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What are the pros and cons of compact fluorescent light bulbs?

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are poised to replace those familiar incandescent bulbs we’ve been using since electricity became a household necessity.

Among their benefits:

• CFLs use 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs.
• They emit very little heat. Unlike CFLs, incandescents waste energy because they spend 90 percent of their energy on heat and only 10 percent on light. That also adds heat to your home’s air and makes your air conditioner work harder.
• CFLs last about 10 times longer than incandescents, so you don’t have to change your light bulbs nearly as often.

The quality of CFLs continues to improve. Early versions of fluorescent light bulbs were an odd white color, took a long time to light up when you flicked the light switch and gave a buzzing sound. Today’s CFLs are smaller, come on almost instantly, appear close in color to the traditional incandescent bulb and are silent.

A few drawbacks:

• Some CFLs are not dimmable. You can buy dimmable fixtures and even dimmable bulbs, but they cost more.
• CFLs contain trace amounts of mercury, so if you break one, you have to handle it carefully so you don’t contaminate your environment or yourself.
• CFLs cost more than incandescent light bulbs, although you’ll save money on your electric bill and on replacement bulbs over their long life.
• They don’t come on immediately when you flip the light switch, although the hesitation is barely noticeable.
• The color of CFLs doesn’t exactly match that of the incandescents we’re used to, but it’s awfully close, and an off-white lampshade can mask the difference.

Rosie’s recommendation: Replace at least one incandescent bulb in your home with a CFL today. Once you get used to it, you’ll probably appreciate the cool-to-the-touch bulbs, which are more energy efficient so they allow you to be kinder to the earth.