What Is a Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb?

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How Does a CFL Work Anyway?

European Style Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb

Some people with a sense of irony often muse over the fact that while the light bulb as an iconic symbol of a “new idea” or “invention” continues to capture the human imagination, as an actual invention, the incandescent bulb itself has not changed very much since Thomas Edison first created and introduced it way back in 1879.

But the light bulb has seen innovation in recent years past, and innovation that is meant to benefit the

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planet. That innovation is seen in the compact fluorescent light bulb, or CFL, whose power of illumination emanates from a different functional source. While incandescent bulbs benefit from a glowing filament, CFLs work by virtue of their contents: “argon and mercury vapor housed within a spiral-shaped tube.”

More Details About How CFLs Function

CFLs have a ballast integrated within the working parts of the bulb, allowing a current of electricity to pass through the vapor, which in turn gives a charge to the gas molecules. This phase accounts for the brief period of “warm-up” time that some CFLs take before reaching full brightness capacity.

The ultraviolet light that is produced by CFLs comes from the excitement taking place within the argon and mercury vapors. This light, then, stimulates the inside of the tube itself, which has been coated with a fluorescent material that is painted on. The painted fluorescent coating absorbs energy, as represented in a light that is visible to the naked eye.

Why Are CFLs Considered Eco-Friendly?

To put it briefly, compact fluorescent bulbs use a lot less energy than standard, incandescent bulbs. A whopping seventy-five percent less, actually. Less watts to create the same amount of light in a room — that’s the best way to look at it. According to Energy Star, “if every home in America made one such swap, enough energy would be saved in one year to light more than 3 million homes.”

The logic then follows that if your home needs less energy to run the way you choose to run it (with “x” amount of light, for example), then the cost of electricity or energy will also be lower than what they would be, given the use of incandescent bulbs. While CFLs do cost a bit more money, often ten times as much, they may also last ten times as long, producing bright light for as long as 10,000 hours, compared to what is often less than 1,000 hours for a regular light bulb.

Beyond using less energy as the reason why these bulbs have the hearts of the environmentally concerned, the coal plants at the heart of energy production are also a concern. More coal is needed to generate the light that we have in our homes and offices, when we use less economic or efficient light bulbs. With more efficient bulbs in place, less coal is

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required to generate the same amount of energy. Less coal burning, less greenhouse gas being produced.

Now that there are dimmers, 3-way functional bulbs, indoor and outdoor versions, and solid production of light, CFLs can be swapped in for the old incandescent bulbs, in just about every use.

Drawbacks of Using Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

  • It takes around 15 minutes for CFLs to reach optimum levels of efficiency
  • When the bulbs are switched on and off for short periods of time (let’s say you reach into the closet to grab a sweater, and turn the light on and off for under 60 seconds), their life spans are shortened and their efficiency is reduced
  • CFLs reach temperatures that are too high when used in closed fixtures
  • CFLs do not work well in places like garage door openers, where the housing vibrates as the machine functions

More Information Around the Web on CFLs

How do Compact Fluorescent Bulbs Work? at Planet Bulb.

CFL info on Wikipedia.

Learn About CFLs at the Energy Star website.

From Weather.gov, some info on CFLs.

How CFLs work, and how to dim them, from EE Times.

[Photo Via: Wikipedia Commons]

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