Today's efficient bulb technology is far advanced from that you may have trialed 10 or even 5 years ago. So much so that past concerns surrounding performance, aesthetics, price and safety are no longer valid.
Compact fluorescent lamps (as well as linear fluorescent tubes) contain very small traces of mercury, a toxic element found in nature that we are all exposed to in some way. The amount of mercury contained in a typical CFL - typically less than 5mg - is significantly less than that found in your watch battery (25mg), your amalgam fillings (500mg) or an old thermometer (1000-2000mg).
A study commissioned by the Ministry of Health assessed the risk from mercury exposure following breakage of CFLs. The study found that because of the very small amount of mercury contained in a CFL, adverse health effects were considered unlikely even in the first scenario where ventilation was inadequate and the broken bulb was not cleaned up immediately. In the second scenario, adequate ventilation and clean-up resulted in lower mercury concentrations and adverse health effects were considered even less likely.
ARPANSA, the Ministry of Health's equivalent in Australia, conducted research that found ultraviolet radiation emissions from CFLs were negligible. Measuring the UVR and visible light emissions from 24 different CFLs, none produced enough UVR to be hazardous, even at a distance of 10cm. As a comparison, the report further concluded that people received more exposure to UVR when exposed to the Melbourne sun for 7 minutes.
Energy efficient bulbs, including CFLs, are the most environmentally friendly option.
By switching to energy efficient light bulbs – including CFLs - you will actually do more good for the environment than if you use standard incandescent bulbs. Why? Because standard incandescent light bulbs burn far more energy, and when this is produced by coal-fired or geothermal power plants, mercury is emitted into the environment during the generation process. One of the reasons energy efficient bulbs are good for the environment is because they reduce energy consumption delaying the building of new power plants. This reduces the amount of mercury released from the production of energy from geothermal and fossil fuels (this type of generation accounts for approximately 20% of New Zealand’s total electricity production).
Mercury is an element that occurs naturally in the environment and can be found commonly in areas which have high volcanic and geothermal activity. Other sources of mercury include thermometers, barometers, mercury switches in older vehicles, some batteries (rechargeable and single-use), dental amalgam and even medicine. One CFL contains less than 1 % of the mercury in an old thermometer.
While standard incandescent light bulbs cost only around $1, they typically last for only 1,000 hours and use significantly more energy. A good quality compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) costing around $5 should last between 6,000 and 15,000 hours while an efficient halogen spotlight costing $10 for should last 5,000 hours and a fluorescent tube costing around $9 should last 15,000 hours.
While energy efficient light bulbs are more expensive to buy at the counter, traditional incandescent light bulbs burn far more electricity and they don't last long by comparison. Therefore, buying efficient bulbs saves you money – over $100 over the lifetime of a 20W CFL replacing a 100W incandescent. You can find all the calculations for this fact on our savings page.
Until recently the design of energy efficient light bulbs was quite unattractive to a lot of people. While many of these are still on the market, there are many new designs that are much more aesthetically pleasing and, in many cases, more compact. In fact, some styles are becoming indistinguishable from incandescent. And if the bulb is used in a covered fitting (like a lamp shade or ceiling dome), it is the light output that is important and it does not matter what shape the bulb is. Because there’s a huge range of choice – from spot lights to decorative candles - energy efficient bulbs can be used in a wide range of fittings. Energy efficient bulbs fit most applications including ones with covers, like lamps with shades.
While it's true that standard CFLs don't work on dimmer circuits, there is a range of new generation halogen bulbs and dimmable CFL options that work on most dimmer circuits. What's more, they are available in different colours temperatures such as "warm white" or "cool daylight" as well as bayonet and screw fittings. You can dim these efficient bulbs down to a level as low as 10% and still enjoy all the cost saving, long life, and environmental benefits of efficient light bulbs in your home.
If you want to use CFLs with dimmer switches, downlights or enclosed fittings, you should check the labelling information on the bulb, or on the packaging the bulb comes in to see if it is designed for use in that situation. It's important that you select and use the correct bulb for the situation.
Choose a good quality CFL (ideally a brand you trust and a bulb rated to last at least 6,000 hours) and it should last some 6 times as long as a standard incandescent light bulb (some CFLs are now rated up to 15,000 hours). New generation halogen bulbs last twice as long as standard incandescent bulbs and the high efficiency IRC halogen spotlights last 5000 hours compared to a standard halogen spotlights only rated to last 2,000 hours. If an energy efficient light bulb fails within the period specified on the packaging, you may also have the right to redress under the Fair Trading Act 1986 (FTA). The Fair Trading Act prohibits people in the trade from making false or misleading representations in connection with the supply, or promotion of goods and services.
While standard incandescent light bulbs and new generation halogen bulbs all come in a standard "warm white" colour, many people are unaware that CFLs come in variety of colours and therefore unknowingly select the wrong ones.
Pick the right colour CFL for the job by looking at the packet for the Kelvin number or light description - “Warm White” (2700K) is very similar to the light provided by incandescent bulbs. Choose the right colour, the right wattage and buy a quality brand to ensure you get the best efficient light for your needs. To find the best colour light for you, see Which White is Right.
Energy efficient bulbs, like CFLs, halogens and LEDs, are safe to use in most household or workplace situations. As with any energy-using device, purchasers should read installation instructions and use only as directed.
There is a wide range of energy efficient bulbs available and it’s important to choose the right light for the right situation. It’s also best to select a quality brand you know and trust.
Some concerns have been raised about the fire risk of CFLs because of their appearance at the end of their lives; however, they are safe to use and the New Zealand Fire Service has no evidence to suggest CFL bulbs pose any different or greater risk than conventional incandescent bulbs. Energy Safety, which is part of the Ministry of Economic Development, has no concerns about the safety of CFLs or any other energy efficient light bulb.
All light bulbs in New Zealand are subject to a New Zealand Standard that includes fire safety performance requirements that exceed international guidelines. CFLs in New Zealand also use fire retardant materials in their construction.
CFLs die more gradually than traditional bulbs, and show some signs that the bulb is near the end of its life.
The following signs are all normal at the end of a CFL’s life and are not considered a fire or electrical safety hazard:
The bases of CFLs are made from fire retardant plastic which is designed to cope with these situations.
If any of these typical situations occur, it’s time to replace your light bulb by switching the light off, letting the bulb cool down and removing it. If the light bulb loses brightness or starts to flicker, it’s also time to replace it.
Use CFLs in the correct fittings
CFLs don’t run as hot as incandescent bulbs, which convert about 95% of energy into heat rather than light. For example, with incandescent bulbs and halogens you have to be careful not to position light fittings where young children could touch the bulb. It’s about the right light for the right situation.
With any type of light bulb, the maximum bulb-wattage rating of the fitting should not be exceeded.
Efficient IRC halogen spotlights and new generation halogen bulbs have excellent colour rendering properties which mean they reproduce colour extremely well. The ability of fluorescent lamps to reproduce colour varies from type to type. Standard triphosphor coated fluorescent lamps reproduce colour at a similar level to A-rated bulbs (i.e. at 80-85 on the Colour Rendering Index). If you need a particularly good light you can use special phosphor-coated lamps (CRI = 90-95). However, a CRI value over 80 is sufficient in most home applications.
The energy used by a bulb is directly proportional to the amount of time it is switched on. So leaving a light on will use more energy than turning it off. If you leave a room for more than a few minutes be sure to 'flick the switch'. Note that some efficient bulbs such as CFLs can take a few moments to reach full light output and frequent switching of these bulbs can shorten their expected life.
As part of their normal operation fluorescent lamps flash on and off very rapidly - CFLs 'flicker' at a rate of more than 20,000 times per second, modern linear fluorescent tubes at more than 5,000 times per second, and older style linear fluorescents at 100 times per second. These rates of flickering are well above the level detectable by the human brain and well above the sensitivity range for sufferers of photosensitive epilepsy - most people with photosensitive epilepsy are sensitive to 8-30 Hz, although some people may be sensitive to rates as low as 3 Hz and as high as 60 Hz.
Epilepsy Action UK suggests that fluorescent lights should normally not cause a problem for photosensitive epileptics, except when using faulty lamps, which may flicker at a lower frequency - visible by the human eye. In addition, much higher risks are connected with television and video games. Occasionally, fluorescent lamps may develop a fault which may cause them to have a noticeable flicker - these lamps should be replaced.
You don’t have to use Fluorescent lamps – there are other forms of efficient lighting such as new generation halogen and halogen spot lights that do not flicker and use around 30% less energy than standard lightbulbs.