Seven Places NOT to Use CFLs

To use or not to use, that is the question…. We occasionally talk with people who are disappointed that their compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) didn’t last as long as advertised. The reduced CFL bulb life may be because of the quality of bulb purchased or where and how it was used. CFLs are roughly 75 percent more efficient than standard incandescent bulbs, and can last up to 10 times longer (saving money while reducing waste, emissions from transportation/shipping, time, and hassle).
However, CFLs are not a perfect lighting solution since they contain a small amount of mercury and need to be handled and disposed of carefully. In addition, there are certain applications where alternative types of bulbs (LEDs, halogens, or incandescent) may work better than a CFL.  Improvements continue to be made and this rapidly changing area of home greening is offering many rewards to consumers and the planet.
By incorporating one or more of these actions into your life, you can embrace a future with less dependency on oil, more money in your wallet, and healthier air to breathe. For more information on any of these options, call Pima County DEQ at (520) 724-7446.

 Where to use incandescent bulbs over CFLs:

  1. In Cold Locations
    CFLs don’t like the cold, so they may suffer from a shorter lifespan if used in outdoor fixtures or unheated areas during the cold.
  2. In Fixtures That Are Rapidly Switched On and Off
    Rapidly turning CFLs on and off decreases their lifespan by as much as 85 percent.  At this time, it is recommended that lights that you turn off and on frequently not be compact fluorescent.  As technology improves this will not be a problem.
  3. In Fixtures Subject to Shock or Vibration
    The glowing part of the CFL is fragile and if it breaks, a small amount of mercury can be released. The life of the CFL bulb is shortened when subject to vibrations, so you may find that if you use CFLs in your ceiling fans, they may not last as long.
  4. On Things that Move
    Due to reasons mentioned above (not doing well in the cold, not handling vibration well, being prone to breakage), CFLs are not recommended for use in boats, cars, and other vehicles.
  5. In Dimmers
    Look specifically for the new models of CFLs that are designed for dimmers, since older models may not perform as desired.
  6. For Flattering Light
    In general, CFLs emit a rather harsh light; although some of the newest soft white Energy Star-qualified CFL models have a softer, more flattering
    quality to the light.
  7. Around Young Children
    The fear about the small amount of mercury in the bulbs is exaggerated, if a CFL is handled with care. No mercury is emitted when the bulb is in use; however, children are prone to mishaps with fragile items within their domain, so you may want to consider alternatives to the CFLs for children’s rooms. Especially since the young are the most susceptible to damage from mercury exposure.

What if a CFL breaks?

It is good to know the steps to take if you break a CFL to reduce exposure to mercury. Remove children and pets from room. Turn off heating and cooling
systems and ventilate the room by opening doors and windows, if possible. Scoop up glass fragments and powder – do not sweep or vacuum. Sticky tape can help get glass or powder out of carpet. Place bulb pieces and paper towel in a sealable container and put outside in a secure location until you can properly dispose of it at the Tucson Household Hazardous Waste collection sites.

Expired and broken bulbs can be taken to the Tucson Household Hazardous Waste Collection sites for recycling.

Thanks to Brian Clark Howard, the Daily Green, and the EPA for inspiration for the list above.

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Department of Environmental Quality

33 N. Stone Ave., Suite 700
Tucson, AZ 85701

Phone: (520) 724-7400
Fax: (520) 838-7432


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