Lighting – Compact Fluorescent
Health and Environmental Issues
Why are CFLs more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs?
Fluorescent technology is much more efficient at converting energy to light. A light bulb's energy efficiency, or efficacy, is expressed as the ratio of the light it produces to the amount of energy it consumes. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are far more energy efficient than incandescents, with a ratio of 50 to 70 lumens per watt compared to 10 to 17 lumens per watt for an incandescent.
Why choose an ENERGY STAR qualified CFL?
The ENERGY STAR symbol means that the CFL meets strict specifications for quality, including long life, colour temperature and brightness along with energy savings.
Are CFLs safe?
As with any electrical product sold in Canada, CFLs must meet specific requirements for electrical safety, fire and shock hazard. Any CFL that carries the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Underwriters Laboratory (UL) safety certification mark on its package or on the bulb itself has passed these tests.
Moreover, in 2009, CSA published a new household light standard regarding electrical safety of lamps such as fluorescent, CFL, light emitting diode (LED) and tungsten-halogen. With respect to CFLs, the new standard addressed end-of-life burnout issues that were reported in previous generation CFLs.
As with other electrical products, we recommend following the manufacturers' recommendations on installation. For more details
Where can I install CFLs?
You can install them in any room indoors and outdoors. Check the package for application restrictions. You'll find CFLs to fit almost all fixtures, from ceiling units to standing lamps. Install CFLs where lights are on longest, such as in the kitchen, family rooms and outdoors. Many people install CFLs in hard-to-reach areas because they don't have to be changed as often.
Can CFLs be used outside in cold temperatures?
Yes, some CFLs can be used in temperatures as low as -30°C. Be sure to check the low temperature rating on the package to make sure it suits your local climate. It is also preferable to have your CFL enclosed in an outdoor fixture to protect it from the cold, wind and humidity. If your CFL is used outdoors with a motion detector, its life may be shortened.
Can CFLs be installed in enclosed fixtures?
Yes, but it is very important to read the packaging information for usage restrictions.
Do CFLs take longer to turn on?
Some do. However, by choosing an ENERGY STAR qualified CFL, you are assured that it will turn on in less than a second, and reach at least 80% of full light output within 3 minutes. If the CFL is not ENERGY STAR qualified, both start time and warm up time could be longer. Additionally, most bare spiral CFL products will perform like incandescent light bulbs – they will turn on instantly and provide full brightness. Covered CFLs may take slightly longer to reach full brightness.
How do I compare incandescent light bulbs with CFLs?
The packaging for ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent lights will give you all the information you need. Look for:
- the amount of light output, measured in lumens;
- the average expected life, in hours; and
- the energy used, measured in watts.
To save energy and costs, choose the bulb that has the light output you need. Then select the one that has the lowest wattage. When you go shopping, remember that a traditional 60-watt incandescent bulb has a light output of approximately 800 lumens.
The following table compares the energy used by an ENERGY STAR qualified CFL and an incandescent bulb with the same light output.
|Standard incandescent bulb (watts)||ENERGY STAR qualified CFL (approximate equivalent watts)||Minimum light output (lumens)|
|This table is provided as a guide only. Check the product packaging to determine the equivalent wattage.|
What is colour temperature?
Colour temperature describes the colour emitted by a bulb. It can be a “cool” or “warm” white. Colour temperature is measured in Kelvin (K) units. Lower K numbers mean the light has a warmer colour, while higher K numbers mean the light has a cooler colour. For example, a regular incandescent lamp provides a warmer, yellowish colour which corresponds to a temperature of about 2700 K. A cool white would be above 3000 K.
What colour temperature should I look for when purchasing CFLs?
It depends in part on whether you want ambience or task lighting. CFLs are available in many of the same colour temperatures as regular bulbs. Choose the colour that works best for the room and for the application you have in mind.
- For warm, inviting light, choose a CFL that states “warm white” or “soft white” on the package, with a colour temperature of 2700 to 3000 K.*
- For cool, white light suitable for task lighting, choose a CFL that states “cool white” or “daylight” on the package, with a colour temperature of 3500 to 6500 K.
How do I match CFLs to my fixtures?
Different fixtures need different types of bulbs. Use this chart to find your fixture and then see which bulbs will work best.
Do CFLs work with dimmer and three-way switches?
Some CFLs are designed to work with dimmers and tri-lamps are available for three-way switches. Check the package to make sure.
Are CFLs compatible with home control systems such as dimmers and timers?
CFLs may not work with some home control systems because each CFL contains a ballast that may block the signal from the controller. To remedy the situation, manufacturers have designed special controllers to be used with CFLs, and some CFLs have been adapted to work with incandescent controllers – check the package to make sure. Other high-efficiency light bulbs are also available for home control systems and, by 2012, we expect that a new generation of energy-efficient light bulbs will be available.
Is there a CFL equivalent to an incandescent tri-light of 50-100-150?
Yes, however, the wattage equivalences may vary among manufacturers. Also, there are different ranges of wattage for CFL tri-lights.
Should I turn off fluorescent lighting when leaving a room?
Turn off fluorescent lighting if you will be leaving a room for more than 15 minutes. For more details.
When I replace my incandescent lamp with a CFL and the fixture indicates a maximum wattage of 60 W or 40 W, should I worry about using a CFL with a lower wattage than what is cautioned?
No. There is no minimum bulb wattage for these fixtures, only a maximum. Consult the CFL equivalency chart to either keep the same light output (measured in lumens) or to increase it.
Do CFLs handle power surges well?
No, CFLs do not perform well under the stress of power surges. Using them in surge-prone rural areas and workshops may not be advisable.
Can CFLs be used as a source of light for plants?
Although fluorescent tubes are more commonly used to grow plants indoors, there are some CFLs on the market that are intended for growing plants (this should be indicated on the packaging).
Aren't fluorescent lights just for offices?
No. Thanks to a number of technological advances in recent years, ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs are a great choice for both home and office. CFLs can provide warm light for a living room or brighten a workspace. And they don't flicker or hum like fluorescent lights of the past did.
Does the wattage indicated on the package of a CFL include the wattage necessary to run the ballast?
Yes it does.
Health and Environmental Issues
Are there health risks associated with using CFLs?
Responses to these questions are drawn from information prepared by Health Canada, the Department responsible for this issue.
Are CFLs bad for people who suffer from migraine headaches?
Although fluorescent lights have long been blamed for causing or intensifying migraine headaches, technology improvements have largely addressed this problem, especially in CFLs.
Magnetic ballasts run fluorescent lamps at about 60 cycles per second, which causes the lamps to flicker noticeably and may cause headaches. The new generation of energy-efficient fluorescent lamps – including ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs – use electronic ballasts, which operate at a minimum of 40,000 cycles per second. This rapid cycling eliminates the perceptible flicker associated with headaches and other health complaints.
Another possible source of headaches is glare from poorly designed or badly located lighting – but this applies regardless of the light source.
Do CFLs emit ultra violet (UV) radiation or electromagnetic fields (EMF)?
A study on these topics that included testing a large sample of various CFL models demonstrated that the UV and EMF emitted from the use of these lamps are within safe exposure limits. The executive summary of this study is available here.
There are, however, people who are extremely sensitive to UV and who may be affected by CFLs. Health Canada suggests a number of steps to help Canadians minimize these potential effects: buy CFLs that are marked as low UV; buy covered CFLs; use additional glass, plastic or fabric materials in lighting fixtures to act as UV filters; or increase their physical distance from the CFLs.
Is a CFL harder on the eyes than an incandescent light?
No. Some older fluorescent tubes would sometimes flicker and cause some people to have headaches. However, the light emitted by a CFL is similar to that of an incandescent.
A possible source of discomfort is glare from poorly designed, badly located or over-bright lighting – but this applies to all types of lamp.
How much mercury is in a CFL?
CFLs contain an average of 4 milligrams (mg) of mercury. Sealed within the glass tubing, this small amount of mercury is roughly the amount it would take to cover the tip of a ball point pen. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact or in use.
Although there is currently no substance that can serve as an alternative to mercury to produce light in fluorescent lamps, some manufacturers have reduced the amount of mercury used in lamps, some to as little as 1 mg per bulb.
On February 26, 2011, Environment Canada proposed a regulation that will prohibit the manufacture, import, and sale of most mercury-containing products. CFLs will be exempt but will be subject to a maximum mercury content limit of 3.5 mg.
What does the mercury in a CFL look like?
Mercury is difficult to see because 4 milligrams – the average amount contained in a CFL – is about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen. It is most often in the form of an amalgam called a pellet. When the light is on, only a small part of the mercury transforms to vapour inside the bulb. When the light is turned off, the mercury attaches itself back to the pellet. Over time some of the mercury will adhere to the glass part of the bulb and will appear as black spots.
What is the correct way to dispose of CFLs?
Like batteries, paints, computers and other products that contain hazardous elements, CFLs cannot be thrown in the garbage. They have to be disposed of safely through municipal or retailers’ recycling programs. Almost 98% of CFL components can be recycled, including the mercury they contain, preventing even the small amounts of mercury in CFLs from accumulating in our environment.
Many municipalities and provincial governments (such as BC, QC, MB) have implemented recovery programs for products that contain hazardous elements, including CFLs. Retailers such as Home Depot, IKEA, London Drugs and RONA also accept burned out CFLs in their recycling programs.
How should I dispose of a broken CFL?
Proper clean up and disposal is required to minimize any risk of mercury contamination from a broken CFL. Follow these basic guidelines:
1. Open windows (if possible) to ventilate the room for a few minutes.
2. Wear rubber gloves to remove as much debris as possible with stiff paper or cardboard and place in a plastic bag.
3a. If a CFL breaks on a hard surface, wipe the area with a damp paper towel and place it in the plastic bag.
3b. If a CFL breaks on a carpet, use sticky tape (such as duct tape) to pick up any small pieces of glass and fine particles and place it in the plastic bag. If necessary, vacuum the area and place the disposable vacuum bag in the plastic bag.
- If the vacuum does not have a disposable bag, wipe the inside of the vacuum with a damp paper towel and place it in the bag.
4. Dispose of the sealed bag as you would a used CFL.
This is a simple and effective procedure that you can do yourself without expert help.
What is the health risk of a broken CFL?
Mercury is officially categorized as a hazardous substance, and in the event that a bulb breaks, it is still important to follow Health Canada’s clean up measures.
The amount of mercury released is small. Researchers at the Lawrence Berkley Laboratory, University of California, have estimated that the exposure is about equivalent to that of eating a tuna fish sandwich (“Dangerous Mercury in CFL? One big fish story”). Breakage concerns in general can be alleviated by using non-CFL replacements or covered CFLs in which the spiral tube is enclosed in a shell resembling a standard incandescent in areas of concern. This greatly reduces the likelihood of breakage.
What actions is the government taking to ensure the safe disposal of CFLs?
In Canada, the management of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material is a shared responsibility. All orders of government have a role to play in ensuring that waste and recyclables are managed in an environmentally sound manner. Environment Canada, the Department responsible for environmental policy, is consulting with provincial/territorial partners and other stakeholders in order to determine the best management options for the end-of-life treatment of mercury-containing lamps. Environment Canada is currently working on an extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulation that will require manufacturers and importers to establish recycling programs for mercury-containing bulbs across Canada. Some provinces already have EPR programs in place or in development including British Columbia, Quebec and Manitoba.
If CFLs contain mercury, how can they be better for the environment than incandescent lights?
Despite the presence of small amounts of mercury, CFLs provide significant environmental benefits compared to incandescent bulbs. Here's why:
- CFLs use far less energy, so they reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electrical generating stations powered by fossil fuels. By decreasing the demand for electricity from coal-fired generation plants produced in some provinces (one of the largest sources of mercury emissions in Canada), CFLs can actually reduce mercury levels in the environment.
- CFLs last up to 10 times longer, so fewer bulbs and less packaging end up in landfills.
Do CFLs require more energy to be manufactured?
Various organizations have conducted life cycle studies comparing incandescent and CFL bulbs. They all conclude that when lifetime and luminous intensity are taken into consideration, the advantages of the compact fluorescent markedly outweigh the new issues that it brings about. The life cycle studies conclude that using CFLs is still the most environmentally-friendly option since CFLs use less energy and last up to 10 times longer than regular incandescent bulbs. Up to 10 incandescent bulbs and their packaging would have to be made, transported, used and disposed of during the lifetime of a single CFL.
How much will I save with CFLs?
The average Canadian home has 30 light fixtures, indoors and out, that consume close to $130 of electricity every year. Replacing just five bulbs with ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs in high-use areas can save up to $30 a year, depending on location and use. This means that you'll pay off the added cost of the bulbs in less than a year. Better still, CFLs last for at least five years so you won't have to replace them as often!
Why should I buy a CFL?
To save energy. CFLs use only one quarter of the energy of standard incandescent bulbs. A 15-watt CFL produces the same high-quality light as a typical 60-watt incandescent bulb.
Replacing even one 60-watt incandescent bulb with a 15-watt CFL in each of Canada's 12 million households could save up to $73 million a year in energy costs.
It would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 400 000 tonnes – the equivalent of taking more than 70 000 cars off the road each year. This would have a significant impact on reducing pollution and climate change.
What accounts for the price differences among CFLs?
CFLs come in a wide range of designs and shapes, and some are specifically made for tri-lights and dimmers. Prices vary according to these characteristics as well as to quality and retailers’ and manufacturers’ pricing practices.
Why are CFLs more expensive than incandescents?
The CFL manufacturing process is more complex, requiring more electronic components and higher product inspection and quality control costs than incandescents. However, since the 1990s, production costs for CFLs have dropped a great deal and manufacturers and retailers have passed on savings to consumers by reducing purchase prices.
Given their higher purchase price, do CFLs really save money over their lifecycle?
Absolutely! ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs use only about one-quarter as much electricity as incandescent bulbs to produce the same amount of light. Although they cost a bit more, ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs will last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. The combination of energy savings and long life means CFLs will pay for themselves many times over, especially since their purchase price has declined significantly.
Will my home heating costs increase if I switch to CFLs?
The effect may vary from one part of Canada to another depending on the type of fuel used for home heating, the efficiency of the heating system, the local climate and other factors. As a general rule, however, the following applies:
Incandescent lamps are only 5 to 10 percent efficient, which means that most of the energy they consume is converted into heat energy rather than light. Depending on where the bulb is located and the time of year, your home heating system may have to replace this heat when you switch from an incandescent bulb to a CFL. The cost of replacing the heat will depend on the efficiency of your heating system, the fuel source and the price of the fuel.
Having said that, most homeowners in Canada will save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by switching to energy-efficient lighting. This is because the impact of incandescent lights on the heating load is negligible in most homes, and any additional cost is usually more than offset by the energy savings from using CFLs.
CFLs will also reduce the load on cooling systems for homes that have air conditioning. Switching from incandescent bulbs to CFLs can also make homes that do not have air conditioning more comfortable during hot weather since less heat will be generated inside the home.
In regions served by hydro-generated electricity, the saved electricity can be deployed to offset emissions generated by fossil fuels in other regions and thus help meet global environmental objectives.
Overall there is a net economic and environmental benefit to Canadians and society from using more efficient light sources.