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Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Home Know-It-All: Solving CFL Problems

The Home Know-It-All: Solving CFL Problems

Solving CFL Problems

CFL: compact fluorescent lamp It seems like every week a light bulb goes out around our house. And every week, I diligently replace that burned-out bulb with a brand-new CFL (and grin in satisfaction knowing I won’t have to replace that bulb again anytime soon—in case you didn’t know, you can reap major energy savings by using long-lasting, energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs).

The only time I didn’t grin in satisfaction? When I went to replace the bulbs in our kitchen light fixture with CFLs only to discover they didn’t work—and neither did the additional bulbs I tried after the first ones didn’t work. Great. The light fixture just didn’t work. So I spent quite a few weeks cooking in the semi-dark, aided by the light in the range hood and the one above the sink and one lonely undercabinet light without much power.

And then one day, just as we were finishing dinner, a light bulb went on above the head of my honey’s father. (Sorry for the pun, but it’s true!) “Have you tried a regular light bulb?” he asked. I looked at him in horror. Why would we do such a thing? But then he explained that in some fixtures at their house (built around the same time ours was), the CFLs don’t work. So we found another overhead fixture that still had a regular bulb and tried it in the kitchen one. And it worked.

So I decided it was time to do some sleuthing and figure out why the standard CFLs—which should have been comparable to the standard bulbs we’d been using—didn’t work.

When CFLs first appeared on the scene, the bulb options were few. So that meant CFLs often didn’t work in lamps or fixtures of certain types. But now there are CFL bulbs to fit almost any fixture in your house—I have small ones in some of my lamps, and you can even get ones made for dimmers, track lighting, pendants, and chandeliers with miniature bases (and no, you don’t have to have those little spiral bulbs on display in your chandelier—they’ve available in enclosed plastic covers that mimic the look of standard candelabra bulbs).

I’ll let Grist’s Umbra explain why you can’t use regular CFLs with a dimmer fixture, because that may solve some of your CFL problems.

But what about my kitchen light fixture, which is just as plain as can be? I did some digging and, honestly, didn’t find much solid information on why CFLs don’t work well in some standard light fixtures. Since they tend to have fits in old fixtures, it could be a problem with decomposing or bad wiring. (I hope not, but it may be time to call in an electrician just to be sure!) On some message boards I was scouting out, the consensus seems to be “no one knows why it happens in some fixtures, it just does” (even from electricians!).

Not very promising. But why not do this: try a few other types of CFLs to see if you stumble upon one that works. And if you don’t? Stick with a regular light bulb—just make sure to turn that light off when you’re not in the room. Using one regular light bulb isn’t going to destroy your electricity bills or the environment—but please do keep using CFLs where they work!

And, to help ensure you are using your CFLs correctly, remember:

  • Only dimmable CFLs should be used in light controlled by dimmer switches.
  • CFLs should not be used in lights controlled by electronic timers or on photocell devices or fixtures.
  • Do not use CFLs in fixtures that are both enclosed and recessed.
  • Turning CFLs on for only a short amount of time—less than 15 minutes—doesn’t allow them to warm up and reach the point at which they operate most efficiently. So, turning them on and off frequently may shorten their life.
  • Using CFLs in ceiling fans or garage doors (where there’s vibration) can shorten the life of the bulbs.
  • Because they do contain small amounts of mercury, remember to properly dispose of CFLs that do burn out or break.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All



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