Bob Vila Radio: CFL Bulbs

The most common alternative to the light bulbs you've used for years—incandescents—are compact fluorescent lamps, better known as CFLs.

With incandescent light bulbs on their way out, shoppers who had been reluctant to buy alternative bulbs are realizing that it’s time to make the switch.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON CFL BULBS or read the text below:

CFL bulbs

Photo: mpe2013.org

The most common alternative is the compact fluorescent lamp, or CFL, which fits into a standard lamp base and can be used pretty much anywhere you once used an incandescent. Fixtures labeled “incandescent only” will be fine with a CFL, but don’t use an LED lamp or floodlight in them. Look for wattage equivalence—if your fixture calls for a 60-watt bulb, look for a CFL that’s equivalent to 60 watts.

CFLs claim to have long life spans, and they often do, but there are several reasons why they might fail earlier than expected. CFLs do best when they’re lit for long periods of time and burn out faster when frequently turned on and off. Some CFLs will fail early if used in enclosed fixtures or in areas with extremely high temperatures. CFLs can also be affected by colder temperatures, so they don’t always last that long when used in outdoor fixtures in cold climates.

You may be able to extend the life of a CFL by choosing a lower-wattage bulb than the fixture says it can accommodate. Using a 40-watt equivalent in a fixture rated for 60 watts may be just what you need to get a little more life out of your CFL.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.