CFL bulbs: the myths

Last edited 1 May 2007 at 1:49pm

A Compact Fluorescent Lamp
Aren’t Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) really big and ugly?

These days, the range of energy saving bulbs on sale is huge. You can get them in all shapes and sizes, including some that look almost exactly the same as traditional incandescents. Don’t believe us? Have a look at our gallery.

Don’t they flicker?
They used to. It all depends on whether one particular component, the ballast, is magnetic or electronic. The ballast used to be magnetic, causing flickering. Nowadays, the electronic ballasts are much more common, eliminating the flickering and the slow starting traditionally associated with fluorescent lighting.

I’ve heard they don’t work with dimmer switches
Some do, some don’t. See these pages for some CFLs that work with dimmer switches:

The light they produce is cold and white
Again, things have moved on. CFLs are now available in all sorts of colours and tones, producing a very similar quality of light to incandescent bulbs.

CFLs contain more mercury than incandescents
All CFLs and fluorescent tubes contain a small amount of mercury, which is key in producing the light. It’s not ideal but incandescents are probably responsible for more mercury emissions than CFLs; burning coal for electricity emits mercury, and incandescents use much, much more energy. CFLs can be safely recycled without the mercury escaping into the atmosphere, and the mercury can be safely recovered. In most parts of the UK, CFL bulbs can now be recycled at your local waste and recycling centre. You can find your nearest recycling centre here, or by contacting your local council. Alternatively, since July 2007 all retailers will have to provide CFL return and recycling facilities at their shops under an EU waste directive.

The range is really small
Not any more! Check out our gallery and have a look at the range of more than 100 varieties available from this retailer. If you can’t find what you want locally, buy online or ask your supermarket to increase their range.

Energy Savings Recommended logoI had one and it broke really quickly
As with most products, there’s a huge range of quality out there. When you’re buying CFLs, look out for the Energy Saving logo, which means the bulb is accredited by the Energy Saving Trust and has been stringently tested. Search through the list of the 170 varieties of CFL accredited by the EST - choose 'Energy Saving Light Bulbs' from the first drop-down list.

Aren’t they really expensive?
While the prices of CFLs vary hugely (depending on quality, design, colour, life span etc.), you can get good quality CFLs for as little as 49p at several major retailers. In the long run of course, you’ll save the cost of the bulb and more in reduced electricity bills; CFLs tend to pay for themselves within the first year of use. Replacing the most frequently used bulbs in your home with CFLs can save up to £9 a year on bills, or £100 over the lifetime of the bulb.

Won’t low income people suffer if they’re forced to buy CFLs?
No; people on Jobseeker's Allowance, income support or housing benefit are eligible for free CFLs as part of the grants under the government’s Warm Front scheme for tackling fuel poverty. A lot of local council energy advice centres give out free CFLs to people on benefits too. And some electricity suppliers offer free bulbs to their customers.

But aren’t some people allergic to fluorescent light?
Some people who suffer from ultraviolet (UV) or more general light sensitivity report that they have difficulty tolerating fluorescent lighting. It’s not clear how many people in the UK are affected by such sensitivities, but there's no reason why incandescent lighting couldn’t continue to be made available to those people, perhaps via doctor's prescription.

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