What is a fluorescent bulb?

Introduced in 1938, a glass tube is coated with fluorescent phosphors and electrodes are placed at each end. When electrons flow from one electrode to the other, collisions cause the emission of radiation. When this radiation strikes the phosphors, they “fluoresce.”

How do they work?

Fluorescent bulbs require a ballast to operate. The ballast limits the current and provides the proper starting and operating voltages. The screw-in CFL’s that fit into medium base incandescent sockets are self-ballasted.

Do fluorescent bulbs save energy?

That depends on the ballast used. Normal Power Factor (NPF) use twice as much energy as the High Power Factor (HPF) ballasts. Ninety percent of residential marketed self-ballasted bulbs sold are NPF.

Example: 18W CFL NPF consumes 36 watts of power and a 18W CFL HPF consumes 20 watts.

Can fluorescent bulbs be dimmed?

Linear fluorescent bulbs require a dimming ballast and a fluorescent dimmer. The screw-in style bulbs are available dimmable and will operate on most incandescent dimmers. Please note that dimmers manufactured since 1995 are most compatible. Dimming range will vary based on dimmer/lamp characteristics.

Update: New dimmers designed specifically for dimmable screw-in style bulbs are now available; these have alleviated some of the problems incandescent dimmers encountered with CFLs.

Are fluorescent bulbs safe?

Fluorescent bulbs are considered toxic waste because they contain mercury. No mercury is released when bulbs are intact or in use.

What precautions should I take?

The bulbs are made of glass and can break if dropped or handled roughly. Always screw and unscrew the bulb by its base (not the glass) and never force into a socket. If broken – the EPA recommends that you ventilate the area, remove all materials – avoid using a vacuum cleaner or your bare hands and recycle all used and broken bulbs.

Where do I dispose of them?

To find the nearest place to recycle, go to www.earth911.com or www.lamprecycle.org.

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