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Using CFLs to save energy at home

Last updated: 12 August, 2010
K S Someswara

There are ways and ways to save energy at home...

One method is to use compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) which last longer than normal incandescent bulbs. In 1890, Peter Cooper Hewitt invented the fluorescent tubes that preceded the modern-day fluorescent tubes. This was used in industries and photo studios.

There are two types of CFLs in use. One is the integrated and the other is non-integrated. The two main parts of a non-integrated CFL are a gas filled tube called bulb or burner and magnetic or electronic ballasts. An electric current from the ballast flows through the gas filled tube (mercury vapour) causing it to emit UV light.

This excites the phosphor coating inside the tube. The coating emits visible light. The use of electronic ballasts cuts down flickering of light and also turns on the bulb faster.
In the integrated CFL, the tube and the electronic ballast is available as one unit with an Edison screw or bayonet.


This is easier for replacement. In the non integrated type the ballast is installed permanently in the fixture and the lamp is to be changed after its life. Because the ballast is placed in the light fixture, these bulbs may be expensive. The power produced is the same; both AC current and DC input.

The life span of a CFL is eight to 15 times (6-15,000 hours) more than an ordinary bulb which burns for only 750 to 1000 hours. Generally, the life span of any lamp depends on many factors like operating voltage, manufacturing defects if any, voltage spikes and others. The frequency of the cycle of On/Off acts as a factor in deciding the life. Normally when it is switched on it should be allowed to burn for 10 to 15 minutes.

When it comes to energy efficiency, the use of CFL is only 20 to 33 per cent in comparison with incandescent bulbs. Because almost 10 per cent of the total power consumed is used for household purposes this can result in major savings in terms of power. Indoor heating can be reduced if one opts for CFL. It will also reduce the load on cooling systems like air conditioners which result in concurrent savings in electric power.

Though the manufacturing of CFL consumes more energy, it is offset by its longevity and use of less energy.

There are other forms of CFL lamps that are in use. One of them is the electrodeless lamp. This is also called radio fluorescent lamp or fluorescent induction lamp.

These lamps have no wire but the conductors excite the mercury vapour using radio frequency oscillation. However, the costs of these lamps are exorbitant.  Another kind of lamp is the cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL). This is the newest form of CFL. Here the electrodes are used without filament. The voltage is five times more than the regular CFL. Current consumption is 10 times lower. Its diameter is only three mm.

These CFLs, like other fluorescent lamps, contain a small amount of mercury as vapour inside the tube. Generally this is of three to five mg per bulb or even lesser.

Mercury is a poisonous gas and a contributor to air pollution and water pollution. In the US and other Western countries, there are definite laws to collect and reuse CFLs. The manufacturers collect these used/broken CFLs and recycle the same.

In our country too, there needs to be strict regulation with regard to recycling used CFLs instead of throwing them away as regular waste which is hazardous to the environment.

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