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Healthy Lightbulb Tips

Healthy Home 2008, Spring 2008

Most consumers know that regular incandescent lightbulbs use a lot more energy than compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). But some have avoided CFLs at home because they are associated with cold, depressing light. Fortunately, newer CFLs give off a warmer glow than their older cousins, and they have the added bonus of lasting up to 10 years. Yet CFLs aren't without problems. They may emit more electromagnetic fields than incandescents, and could interfere with the functioning of other electronic devices. The most recent criticism of CFLs is that they contain mercury, but it's a very small amount, and lighting your home with these bulbs puts less mercury into the environment than the amount that is released when fossil fuels are burned to power incandescents. Consumers do need to dispose of CFLs as carefully as they would any other hazardous household waste, such as batteries or electronics. CFLs aren't the only environmentally friendly lighting option, but they are one of the most affordable.

Even if you don't switch to new, more efficient bulbs, there's plenty you can do to make your lighting more eco-friendly. Always turn off lights when you leave rooms; it actually takes less energy to turn them back on than to let them burn continuously. Dust bulbs to keep their light bright. Consider using fewer bulbs in multibulb lamps; the glow from one stronger bulb is brighter than that from several weaker ones.

More Careful
Use CFL bulbs in outdoor fixtures and ceiling lights that are left on for extended periods. Use incandescent bulbs in lamps and in areas where the quality of light is crucial. Do not discard CFLs (or any fluorescent bulbs) with your household trash; call your local waste-management program or visit recycling to find a drop-off site near you

Most Careful
Replace more incandescents with CFLs, and consider adding light emitting diode (LED) lamps to the mix. While LEDs are now very costly (up to $50), the price should drop over the next few years. The bulbs will burn for 50,000 hours, about 5 times longer than CFLs and 65 times longer than incandescents, so you'll save money in the long run. Even better, they don't contain mercury. Because LEDs emit focused, rather than ambient, light, they're best for desk lamps, countertops, and other task lighting.

Use fewer bulbs in mutlibulb lamps -- the glow from one higher-watt bulb is brighter than that from several weaker ones.

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