Bright idea: Compact fluorescent lights

Energy-wise at home

After 122 years of popularity, Thomas Edison's incandescent electric lightbulb is yielding to a more energy-efficient bulb: the compact fluorescent light (CFL).

CFLs can last up to 10,000 hours, or 10 times longer than a standard bulb. They consume 75 percent less electricity, saving the average homeowner about $26 in electricity costs over the bulb's lifetime.

CFLs have a high initial cost - starting at about $8 per bulb - but over five years, you'd pay about $13 for the equivalent incandescent bulbs. CFLs also produce less "waste heat," thus reducing air-conditioning loads for warmer climates. CFLs have little in common with the early fluorescent tubes introduced at the 1939 New York World's Fair. They are quiet, flicker-free, and start almost instantly (though they require about 45 seconds to come to full light output).

The light quality is on a par with that from a pure white incandescent lightbulb and is comfortable for room lighting, accent lighting, and reading. They require no special wiring or sockets; just unscrew your old incandescent bulb, screw in a new CFL, and start saving kilowatt hours.

Where to use them

CFLs should not be used in unprotected wet or damp locations unless they are UL-rated for wet applications. They're not recommended for totally enclosed fixtures or for fixtures that are turned on and off many times per day - one in a busy bathroom, for instance.

Start by replacing hard-to-access bulbs such as those in high ceiling vaults. Next on the replacement list are recessed lights, wall sconces, desk lamps, and any other lights that will be left on for three to four hours at a time.

Choosing the right CFL

CFLs are available for most bulb sizes and wattages used in incandescent fixtures. CFL flood lamps, reflectors, dimmable bulbs, bug lights, decor globes, candelabras, and three-way bulbs are direct replacements for their incandescent counterparts. CFL "spiral twist" bulbs - frequently called "twisters" - have excellent light dispersion qualities, making them a good choice for table lamps, floor lamps, and any location that needs wide coverage. For torchères, you must replace the entire fixture.

Choose a CFL that's one-fourth of the wattage of your old incandescent bulb; the packaging will also indicate the equivalent incandescent bulb. CFLs can be purchased at home-improvement stores, major hardware stores and light stores, and retailers' websites. - Conrad Weiss