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Still in the dark about the light bulb switch?

Your questions answered

Created date

April 26th, 2011

Light bulbs are a hot topic generating a great deal of discussion and debate on Capitol Hill and throughout the nation. Most of the talk is focused on the impact of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), the law mandating the phaseout of inefficient incandescent light bulbs. Under EISA, all light bulbs sold in the U.S. must use 25% less energy than standard incandescent bulbs by the year 2014. While some are busy gearing up for the changeover, others are introducing new legislation to repeal the law. Back in December 2010, the Erickson Tribune ran a story about EISA, which generated volumes of reader feedback. Many expressed strong opinions in support of or against the legislation, and we published several of your comments in our Letters to the Editor section. We also received many questions about using the bulbs and disposing of them. Here are answers to some of the many questions posed to us.

Q: My compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) burned out before the packaging stated it should. Do I need the original packaging or receipt to get a refund or a replacement?
First look at the CFL base to find the manufacturer s name. Then visit the manufacturer s website to find out how to contact them about a refund or replacement for a failed bulb. Manufacturers producing ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs must offer at least a two-year limited warranty (covering manufacturer defects) for residential-use bulbs. The ENERGY STAR program monitors all CFL early failures, so if your bulb fails, you can alert the ENERGY STAR program by emailing them
Q: Are there CFLs manufactured in the U.S.?
No, CFLs are not currently produced in the U.S. and the last American plant to manufacture incandescent bulbs moved its operation to China last year, so finding any light bulbs that are Made in the U.S.A. is almost impossible.
Q: How do I clean up a broken CFL?
Before cleanup
  1. Get people and pets out of the room.
  2. Open a window or door to air out the room for five to ten minutes.
  3. Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one.
  4. Collect materials needed to clean up the broken bulb.
During cleanup
  1. Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
  2. Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.
After cleanup
  1. Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
  2. If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.
(This is an overview of cleanup procedures from the Environmental Protection Agency. A more detailed, three-page downloadable document is available at
Q: I ve cleaned up a broken CFL, but did not follow EPA s recommended procedures. What should I do?
Don t panic; there is an average of four milligrams of mercury sealed within the glass tubing of a CFL. By comparison, old-fashioned thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury. The EPA s cleanup guidelines are conservative because their methods are based on the health impact of the known long-term exposure to mercury vapors. There are plans to study the health impact of exposure levels from a broken CFL in the home, but that information is not yet available. If you are concerned about your exposure to mercury, you should consult your physician.
Q: Do CFLs interfere with other electronics like my television remote control?
It is possible for CFLs to cause electromagnetic interference. ENERGY STAR requires CFLs to use ballasts that operate at greater than 40 kHz, which limits the potential for interference. Also, ENERGY STAR requires that the product package clearly state any devices that the CFL has potential to interfere with, so check the package before you purchase a CFL that could interfere with other electronic devices. Some people experience visual problems or migraines from the stroboscopic effects of fluorescent lighting. What should they do? Although fluorescent lights have been linked to migraines, technology improvements have largely addressed this problem, especially for CFLs. The new generation of energy-efficient fluorescent lights use electronic ballasts, which operate at a minimum of 40,000 cycles per second. This rapid cycling eliminates the perceptible flicker associated with health complaints.
Q: Fluorescent bulbs produce some ultraviolet light which can damage photographs and prints. What should collectors and museums do for lighting sources in the future?
Regular fluorescent light bulbs do not produce a hazardous amount of ultraviolet light (UV), so there is no need to worry about sunburn or skin damage. That UV light may, however, impact the art you have hanging on your walls. Some manufacturers have UV filters available to use with their bulbs and some manufacturers have low UV bulbs in their product lines.
Q: Can I use a CFL with a timer?
CFLs can be used with timers, but unless they are used with timers made specifically for CFLs, the lifespan of the bulb may be compromised.
Q: Can I use a CFL that is not specifically designed to work in a dimmable light fixture if I never use the dimmer?
If you never dim the light, a CFL should work. However, because it s easy to accidently dim the switch, it is not recommended. Using a CFL on a dimmable switch will void the product warranty, so your best bet is to use a bulb that is compatible with a dimmer if that s what you are using.