been resolved with technology advances.

So if you had a bad first encounter with CFLs years back, give them another try now. You’ll see that the CFLs on the market now are not your father’s CFLs!

Ready to give CFls a try and start saving? Click here.

You can also use your CUB points to give CFLs a try! For a limited time, you can get 3 FREE 60-watt CFL lightbulbs with just 400 points.


See also

• For more information on CFLs, check out our other pieces on Energy-saving myths and realities. Also, the Department of Energy has good information on CFLs here.

• If you’ve stayed away from CFLs because they contain mercury, which can be released in your home if a CFL breaks, see this page on the Environmental Protection Agency website. EPA notes that CFLs contain very little mercury -- a tiny fraction of that in a traditional mercury thermometer -- and provides advice on cleaning in the event of breakage.

• If you’re interested in LEDs, which are starting to succeed CFLs as the next generation of efficient lighting, see our piece on Advanced Efficiency Measures.

• You can also of course find energy-saving actions related to CFL and LED use on the Ways to Save page.